Russian Orthodox Leader Writes to Pope, Complains of Persecution in Ukraine

Patriarch Kirill said the decision violated all rules

Ukrainian priests will hold a historic synod on Saturday to work toward founding an independent church, in what the authorities in Kiev hope will be a further step out of Russia's orbit.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to attend Saturday's meeting between representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

The church's establishment received a boost in October when the spiritual leader of the global Orthodox Church - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople - recognized Ukraine's independence from the Russian Orthodox Church.

In protest, the Russian Orthodox Church cut ties with Constantinople.

Ukrainian clerics of different Orthodox denominations - including some bishops from the Moscow branch - will be electing a leader of a new church.

The Russian Orthodox Church has about 12,000 parishes across Ukraine and a monastery listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, though support has weakened amid the recent conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people.

Relations between Ukraine and Russian Federation collapsed following Moscow's seizure of Crimea in 2014.

In doing so, he revoked a 332-year-old ruling that had placed Ukraine under the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The synod aimed to unite various branches of the Orthodox church in Ukraine into a single independent body.

Ukrainian border guards prevent Russian men aged 16-60 from entering Ukraine. Sign says'Do not stop between the striped columns
Ukrainian border guards prevent Russian men aged 16-60 from entering Ukraine. Sign says ‘Do not stop between the striped columns

Despite that ban, a cleric of the church, Archbishop Kliment, told AFP he had recognised two bishops from the Moscow patriarchy in a photograph from the synod.

Ukraine has followed the US and the European Union in sanctioning Russia in recent years and last month banned entry to Russian males aged 16-60.

If the attempt to create a unified Ukrainian Church is successful, it would be among the largest in the Orthodox world in terms of numbers of believers.

Around half of them, however, are aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, which is considered to have close ties to the Russian state, especially under President Vladimir Putin's leadership.

"The state has no right to interfere with church affairs".

As church tensions have grown, Ukraine's Security Service has searched Russian Orthodox churches and the homes of Russian Orthodox priests in several cities.

Ukraine's SBU security service warned this week that Russian Federation was planning to stage "provocations" in the country as the clerics were meeting.

Kiev officials have framed the church issue as one of national security, with Poroshenko in the past referring to the branch loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate as a "threat".

The Russian Church said on Friday that its Patriarch Kirill has sent a letter to the United Nations secretary-general, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other spiritual leaders, urging them to help protect the clerics, believers and their faith in Ukraine.

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