The Russian Orthodox Church condemned a decision by the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to appoint representatives to Kiev in the latest chapter in a row over the autonomy of Ukraine's Orthodox Church.
The patriarchate in Istanbul led by Bartholomew appointed two exarchs to Kiev in a move interpreted as the first step in recognizing the autocephaly or autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been strictly opposed by Russia. "The decisions to send exarchs without discussing it with Patriarch Kirill [of the Russian Orthodox Church] are unprecedented and threaten the unity of the Orthodox world," the statement released on the website of the Moscow Patriarchate said. The Russian church said the move was "a blatant violation of the church canons prohibiting bishops from one church to interfere in the affairs of another church." Russia's TASS news agency reported that the Moscow Patriarchate would "soon make counter-moves" against the appointments.
Kirill and Bartholomew, two influential leaders of the Orthodox world, met in Istanbul in August to resolve the rift against the backdrop of an ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Their meeting did not produce results, but the Fener patriarchate hinted that a decision to grant autonomy to the Ukrainian church was imminent.
Patriarch Bartholomew oversees a large number of Orthodox churches around the world and holds the exclusive right to grant autocephaly, a full ecclesiastic independence, to the Ukrainian church. If he goes ahead with granting "Tomos of Autocephaly" as it is formally known, the move will likely hurt the clout of the Moscow-based patriarchate in the Orthodox world. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has launched a campaign to persuade Bartholomew, seen by many as the first among the equals of Orthodox leaders, to accept Ukraine's request. Ukrainian politicians see a declaration, known as a "Tomos of Autocephaly," as a key step in consolidating their country's national identity.