Russian Patriarch Kirill has said he understands a decision by the Russian Orthodox Church’s branch in Ukraine to cut ties amid Moscow’s invasion of its eastern neighbor.
“We fully understand how the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is suffering today,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on May 29.
He added that the “spirits of malice” wanted to divide the Orthodox people of Russia and Ukraine but they would not succeed.
In 2019, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was officially recognized by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the spiritual head of Orthodox Christianity’s 300 million-strong worldwide community.
It heralded a historic break with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, ending more than three centuries of Russian spiritual and temporal control of the dominant faith in Ukraine.
However, many parishes, especially in Ukraine’s east, elected to remain loyal under the umbrella of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.
Following a meeting of its leadership the church announced that it would declare its full independence from Russia.
“The council has approved the corresponding additions and changes to the Statute on the Management of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, indicating the full autonomy and independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” it said in a statement late on May 27.
Ahead of the decision, more than 400 parishes had left the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate in the aftermath of the invasion.
A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center found that 34 percent of Ukrainians identified as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14 percent were members of Ukraine’s Moscow Patriarchate Church.
The statement also condemned Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the support of Patriarch Kirill as head of Russia’s church.
Kirill, 75, sees the invasion as a bulwark against a decadent West. At the same time, he has insisted that “Russia has never attacked anyone.”