Moscow (AsiaNews) - A memorandum for the creation of a single "local Orthodox Church" in the Ukraine, signed by the heads of various Christian denominations, including the Greek Catholic Church, in Rivne province in the western part of the country has sparked a major controversy and revived inter-religious tensions in the former Soviet republic, still shaken by the war in the east.
On 13 November, as reported by various Russian news agencies, representatives of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic Ukrainian Church signed a memorandum put forward by the Rivne provincial administration, calling for unity among Christians (currently there are three Orthodox Churches), which represents a de facto schism for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), the only one canonically recognised by the Moscow Patriarchate.
Two UOC-MP bishops did in fact sign the memorandum, namely Metropolitan of Sarny and Polesskoe Anatoly, and Metropolitan of Rivne and Ostrog Varfolomy. The two took this initiative without consulting the Metropolitan of Kyiv Onufry, but later announced that they were withdrawing their signatures.
This was explained by "the pressure put the clergy and the faithful," but also by new attempts by members of the Ukrainian Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) led by excommunicated Metropolitan Filaret to seize churches belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate.
According to the Kyiv Patriarchate, the two bishops pulled out under pressure from Moscow. By contrast, for the Russian Orthodox Church, the Rivne Memorandum is evidence of the "extremely difficult position" of the Western dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Canonical Church.
In fact, Vladimir Legoida, spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, noted that "This document only confirms the extremely difficult position in which the dioceses and faithful children of the canonical Orthodox Church in western Ukraine find themselves. It is completely obvious that such documents are signed under the strongest political pressure," he told RIA Novosti.
Kliment, bishop of Irpen and UOC-MP spokesman, agrees. In his view, "the so-called Kyiv patriarchate is splitting Ukrainian society by open aggression, trying to get dividends from the difficult political situation and national grief."
Following Kliment, Metropolitan Onufry has appealed to all believers to preserve the unity and protect "the local Orthodox church that has been given to us through centuries from manifestations of aggression and schism."
For his part, Vladimir Legoida expressed amazement with regards to the signature on the Rovno memorandum of a representative of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, calling it "canonical nonsense."
"If Greek Catholics declare the necessity of the creation of a united local church with their participation, then apparently first of all they should declare the end of all liturgical and canonical communion with the Holy See," he said.
In fact, "they should cease commemorating the Roman pope in their worship services. Otherwise, their participation in this process is completely not understandable".