Patriarch Kirill: we will not separate from the Ukrainians
The Moscow Patriarchate downplays the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's decision to break ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Metropolitan Ilarion: enemies of the true Church would like to get their hands on property and the canonical name itself. A union between the new independent Ukrainian Church and the autocephalous Church of Kiev is difficult.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - In his Sunday sermon in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) commented on the decision of the Ukrainian synod of the Church headed by Metropolitan Onufryj (Berezovskij), which proclaimed its full independence from Russia. The patriarch said he "understands the reasons" of Ukrainians historically linked to Russia, who are trying to "behave as wisely as possible, so as not to complicate the life of the people of believers".
Kirill added that "no temporal mediastinum - no barrier, using an anatomical term dear to him - will be able to destroy the spiritual unity of our people", despite the fact that "evil spirits stirring under the heavens" try to divide the Orthodox "of Rus' and Ukraine", causing a gulf to open up between them. "But they will not succeed until such efforts come from God," the Russian Patriarch stressed.
Already the day before, his 'foreign minister', Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev), had reacted to the news of the loss of the Ukrainian part of the Russian Church during a solemn concelebration with all members of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations. He had stated that 'from the canonical point of view, nothing changes' in relations between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox. Ilarion expressed his regret 'for this not easy and conflictual time, when the faith of many people weakens and many fall into depression, millions are deprived of a roof to live on and become refugees, inside or outside Ukraine'.
According to the metropolitan, 'we do not bear responsibility for military actions or political decisions, but we are responsible for our Church, and we will have to account for this on the Day of Judgement'. The test to which the Russian Orthodox are subjected is precisely that of 'the steadfastness of our unity, and we must pray for the suffering canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which convened its synod yesterday'. Ilarion confesses the dismay of many at the decision to separate from Moscow, but he recalls that "this synod only confirmed the statutes approved in 1990", when the Ukrainian Church was granted administrative and financial autonomy from the Moscow patriarchate.
Kirill and Ilarion try to play down the decisions of Onufryj, among the bishops who called for Ukrainian autocephaly in the early 1990s, who then remained faithful to Moscow when the then Kiev Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko) unilaterally proclaimed the patriarchate separate from the Russian Church. At the time, the Ukrainians were granted wide autonomy while remaining members of the Russian patriarchal synod, and it is precisely this form of communion that has now been rejected. According to Ilarion, however, the division is just "a calumny of those in Ukraine who try to support the schism".
The Metropolitan insists that 'the authentic Ukrainian Orthodox Church has not split from anyone, it has not made any break, it has remained in the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church together with the other local Churches, apart from those who (we hope temporarily) have unfortunately sided with the schism'. The enemies of the true Church, according to Ilarion, would like to get their hands 'on property, churches and monasteries, and the canonical denomination itself'. In fact, confusion reigns supreme in Ukraine, considering that at a terminological level the two conflicting Churches have reversed acronyms: the Moscow Church is Upz (Ukrainskaja Pravoslavnaja Zerkov), while the autocephalous one is Pzu (Pravoslavnaja Zerkov Ukrainy), and the first to fail to define their membership are the faithful themselves.
Now the jurisdiction of Onufryj (Upz) could be renamed RZU, "Rossijskaja Zerkov Ukrainy", i.e. "Russian-speaking Church of Ukraine", remaining separate from the Pzu of Epifanyj (Dumenko), because the merger would not be well seen by many people who, while condemning the pro-war patriarchal positions, still feel linked to Russia, and further subdivisions would be created. The war in the Church does not follow the same logic as the warring sides, and seems far from over.