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Ukraine’s Moscow-backed Orthodox Church Cuts Russia Ties

Ukrainian experts arrive in Poland after missile blast: Ukrainian minister
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The Moscow branch of Kyiv’s Orthodox Church said Friday it was cutting ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, declaring “full independence” in a historic move against Russia’s spiritual authorities.

“We disagree with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow… on the war,” the church said in a statement after holding a council focused on Russia’s “aggression” and declaring the “full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”.

The Moscow branch of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church has until now formally pledged allegiance to Russia’s Patriarch Kirill, who has expressed clear support for President Vladimir Putin’s offensive in Ukraine.

“The Council condemns war as a violation of God’s commandment ‘You shall not kill!’ and expresses condolences to all those who are suffering in the war,” it said.

It said its relations with the Moscow leadership had been “complicated or absent” since martial law was declared in Ukraine.

The council also appealed to both Ukraine and Russia to “continue the negotiation process” and find a way to “stop the bloodshed”.

Speaking to AFP, church spokesman Archbishop Kliment said the council had stressed its “complete rejection of Patriarchate Kirill’s position regarding the war”.

“Not only did he fail to condemn Russia’s military aggression but he also failed to find words for the suffering Ukrainian people,” he said.

Ukraine has been under Moscow’s spiritual leadership for hundreds of years, since at least the 17th century.

The move marks the second Orthodox schism in Ukraine in recent years, with part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaking away from Moscow in 2019 over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in the eastern Donbas region.

Putin’s invasion and Kirill’s support for it have placed the Moscow-backed church in Ukraine in an increasingly precarious position.

Hundreds of its priests signed an open letter in recent weeks calling for Kirill to face a religious tribunal over the war.

Metropolitan Onufriy, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, has not personally spoken out against his boss in Moscow.

But since the invasion he has expressed clear support for the Ukrainian army, giving regular sermons about its fallen soldiers.

Earlier in the war, he also suggested an Easter procession to the battered southern port city of Mariupol to rescue Ukrainian soldiers inside the besieged Azovstal steel plant.

Parishes of the Moscow-backed church have also served as shelters from Russian shelling.

Since the schism of 2019, there has been a deep split within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church itself, between those who took their spiritual leadership from Moscow and those who broke away, known respectively as the Moscow Patriarchy and the Kyiv Patriarchy.

There was no immediate response to the decision from the Kyiv Patriarchy, which pledges allegiance to Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew.

Nor was it clear whether clerics from the two Ukrainian Orthodox branches would join ranks.

With the statement, the church posted a photo of the clerics that took part in Friday’s historic council meeting outside Kyiv.

Ukraine is hugely significant for Russia’s Orthodox Church, with some of its most important monasteries located there.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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