04/27/2019, 09.46
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Jerusalem, Orthodox Easter tinged with Russian-Ukrainian schism

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Patriarch Theophilus of Jerusalem prohibits the participation of Ukrainians in the Easter celebrations in the Holy Land.  Even the "schismatic" Orthodox are forbidden to pray in the Holy Places.  Moscow's gratitude.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - During Eastertide,  the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, takes on particular significance for the Orthodox world, not only as the place of memory of the death and resurrection of Christ, but also a terrain of affirmation of the "true Orthodoxy" and the denunciation of every heresy and schism.  It is no coincidence that in the Lenten weeks the "triumph of Orthodoxy" is proclaimed and the faithful are urged to extend mutual forgiveness, above all else for the weaknesses of faith.  This year in particular the great "weakness" concerns the division between Russians, Ukrainians and Greeks, which causes conflicts not only in churches but also in homes and families, and has led to the exclusion of Ukrainians from Easter celebrations in the Holy Land.

In fact, there are quite a few households, especially in Russia and Ukraine, where members belong to mutually hostile jurisdictions (patriarchate of Moscow or Constantinople, Autocephalic Church of Kiev or Russian Exarchate of Europe and others).  To avoid any ambiguity, the Patriarch Theophilus of Jerusalem forbade all members of the new Ukrainian Church autocephalous, ecclesiastical and lay, who are in the territory of the patriarchate, to take part in religious services.  "No form of participation, not even simple prayer around the holy places, for the representatives of these schismatic structures," the official statement reads.

Teophilous has always been very close to the Russians, who strongly urged these drastic measures.  These were emphasized by statements by the head of the press service of the Moscow patriarchate, Father Aleksandr Volkov: "The schismatics have tried in various ways to interfere in the Orthodox functions of Jerusalem".  He therefore expressed gratitude to Patriarch Theophilus "for his firm position regarding the impossibility of schismatic participation in the rites celebrated by the priests of the canonical Orthodox Churches at the shrines of the Holy Land".

In particular, the "Ukrainian schismatics" will be kept away from the "Fire of Grace" of the Holy Sepulchre, considered a "exclusively Orthodox" miracle.  Also this year, as has been the case since 2003, the Russians have organized a delegation from the foundation of “St.  Andrew Protoclyte ”, blessed by the patriarch and financed by first-level representatives of Russian economic and political power, some of whom are at the head of the group.  This time the delegation was strengthened to over a hundred people, including pilgrims and law enforcement. They left Friday from Vnukovo airport in Moscow, to participate in the functions of Holy Saturday and Easter vigil in order to bring home the "holy fire" for the Russian faithful.

The "holy fire" miraculously lights up on the Holy Sepulchre on the eve of the resurrection of Christ at Orthodox Easter, in a huge lamp filled with oil with 33 candles, which symbolize the years of Jesus' life. During Holy Saturday all the  lights and candles of the basilica are extinguished, and the patriarchs place themselves in front of the skylight, waiting for the miracle of the fire that "descends" above them.  No one in history has been able to explain the origin of the miracle, despite many attempts.

 Immediately the candles are divided out to be taken to the Orthodox lands, and the majority of them are requisitioned by the Russians, the most devoted to this tradition.  The same night of April 27, the delegation will return to Moscow, greeted by a large crowd at Vnukovo airport, each with its own lamp to carry everywhere.  The biggest flame is brought to the cathedral of Christ the Savior, where the patriarch Kirill begins the celebration with the cry "Christ is Risen!", to which all respond "Truly He is risen!", thus lighting the candle with the miraculous flame to compose the  initial procession of the Easter Vigil.  Metropolitan Epiphany of Kiev, this year, will have to prepare for an "autocephalous bonfire", hoping for the miracle of a future reconciliation among all the Orthodox Churches.

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