Moscow, Kiev both claim victory in Ukraine church dispute
The Associated Press
Monday, July 28, 2008
KIEV, Ukraine: Moscow and Kiev both are claiming victory in a dispute
creating an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church — which Russia
fiercely opposes — after a weekend visit by the spiritual leader of
the world's Orthodox Christians.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is hoping to win recognition of
the local church's independence from Moscow as part of his drive to
shed centuries-long Russian influence. The Russian Orthodox Church
resists losing control over this predominantly Orthodox country of 46
Yushchenko said on his Web site that the spiritual leader of the
world's Orthodox believers has voiced support for the creation of a
local church, independent of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.
"I am glad that the Patriarch is backing the aspiration of the
Ukrainian people to have its own national local church," Yushchenko
said in a statement. "Such aspirations are in line to all the
principles of a national, state and of course church life."
Yushchenko made the statement Sunday at the end of a three-day visit
by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who came to
Kiev to attend massive celebrations marking the 1020 anniversary of
Ukraine's and Russia's conversion to Christianity.
But Mikhail Prokopenko, a spokesman for the Moscow-based Russian
church, disputed Yushchenko's claim. He told The Associated Press on
Monday that a meeting between Russian Patriarch Alexy II and
Bartholomew confirmed that Constantinople recognizes Moscow's
supremacy over the Ukrainian church.
Prokopenko also said that Bartholomew also will not recognize a
breakaway church in Ukraine that has proclaimed its independence and
whose leader has been excommunicated by Alexy.
Bartholomew's office declined immediate comment.
Experts say the Ukrainian church likely will get independence
eventually, like churches in other countries will sizable Orthodox
populations. But an abrupt decision on this could lead to a deep split
between Constantinople and the Russian church, the biggest Orthodox
church in the world, which claims 95 million believers out of the
world's 250 million Orthodox.