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Putin on Ukrainian Orthodox schism: Forcing flock into foreign church is a risky ploy

Putin on Ukrainian Orthodox schism: Forcing flock into foreign church is a risky ploy
Kiev is risking a major crisis with its ploy to legitimize schismatic Orthodox Christian churches with the help from Constantinople, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. Telling people where to pray is a bad idea.

Last month, Ukraine’s two unrecognized Orthodox churches backed by the government of President Petro Poroshenko formed a new religious organization. In January, Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople formally recognized it as a canonical entity and part of his patriarchate and granted it partial independence. Poroshenko is relying on this development to boost his approval ratings ahead of the presidential election in March, which he is likely to lose, according to polls.

Speaking to Serbian media on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the entire affair as a purely political ploy that has nothing to do with faith and religion.

“The new church structure is a secular political project. Its main goal is to separate the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, fuel religious division in addition to national ones. It’s no coincidence that Kiev declared it as an ‘ultimate independence from Moscow,’” he said.

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Bartholomew’s move is based on a claim that Constantinople can revoke the right of the Russian Orthodox Church to appoint the highest Orthodox Christian bishop in Ukraine, which was recognized in the late 17th century. The Russian patriarchy rejects this and says that by recognizing Ukrainian schismatic priests as canonical Constantinople has tainted itself spiritually. The Moscow-based church in response broke both diplomatic and spiritual ties with the Constantinople patriarchate.

Other independent Orthodox Churches are now in a tricky position, where they have to choose between Moscow and Constantinople in the conflict. The Serbian Orthodox Church sided with Russia.

READ MORE: Some more equal than others: Kiev passes law demanding Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change name

The Russian Orthodox Church is represented in Ukraine by an autonomous self-governing entity called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. There are fears that the Ukrainian government will now be twisting the arms of its priests to force them and their flock to pledge allegiance to Constantinople.

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Putin stressed that the Russian government will not get involved in the affairs of the church, especially in another nation, but said that Kiev’s policy is shortsighted.

“The Ukrainian leadership must realize that the attempt to force the faithful into a foreign church risks serious consequences,” he said. “Still they are willing to sacrifice religious peace just to give the incumbent president a chance to campaign on a platform of hunting for enemies and preserve his power at any cost.”

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