Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs refuse to take part in Poroshenko’s ‘unification council’

Hierarchs of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church have refused en masse to take part in the so-called ‘unification council’ championed by the country’s president, sending “invitations” to the event back without reply.

The unification council kicks off on Saturday in Kiev. The event, announced by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko himself in early December, is supposed to “bring together” members of various Orthodox Churches of the country to create a new, “independent” church.

While the event has been pompously hailed by the country’s senior officials, things look rather bleak since the only canonical religious organization – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate – refused to take part. The head of the Church, Kiev Metropolitan Bishop Onufriy, returned his “invitation” (effectively an ultimatum) back to the sender.

The mailbox of the man who sent the invitations – the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I – has apparently been full of late, since 56 hierarchs have already followed suit, the Church said on Thursday. Apart from them, the Church’s bishops refused to take the invitations in the first place.

While Ukraine boasts two other self-styled Orthodox ‘churches’, one of which even has its own self-proclaimed ‘patriarch’, any sort of unification council with the majority of schismatics in attendance would effectively be void, experts have repeatedly warned.

“A significant presence of the canonical church is a must, since it will be just a schismatic gathering, which can only create yet another schismatic religious institution,” senior fellow with the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Oleg Nemenskiy, earlier told RT.

The ongoing church rift was triggered by the move of the Constantinople Patriarchy earlier this year to send its exarchs to Kiev. The move violated the principle of non-interference in affairs of other Churches, observed by the Orthodox Church, and caused a bitter row with the Moscow Patriarchate.

The “independent” status of the church, desired by senior Ukrainian officials, has turned out to be much less impressive than initially advertised. Earlier this month, the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate unveiled a draft statute for the yet-to-be-founded church. It puts the entity in a position entirely subordinate to Constantinople. If this church actually emerges, it would be far more restricted in its actions than the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. While it is a constituent part of the Moscow Patriarchate, it is essentially free to act on its own, while only its head must be approved in Moscow.

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