The Russian Orthodox Church decided Monday to sever ties with the leader of the worldwide Orthodox community after his decision to grant Ukrainian clerics independence from the Moscow Patriarchate.
This means that priests from the two patriarchates can not serve - and worshippers can not take communion - together, wherever Orthodox Christianity is practised.
The Russian Orthodox Church says it is cutting all links with the Constantinople Patriarchate - the body that wields spiritual authority over the world's Orthodox Christians. The stated reason for the suspension is the "anti-canonical actions of the Constantinople Patriarchate, which opened communication channels to schismatics in Ukraine and thereby encroached on the Russian Orthodox Church's canonical territory".
The move comes days after the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate made a decision to eventually grant the so-called autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, thus making the clerical organization, which earlier enjoyed a broad autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate, fully independent.
Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Archpriest Igor Yakimchuk has noted that Constantinople Patriarchate churches are located, in part, in Istanbul, Antalya, Crete, and on Rhodes.
Moscow has expressed concern over the past months that a decision to grant Ukrainian Orthodox Church independence would lead to physical confrontations in Ukraine over some of its most iconic Orthodox landmarks, such as the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery which is used by the Moscow Patriarchate.
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He also named restitution of Filaret's and his followers' hierarchical or priestly ranks as one of the major reasons behind the Russian Orthodox Church Holy Synod's decision to break all ties with Constantinople. Ukraine today is more unified, more nationalist, more oriented toward Europe and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the West than it has even been true before, and that's a direct result of Russia's intervention in Ukraine and killing of Ukrainians, ' he said as quoted by EUObserver.
Ukraine now has three Orthodox communities - one answering to the Russian Orthodox Church and two schismatic churches. It's an issue of Ukrainian national security.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the Church's independence went hand-in-hand with Ukrainian independence. "It's an issue of Ukrainian statehood".
He said that up to a 10 Moscow Patriarchate parishes in Ukraine have switched over to the Kyiv Patriarchate since 2014 when Moscow invaded the easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk after taking over the Crimea in a war that has killed more than 10,400 people and displace an additional 1.6 million.
The Kremlin has said recently that it fears clashes in Ukraine over Orthodox sites where services by the Moscow Patriarchate are held. Meanwhile, it did not hesitate to seize Moscow Patriarchate's churches by force.
This isn't the first time the Russian Orthodox Church has suspended relations with the Constantinople Patriarchate.