The refusal of entry to the Moscow Patriarchate's "foreign minister", Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, has raised yet another diplomatic row between Kiev and the Russian Federation, casting shadows on the fate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Among the most senior representatives of the Russian Patriarchate, the chairman of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations was rejected entry at the border and forced to return to Russia, on May 9. Arriving at the international airport of Dnepropetrovsk, Hilarion was stopped at passport control, before the authorities showed him an official note which prohibited him from entering the territory of Ukraine. As reported by the Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, no further explanation was provided.
Hilarion was slated to participate in the celebrations for the 75th birthday of Metropolitan Irinej of Dnepropetrovsk and Pavlograd , as the representative of the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill . The message sent by the Russian Orthodox primate was read to Irinej, who arrived at the scene after the mishap at customs, in a room at the airport.
The Russian Orthodox Church has strongly condemned the episode, calling it "an attempt to transfer the civil and political conflict in Ukraine to the religious sphere". Hilarion - who said he was "surprised" - warned that "what happened raises many questions, because the Church carries out only a mission of peace". "Whoever made that decision did not act very wisely, because the Russian Orthodox Church is outside of politics" Archpriest Igor Yakymchuk , who accompanied Hilarion in his visit to Ukraine told Kommersant. According to the priest, the Patriarchate will take measures in response to the incident, although " it is still not clear what".
The Russian Foreign Ministry has also intervened. It has demanded an apology and "exhaustive explanations" from the Ukrainian authorities, branding the episode as a "provocative and unprecedented" act. "Moscow is worried by the continuous measures by the current regime of Kiev, which only contribute to the further destabilization of the situation in the country", a statement from the ministry said, which emphasizes that "today even the canonical Orthodox Church has become their target".
After several days of silence, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has distanced itself from the incident. "The right to entry, is up to the Border Service ," said spokesman Yevgeny Perebyinis .
Since last month , Ukraine has "temporarily" banned entry to Russian male citizens, aged between 16 and 60 years, for reasons related to the deteriorating situation in the eastern regions of the country.
Another sign of the intensification of diplomatic tension even around the state of the Orthodox Church regards the Metropolitan of Odessa and Izmail, Agafangel, who has been missing since last week . According to the online newspaper Rupor Odessy , citing the press service of the diocese , the religious left town on a previously organized "vacation", but without specifying where he currently is.