Ukrainian church calls for Kirill’s removal for ‘heretical’ defense of Russian invasion

(RNS) — Metropolitan Epiphanius, head of the Independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, has published a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “first among equals” of Orthodox Christian leaders, asking Bartholomew to call on Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, professor of heresy for his theological support for the Ukrainian war and to deprive Kirill of his right to lead the Russian church.

The letter was approved at a meeting of the synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine on Wednesday, July 27, on the eve of the feast of the baptism of the Kyivan Rus. The feast day, which commemorates the baptism of medieval Kyiv, was also designated as Ukrainian State Day by the Ukrainian government.

“Every child murdered, every woman raped, every residential building and temple destroyed is not only a war crime, but also an act of renunciation of Christ,” the letter reads. “The moral responsibility for the crimes committed rests not only with the direct perpetrators, but also with their ideological inspirers – the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill and like-minded hierarchs who for decades have propagated the ethno-phyletic and racist doctrine of ” Russian world “and are now blessing the attack on Ukraine.

The “Russian World” teaching imagines a transnational Russian civilization with a political center in Moscow, a spiritual center in Kyiv, a common language and religion (Russian and Russian Orthodox), and traditionalist social values ​​in opposition to the West” globalized” and “liberalized”.

Tensions have been rising for years between the Moscow church and the Ecumenical Patriarch, who resides in today’s Istanbul. Kirill broke communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch in October 2018, ahead of Bartholomew’s decision to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as an independent canonical Church. early 2019.

Since then, Moscow has encroached on the territory historically overseen by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodore II, by setting up a parallel network of churches on the African continent, which is under the authority of the Greek church. The first African churches in Moscow appeared after Theodore joined Bartholomew in recognizing the Independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

According to the July 27 letter, Kirill aims to “drastically increase the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia…and thereby impose the hegemony and dictates of the Patriarch of Moscow over the Orthodox world.”

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The letter quoted the Statement on Russian Global Educationpublished in March, which calls the teaching of the “Russian World” heretical and “further rejects all forms of government which deify the State (theocracy) and absorb the Church, depriving the Church of its freedom to stand prophetically against all injustice”.

The statement, which is not affiliated with any official institution of the Orthodox Church, has since been signed by nearly 1,500 Orthodox theologians around the world (including many clergy).

Wednesday’s letter also referred to a Open Speech to the Heads of the Orthodox Churches, made by members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which, unlike the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, maintained ties with the Moscow Patriarchate. This statement also condemns Kirill’s support for the teaching of the “Russian world” and questions his right to hold the position of patriarch.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which long predates the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, still refuses to recognize the independent Church, although an unofficial meeting between the clergy of the two groups, facilitated by the Ukrainian government, took place earlier this month.

While the letter from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is addressed to the Ecumenical Patriarch, the letter expresses the concerns of the entire global Orthodox Christian community. “It is important to understand that the ideology of the modern ROC (Russian Orthodox Church) contains a threat not only to Ukraine,” the letter states, “but also to the entire Orthodox world.”

“Russia is a country which for centuries linked its identity to Orthodoxy,” the letter also says, but which has since “been insidiously replaced by a civil religion apparently based on the Orthodox tradition, but alien to the spirit of the Gospel and to the content of the Orthodox Faith of the Holy Fathers.

According to official Twitter account of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ecumenical Patriarch spoke with Zelenskyy on July 28, expressing his continued support for Ukraine in light of Russia’s aggression. No official statement regarding the letter from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has yet been made by the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Martha J. Finley