Moscow blames Trump administration for schism in the Orthodox world

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The Russian government has denounced the Trump administration for fomenting schism within the Orthodox world. Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov said that without Washington’s help, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would not have broken free from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The minister’s statement made during the visit of the Greek foreign minister to Moscow was followed by the Russian Orthodox Church breaking off relations with the Orthodox Church of Alexandria and All Africa. Patriarch Theodoros II recognized Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kiev as head of the of the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church prompting Moscow’s action.

Moscow has already broken communion with the Kiev and Constantinople based Orthodox Churches over the Ecumenical Patriarch’s granting autocephaly or independence to the Ukrainian church. Last month the Greek Orthodox Synod voted to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church leading to speculation that Moscow will soon break with Athens.

On 8 Nov 2019 the Interfax News Agency published a bulletin stating Patriarch Cyril (Kirill) of Moscow and All Russia would no longer commemorate Theodorus’ name during worship services.

“The Russian Orthodox Church is deeply saddened by the reports on Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria’s decision to recognize [Epiphanius] Dumenko as the leader of the ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine’ and commemorate his name in the Church of Alexandria’s diptychs. This means that the name of the Patriarch of Alexandria can no longer be commemorated during patriarchal services in the Russian Orthodox Church,” Deputy Chairman of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Archpriest Nikolay Balashov told Interfax.

In the Orthodox world, “recognition” and communion with another Orthodox church takes place with the inclusion of the name of its patriarch during in the canon of the Divine Liturgy.  Theodoros mentioned Epiphanius while celebrating the liturgy on the feast of the archangels Michael and Gabriel, according to the Orthodox calendar. 

A communiquè released by the Alexandrian church stated autocephaly had been granted to the Ukrainian Church “by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in accordance with the sacred canons of our Orthodox Church tradition”.

For this reason, “after consulting the leaders of our local Churches, who are part of our very ancient Patriarchate founded by the Apostle Mark, and also bearing in mind the historical considerations for the future, we proceeded with the recognition of Autocephaly and during today’s liturgical celebration named of his beatitude Epiphanius, head of the church of Kiev and all of Ukraine, and we have prayed for peace and unity of the Orthodox Churches”.

On 12 October the Synod of bishops of the Orthodox Church of Hellas, presided over by the Archbishop of Athens Hieronymus II also recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church,

The Archbishop of Athens has invited Metropolitan Epiphanius to Athens to concelebrate the Eucharist with him. At that service the formal recognition of the Kiev church will taken place when Hieronymus names Epiphanius in the liturgy.

Moscow has warned Athens not to take action on the synod vote. However, the Russian government last week blamed the Trump administration for the widening schism within the Orthodox world.

On 6 Nov 2019 Interfax cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying:

“I didn’t hear that the Church of Greece officially recognized the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine. I’ve heard that there is a letter by Archbishop Hieronymos II of Athens and All Greece addressed to the leader of the schismatics, but I didn’t see an official statement by the Church of Greece,” Mr. Lavrov said at a press conference following negotiations with the foreign minister of Greece in Moscow on Wednesday.

“As for the conditions under whose influence this letter was forwarded and the discussion on the matter was started within the Church of Greece, it’s true that influence from the outside was obvious there,” he said.

“The above mentioned letter by Hieronymos was preceded by [U.S. Secretary of State Mike] Mr. Pompeo’s visit to Athens, and he didn’t even deny that this issue was among those he dealt with there,” Mr. Lavrov said.

“As far as I understand it, it’s for that very purpose that American diplomats travelled to Holy Mount Athos, as well. And  [Epiphanius] the head of the schismatic church, the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine, has said publicly that the establishment of this organization would have been impossible without the direct support of the U.S.,” Mr. Lavrov said.

“Obviously, the U.S. doesn’t want to stop at what has already been done and is trying to advance the schism in the Orthodox world as a whole,” he said.

“This work is being done virtually with all Orthodox Churches, and this is deplorable,” the minister said.