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Ukraine Orthodox Church Splits from Russian Orthodox Church

by Brian Nixon

Ukraine Church Splits from the Russian Orthodox Church

Associated Press Photo

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and Metropolitan Emmanuel at a closed-door synod of three Ukrainian Orthodox churches

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—The year 1054 AD looms large in church history.  It was the year the Orthodox Church split from the Western Church (Roman Catholic Church).  Though there were many reasons for the split, several stand out:  intellectual outlook, celibacy, creedal controversy, the date of Easter, how icons were used, and how to celebrate communion.

Beneath the split, however, stood political differences (the west was led by Henry III and Pope Leo IX; the East by Constantine IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius). Attempts were made to mend the relationship (in 1274 AD and 1438 AD, as examples), but all attempts failed.

The split stands as one of the major events in the history of the church.

Ukrainian Orthodox Split

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Now, nine-hundred and sixty-four years later, the Russian Orthodox Church is in the process of a similar split.   According to NBC News, the “Ukraine moves to create its own Orthodox church out of Russia’s orbit.”  Like the 1054 AD split, the move has a political undercurrent: Ukraine is distancing itself from Russia’s shadow, particularly as a response to the hostility along Ukraine’s border.

Leaders from three bodies within Ukraine met on Saturday to agree upon a new Ukrainian Orthodox church charter.  Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stated, “The creation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church is a necessary attribute of nation-building.”  Russian Foreign Minister Sergi Lavorov called the meeting, a “gross interference of the government in the affairs of the church.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergi Lavorov

Politics are leading policy.

Largest Orthodox Church

According to the Orthodox Church in America, there are between 200-300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world, with an estimated “80 and 100 million Orthodox in the Russian Republic alone.”

Once finalized, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will stand as one of many other autocephalous Orthodox Churches in the world. Autocephalous churches are self-governing bodies. These include Eastern, Coptic, American, Greek, Albanian, Bulgarian, Czech, and Slovak as examples. Autocephalous churches select an archbishop or patriarch or are governed by a synod of bishops that facilitate the unity of the church spiritually and pastorally.

According to various census, 70% percent of the Ukrainian population is Orthodox.  With a population of 43, 908,755 (as of 2018), this would put the Ukrainian Orthodox church as one of the largest autocephalous Orthodox churches in the world.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Metropolitan Epifaniy, of the Kiev Patriarchate church, had been chosen as head of the new church.

Metropolitan Epifaniy, of the Kiev Patriarchate

BBC News list “Five reasons why it [the split] matters.”  They include:

  • There could be fights over church property
  • Millions are affected
  • Religious tensions could spread to the Balkans
  • It’s personal: president vs. president
  • It’s part of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine

To follow updates on the split, click here:  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45396464

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