Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (Gundyayev) sent an appeal to Pope Francis, to the leaders of the world’s various Churches and to the leaders of international organisations, including the United Nations, as well as to the leaders of many interested nations. In it, he complains about the pressure by Ukrainian political authorities on the Ukrainian Church affiliated with Moscow, Asia News reports.
“Recently, the interference of the leaders of the secular Ukrainian state in church affairs has grown into a blatant pressure on the episcopate and clerics of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, what allows us to speak of the beginning of the large-scale persecutions,” says Kirill in his appeal, which was published on the Patriarchate website.
According to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the reason for the pressure against the faithful and priests is their refusal to take part in the Council of Unification, which is set to establish today (15 December) the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
As evidence for his claims, Kirill points to the searches and arrests of representatives of the Church loyal to Moscow carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine (Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny, SBU) and the summoning of priests for “talks”.
The crisis in the Church in the Ukraine worsened after 11 October, when the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople granted the Ukrainian Church the right to autocephaly, repealing the decision of 1686 when the Kyiv metropolis was placed under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
According to Constantinople, this decision was only temporary and linked to the historical circumstances of the time when Ukrainian territories had come under the control of the Russian tsar following the Cossacks revolts against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Conversely, the Russians believe that this decision was not only definitive, but also dictated by history, since Moscow had been for centuries the heir to Kyiv’s spiritual and political heritage.
At present, the Ukrainian Church dependent on Moscow obtained full administrative autonomy, granted after the “schism” of Filaret (Denysenko) in 1990. The Synod of Ukrainian Bishops picked the Metropolitan of Kyiv, currently his Beatitude Onufriy (Berezovsky), who must still be confirmed by the Patriarch of Moscow. Onufriy himself declared that he did not need autocephaly, and his bishops have refused to take part in the Council of Unification (56 bishops out of 96 have already sent back the invitation to Patriarch Bartholomew).
The 40 bishops of the Church of Filaret (Denysenko) and the 12 of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Makariy (Maletych), which Moscow considers schismatic, are expected at today’s Council, but all eyes will be on those among the 40 pro-Moscow bishops who have not yet expressed themselves and are likely to face the wrath of Kirill and Onufriy.