A possible reconciliation between Moscow and Kiev
by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Extraordinary Synod for the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate, called for a return to communion with the Kiev Patriarchate. Filaret's response, very positive, asks for forgiveness and offers forgiveness. For years there have been prevarications, expressions of hatred, seizures of churches. The invasion of Crimea has sharpened the division. The Ukrainian government rallies against.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, which solemnly celebrated the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Patriarchate, concluded in Moscow on December 2. In addition to examining the delicate issue of recognition of the remains of "holy imperial martyrs" and the evaluation of a series of disciplinary matters of ecclesiastical life, the Synod appealed to Ukraine’s "separate" Orthodox jurisdictions to restore "Eucharistic communion and prayer", receiving in reply a letter from the main interlocutor in this difficult dialogue, Patriarch Filaret of Kiev (on the right in photo 1). The letter was welcomed by the Russian bishops as a step towards a possible healing of the conflict.

The Metropolitan of Kiev Filaret (Denysenko) is currently the head of the Church that broke away from Moscow in the early 1990s, with the title of Patriarch of Kiev and of all Rus'-Ukraine, in contrast to the Moscow title. Filaret became metropolitan of Kiev back in 1966, as a prominent member of the group of "collaborating" bishops with the Soviet regime led by the charismatic metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad, who died in 1978 in the arms of Pope John Paul I at the age of only 49. Filaret was his age, and he survived his friend who was a strategist of ecumenism and of the necessary compromise for the salvation of the Church by another 40 years.

In 1990, at the height of the dissolution of Soviet communism, Denysenko found himself competing with another metropolitan of the class of 1929, Aleksij (Ridiger) of Leningrad, who defeated him in a patriarchal election that was still partly controlled by the officials of the Gorbachev regime. The following year, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the metropolitan of Kiev followed the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s break from Moscow proclaiming the Ukrainian Church as the true heir of ancient Rus'. The Russian Synod, chaired by Aleksij, excommunicated it in 1992, and Filaret took his revenge by proclaiming himself Patriarch in 1995. Since then, Ukrainian orthodoxy has been split in two: the eastern territories have remained loyal to Moscow, but in the rest of the country the "non-canonical" Church prevails and is not recognized by the other Orthodox patriarchates. The picture is further complicated by the presence of other competing jurisdictions, including the "free church", clandestine in Soviet times, supported by Constantinople and honored by the memory of many persecuted martyrs, in contrast with the "regime’s" bishops in Moscow and Kiev. Moreover, in the western provinces of the country, since 1990 the Greek-Catholic Church has been reconstituted. It was in turn the victim of many persecutions and differs from its Orthodox sister churches only for the liturgical remembrance of the Pope of Rome in place of one of the various patriarchs .

The reconciliation today between Filaret and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundjaev, left in photo 1), who was his disciple and who today is the great inspirer of the new Russian mission of the "Third Rome", could pave the way for a progressive convergence of all components of Ukraine’s Eastern Christianity, and put an end to the eternal conflict with Russia. In the letter to the synod, the head of the Church of Kiev asks to "put an end to the opposition, and annul the sentence of excommunication and disciplinary punishments (preshenija) sanctioned since 1992, and continually exacerbated against the faithful who submit to the non- canonical patriarchate ". Filaret trusts that the Russian Church is able to take steps that are "indispensable for the good of Orthodoxy ... as your brother and concelebrant, I ask forgiveness in all that for which I have sinned in words, deeds and with all my senses, and I in turn forgive with all my heart ". The letter ends with the greeting "In the love of Christ - your brother Filaret", and a simple signature devoid of high-sounding titles.

The elderly dissident patriarch has decidedly surprised the public opinion of the two countries in conflict, given the persistence of mutual accusations of prevarication and incitement to hatred. The reactions of the Moscow Synod are of cautious satisfaction, knowing the impulsive character of the ancient companion of adventures of Soviet times, and expect concrete steps in the return of churches removed from the control of Moscow, and other necessary measures for a real reconstruction of the conflict. There is no doubt that, if facts follow words, the two Churches could meet in the not too distant future, since there are no profound or theoretical reasons for division, beyond the historical and organizational dispute.

Even the Ukrainian authorities would have no means to prevent a reconciliation, which goes in the completely opposite direction to attempts to widen the division of Ukrainian faithful from Moscow, as President Poroshenko would like to see with the Rada parliament. If Filaret, renouncing his patriarchal role due to age, recognized the authority of Metropolitan Onufrij of Kiev, of Muscovite obedience, the Russian Church would rediscover its immense historical greatness. It should certainly maximum autonomy to the Ukrainian side, which on paper is already recognized, but without fear of a real schism, which would greatly reduce Moscow’s prestige.

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