The Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul, the leading authority in the Orthodox world, accused the Moscow Patriarchate of "earthly" ambitions in a dispute over the status of the Ukrainian church.
Two patriarchates that once sought to improve their ties are nowadays on opposing sides of a dispute over granting autonomy to the Ukrainian church. The feud against the backdrop of an ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kiev over pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine was recently stoked after Fener greenlit the process for autonomy.
In an interview with Agos, an Istanbul weekly, Istanbul patriarchate's officials accused the Moscow church of "once again dealing a blow to the Orthodox unity."
"The Moscow Patriarchate acts in line with earthly criteria and apparently forgot that the power of the church is spiritual, and its head is Jesus," officials speaking to the weekly said.
Earlier this month, the patriarchate 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 Moscow Patriarchate has condemned the "unprecedented move to send exarchs without discussing it with Patriarch Kirill [of the Russian Orthodox Church]" and said in a statement that it threatened the unity of the Orthodox world.
Kirill and Bartholomew, two influential leaders of the Orthodox world, met in Istanbul in August to resolve the rift, but their meeting did not produce results.
Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian church's external relations department, even threatened on Sept. 8 to sever relations with the Fener patriarchate if the Ukrainian church's autonomy is approved.
Fener officials said it was the patriarchate's duty to grant autocephaly and the criteria to grant it applies to all countries without difference. "A church should be located in an independent country and this church and the state it is located in should apply for autocephaly," officials listed in the criteria. "The Moscow Patriarchate's reaction cannot be explained through a religious perspective. It is inappropriate to adopt a stance based on political criteria rather than spiritual criteria," the patriarchate officials said.
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.
The Fener patriarchate said close relations of the Moscow church with "earthly" administrations "from Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union to the [Vladimir] Putin administration" posed a problem in its relations with other Orthodox churches. "It cares for those subservient to its authority and treats those it is at odds with aggression and distrust," the patriarchate officials said.