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18 Aug, 2021 16:04

Open letter urges Orthodox archbishop of Constantinople to postpone trip to Ukraine until ‘deep wound’ of church split healed

Open letter urges Orthodox archbishop of Constantinople to postpone trip to Ukraine until ‘deep wound’ of church split healed

A group of high-profile Ukrainians has this week asked Bartholomew, the influential archbishop of the Constantinople Orthodox Church, to call off his visit to Kiev until the bitter inter-church conflict there is settled.  

“This church schism was and, unfortunately, still remains a deep wound for every conscious Christian, for millions of citizens of Ukraine,” 20 Ukrainian academics, writers and journalists wrote in an open letter.  

The rift goes back to the early 1990s, when a group of clerics splintered off the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), a self-governing part of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), and formed their own church of the same name, rejecting its historic ties with Russia. The split took place a year after Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union and was followed by forceful takeovers of some temples by Kiev-allied worshipers and activists. 

Despite serving in a small number of parishes with a center in Istanbul, Turkey, Bartholomew, by canon law, is considered the leader of the Orthodox world. In January 2019, he officially recognized the breakaway Ukrainian church, which is currently called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), as fully independent from ROC. 

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Russia’s Orthodox leader, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, condemned the move and cut ties with Bartholomew. 

In their letter, the signatories urged Bartholomew to “speak up” against the continuing seizure of Moscow-allied temples and violence against priests. In 2019, the Moscow-backed UOC said 45 of its churches were seized by OCU followers, while others were coerced into joining the OCU. Further attempts of such takeovers were reported earlier this year. 

According to Ukrainian media, Bartholomew will lead a service alongside the OUC leader, Metropolitan Epiphanius, in Kiev on August 22, ahead of Ukraine’s Independence Day.

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