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Russian Orthodox Church breaks with Ecumenical Patriarchate

Moscow cathedral
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Divisions deepen over question of Ukrainian Church

The Russian Orthodox Church has announced it it breaking Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch, a move that some see as one of the biggest divisions in the Church since the Great Schism of 1054.

After a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on October 15 in Minsk, Belarus, the Patriarchate of Moscow issued a statement objecting to a decree last week in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate reaffirmed its decision to grant autocephaly, or ecclesiastical independence, to the Church of Ukraine.

In general, Eastern Orthodoxy is a Church of jurisdictions: the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Moscow, the Church of Antioch, and several others are all independent but are like a family of Churches. Istanbul-based Constantinople—the Ecumenical Patriarchate—is considered “first among equals” and enjoys a measure of primacy. All share the same beliefs and similar liturgical practices and spirituality. As with the Catholic Church, all have valid bishops who can trace their spiritual lineage to the Apostles, and therefore a valid priesthood and the Seven Sacraments.

Each Orthodox Church is governed by a primate along with a synod.

Although the Orthodox Church in Ukraine began under the auspices of the Church of Constantinople in the 10th Century, the Russian Orthodox Church today maintains that it has jurisdiction over it. Monday’s announcement that it is breaking Communion with Constantinople included the objection to Constantinople reversing a decision in 1686 allowing Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, which Constantinople said was only temporary due to the political conditions of the time.

As well, the Ecumenical Patriarchate reserves the right to grant autocephaly, but Moscow is protesting that Constantinople is doing so unilaterally and infringing on Moscow’s canonical territory.

Moscow also objects to last Thursday’s decree from the Ecumenical Patriarchate that rehabilitates two breakaway Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and their leaders, whom Moscow considers to be in schism. Moscow insists that the leaders of those Churches are schismatic.

“These unlawful decisions of the Synod were adopted by the Church of Constantinople unilaterally, ignoring the appeals of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the plenitude of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as sister Local Orthodox Churches, their primates and hierarchs to hold a pan-Orthodox discussion of the issue,” a statement from the Moscow Patriarchate said.

“To admit into communion schismatics and a person anathematized in other Local Church with all the ‘bishops’ and ‘clergy’ consecrated by him, the encroachment on somebody else’s canonical regions, the attempt to abandon its own historical decisions and commitments—all this leads the Patriarchate of Constantinople beyond the canonical space and, to our great grief, makes it impossible for us to continue the Eucharistic community with its hierarch, clergy and laity, the Moscow Patriarchate said. “From now on until the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s rejection of its anti-canonical decisions, it is impossible for all the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church to concelebrate with the clergy of the Church of Constantinople and for the laity to participate in sacraments administered in its churches.”

A spokesman for the Moscow Church said Metropolitan Onufriy, current head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, participated in the meeting of the Holy Synod in Minsk and “like all members of the Synod, supported its decision.”

But Archbishop Yevstratiy, spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, one of the breakaway Churches in Ukraine, said the Russian synod’s decision was a move towards “self-isolation,” according to Catholic News Agency.

Writing in a Facebook post, he said “Sooner or later this will be fixed and the Russian Orthodox Church will return to communion.”

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