Orthodox Circles Opposed to Papal Trip to Ukraine

Interconfessional Tensions Running High

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MOSCOW, JAN. 15, 2001 (ZENIT.org-FIDES).-

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow is poised to oppose John Paul II´s planned visit to Ukraine this year, the Vatican agency Fides reported.

Fides sources report that during a recent meeting of the standing council of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Vladimir, representing the Russian Patriarchate of Kiev, was appointed to write an official letter to dissuade the Pope from making the visit, planned for June.

Fringes of the Orthodox world fear that a visit by the bishop of Rome would trigger an explosion of the interconfessional conflicts that have tormented Ukraine for more than a decade.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has had to bear all the inter-Christian and inter-Orthodox tension of the Slav peoples. Ten years ago, there were at least 15,000 Orthodox parishes in Ukraine (while only 6,000 remained in Russia). About 8,000 of them left Moscow´s jurisdiction and of these, at least 2,000 remained under the control of Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev, the main antagonist of the present Patriarch Aleksij in the synod, which elected the latter as patriarch in 1989.

Following this incident, Philaret was excommunicated and reduced to the lay state by Moscow, but he proclaimed himself patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, remaining the principal interlocutor with Ukraine´s political leaders.

About 100 parishes joined to form an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Inspired in «catacomb orthodoxy,» which never accepted the Soviet regime, its organizing centers are abroad, and its «spiritual guide» is Metropolitan Konstantin, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States. The patriarch of Constantinople discreetly supports it.

Added to this complicated mosaic are the more than 3,000 Ukrainian parishes, which returned to Greek-Catholic jurisdiction. They had been suppressed by the regime in 1946 and forced to reunite with Moscow. The Patriarchate of Moscow considers this «return» one of the main causes of conflict with the Roman Catholic Church.

The problems of the Moscow Patriarchate do not end with Ukrainian Catholics. The real question is, What will happen to the remaining Orthodox Ukrainian parishes? Led by Metropolitan Vladimir, they make up a sizable part of Orthodox Christianity; on their own, they are equal to almost half the parishes that form the Moscow Patriarchate.

Playing on the weight of numbers and history (Ukraine is considered the historical cradle of Orthodoxy), Metropolitan Vladimir is working to obtain independence from Moscow. In fact, during the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Bishops held in Moscow last August, his autonomy increased considerably.

The total autonomy of Ukrainian Orthodoxy from Moscow could weaken the patriarchate itself, both from the numerical and economic point of view, and this is creating friction at the summit and base of the Orthodox world.

Last year, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma relaunched the idea of a «local Ukraine Council,» in which all the metropolitans or presumed metropolitans would step aside and allow the clergy and people to elect one unique spiritual leader.

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