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Patriarchate of Kiev, the risk of a new schism in Europe

Moscow (AsiaNews) – If the patriarch of Constantinople grants autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church (Kiev Patriarchate), there is a risk of a schism no less serious than that between Rome and Constantinople in 1054: the Orthodox Church would be divided in its main body, Slavic-Eastern. This was stated by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev), head of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, on May 3 to the Interfax news agency.

In fact, the request made a few weeks ago to Patriarch Bartholomew (Archontonis), by the President and the Ukrainian Parliament could have a good chance of being accepted, even if to date the Ecumenical Patriarchate has issued neither a confirmation or denial.

The hope of a move in this direction is fuelled not only by the opinion of the politicians of Kiev and much of the Ukrainian public opinion: the history of the Patriarchate of Moscow itself, which was approved in 1589, teaches that Constantinople has always looked to Kiev as a possible counterweight to Moscow, to limit the excess of intrusiveness in the Orthodox world.

After the invasion of Constantinople by Muhammad II in 1453, the Russian kingdom remained the only free and autonomous Orthodox country, while all the others were controlled by the Sublime Porte. A substantial part of the Russian Orthodox, in the territories of present-day Ukraine, constituted an important minority of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania. Returning from Moscow, Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople proposed they also form the Kiev Patriarchate. The intervention of the Polish king Sigismund III finally led to the proclamation of the Union of Orthodox Ukrainians with the Church of Rome in 1596, at the Synod of Brest-Litovsk, as a response to the “imperial” patriarchate of the Russians.

For decades, Russians and Poles, with the wavering alliance of the Cossacks, contended for the lands on the right and on the left of the Dnieper, called by various names: Galicia, Volynia, Little Russia, and also Ukrainian territories, that is “on the borders”. In 1689 Moscow also regained jurisdiction over the Orthodox of Kiev, always with the “forced” blessing of Constantinople; the western territories remained united in Rome, where even today the majority of Greek-Catholic “uniate” reside. In fact, the Greeks have always tried to impose the patriarchal hierarchy over Moscow who – they say – it is only “a daughter” of Constantinople, and a minor daughter compared to Kiev, “mother of all Russian cities”. Something the Russians, in reality, could never digest.

The more recent disputes have done little other than reiterate the old diatribes, in an attempt to arrive at a showdown. The almost ninety-year-old Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko), self-proclaimed primate of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine since 1992, was well aware when he lost his election as patriarch of Moscow compared to his adversary Aleksij (Ridiger), predecessor of the current patriarch Kirill ( Gundjaev). In December 2017 Filaret displaced the Russians, gathered in the great Jubilee Synod for the one hundred years of the restoration of the patriarchate, appealing to them for reconciliation.

The Russians did not take the initiative of the elderly patriarch (or ex-metropolitan, excommunicated by them) seriously, well aware of his audacity and the capacity for transformation, which already in Soviet times had the reputation of being a highly respected hierarch . In fact, the head of the Orthodox Ukrainian autonomists is also one of the major inspirers of the request for autocephaly to the patriarch of Constantinople, as he confirmed at a conference in Brussels on 3 May.

Speaking to the European Parliament, Denisenko explained the reasons why “Ukraine is Europe … More than 1000 years ago, our peoples have made their choice of civilization: they chose European Christian civilization, they joined the community of nations European. ” Speaking of the importance of building Europe “on stone, not on sand”, Filaret invoked legality against corruption, solidarity against exclusion, asking European politicians to support the aspirations of the Ukrainians to true autonomy, including ecclesiastical autonomy.

After recalling that for four years Ukraine has been defending itself “against Russian aggression”, the patriarch thanked the Europeans for supporting the sanctions against Putin, even at the cost of economic sacrifices, to prevent the Russians from “restoring the system” that existed after the Yalta conference, that is, the system of a divided world and a divided Europe “. He himself recalled the request of the Tomos of autocephaly, necessary because “Ukraine remains the only country with a predominantly Orthodox population, which does not have its own recognized local Church, although it has sought such recognition since the restoration of independence”. According to Filaret, the Church faithful to Moscow is supported by only 12% of the population, while the independent Ukrainian Church has almost 40% consensus.

The Ukrainian prelate also echoed the accusation that the Kremlin is using the Moscow Patriarchate as “one of the tools to spread the ideology of the ‘Russian measure’ – that ideology, which is the basis of the aggression of Ukraine, of Georgia and Moldova “, and asked the European Parliament to support the Orthodox leaders who oppose this ideology, starting with Bartholomew himself. The Ecumenical Patriarch, according to Filaret, “is a true leader of European Orthodoxy; Orthodoxy is not hostile to Europe, as in the interpretation of Moscow, but it constitutes the Christian foundation of Europe together with Catholicism and Protestantism “.

The Ukrainians, the Eastern “borders” of Europe, then propose a question of civil and religious identity, to avoid a schism that would infiltrate the consciences of all Christians, and of all Europeans.

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