The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate has granted self-rule, also known as autocephaly, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, while Moscow has warned the move could lead to a split within the Orthodox Church.
The decision was reached during a three-day meeting of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and published on the Patriarchate’s website.
However, a spokesman for Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said the Russian Church will have to break eucharistical relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the decision.
Spokesman Alexander Volkov also denounced the decision to rehabilitate Ukrainian Patriarch Filaret, who had been excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church, saying it will have “irreversible repercussions” for Orthodoxy around the world.
“With its act Constantinople has crossed red lines and is violating the unity of global Orthodoxy,” Volkov said, according to the TASS news agency.
Filaret is a staunch supporter of an independent Ukrainian church and is in favor of Ukraine’s closer integration with the West and a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The synod, which was chaired by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios – seen as the first among equals of Orthodox Church leaders – decreed to “renew the decision already made that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine.”
It also decreed to “re-establish, at this moment, the Stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kyiv, one of its many Stavropegia in Ukraine that existed there always.” (Stavropegia are directly subordinate to the Patriarchate rather than a local bishop.)
The decision is also expected to galvanize Ukraine’s pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko ahead of an election race next year which is expected to be tight.
“The decisions of the ecumenical patriarch and synod finally dispelled the imperial illusions and chauvinistic fantasies of Moscow,” Poroshenko said.
“It is a question of our independence, national security, statehood, a question of world geopolitics.”
Meanwhile, no decision was made by the Synod as to whether 90-year-old Archbishop Demetrios of America will step down from his post.
His support has dwindled after it became known the archdiocese was in serious financial trouble.