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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ukraine crisis deepens rift between Orthodox Churches


The pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine has deepened the country's religious divide as two Orthodox Churches tied to rival patriarchates in Moscow and Kiev support opposite sides in the conflict.

In Ukraine, Orthodox Christians make up the largest denomination but the faithful are split between two Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, one loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate and the other to the Kiev Patriarchate, set up following the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

In a message to the faithful last month, Patriarch Filaret in Kiev denounced "aggression against Ukraine and Russia's support for terrorists and separatists."

But Archbishop Mitrofan of Lugansk and Alchevsk who follows the Moscow Patriarchate took an opposite stance on the situation in his eastern Ukrainian diocese.

"We must take into account the results of referendum (on Lugansk's secession from Ukraine). Those in power in Kiev must listen to the people of Ukraine's south-east and take what they think into account," he told the Ukrainian website.

But support for Ukraine's pro-Russian rebels is not unanimous within the ranks of the Moscow Patriarchate. 

Despite his overt support for separatists, Lugansk Archbishop Mitrofan has distanced himself from one of his priests, Father Vladimir Maretsky, who was accused of taking part in an assault on a polling station during Ukraine's May 25 presidential election which was obstructed by the pro-Russian rebels.

 Father Maretsky has been suspended from his pastoral duties while the incident is being investigated. 

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1992 following Ukraine's independence and has so far remained in bitter opposition to the Moscow Patriarchate.

While Kiev is still not recognised by any of the world's 15 self-governing national Orthodox Churches, its congregation is nearly 15 percent of Ukraine's population, according to a 2006 survey by the Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Studies.

In eastern Ukraine, being a patriot means being pro-Russian, an Orthodox believer and a supporter of the Moscow Patriarchate.

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