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Russian Orthodox Church Splits with Orthodox Leaders Over Ukraine

FILE - Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill leads a religious service honoring Czar Nicholas II July 17, 2018. Recently, Patriarch Kirill recognized the independence of Ukraine's church from Russia's. (AP Photo/Aleksandr Abramenkov)
Russian Orthodox Church Splits with Orthodox Leaders Over Ukraine
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The Russian Orthodox Church has announced plans to break ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Russian orthodox officials acted after the Patriarchate’s recognition of a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which will be independent of the Russian church.

Orthodox Christianity has several leaders, or patriarchs, across the world unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which is led by the Pope.

However, the Patriarch of Constantinople is considered “the first among equals” in the leadership of Orthodox Christianity. Constantinople is the former name for Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.

Traditionally, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been led by the Patriarch of Moscow. But several issues have increased tensions between Ukrainian and Russian religious leaders.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its continued support for separatists fighting Ukraine’s central government have led to a split between the two sides.

On October 11, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople officially recognized the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine as independent. While church members in Ukraine celebrated the move, the decision angered Russian church officials.

On Monday, Moscow Patriarch Kirill held a meeting, called a Holy Synod, with top church officials in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Following the talks, the Russian Orthodox Church announced the split and what it would mean to worshipers.

Now, clergy from the Russian Church and the Constantinople Patriarchate will be barred from serving together. Worshipers of one church also may not take part in holy communion in the other church.

“We cannot be in communication with this church, which is in schism,” said a Russian Orthodox spokesman. He added that the Russian church hopes that “common sense will prevail and that the Constantinople Patriarchate changes its mind.”

The Ukrainian Patriarch blamed his Russian counterpart for the split, adding that his actions have “pulled all of Orthodox Christianity into conflict.”

The move affects millions of Orthodox Christians across Eastern Europe and Russia. An estimated 100 million of the world’s 260 million Orthodox Christians live in Russia.

Some consider the split the most important since Eastern and Western Christianity split more than 900 years ago.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Max Jungreis wrote this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted his story for Learning English and adding information from a report published by RFE/RL. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

church – n. an organization of religious believers; a building used for Christian religious services

schism – n. a division among members of a group that occurs because they disagree on an issue

prevail – v. to defeat an opponent

communion – n. a ceremony where Christians remember the death of Jesus Christ

worshiper – n. someone who attends religious services

annexation – n. the act of taking control of something, such as part of a state or country

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