Saturday, November 3, 2018

Moscow Could Be Stripped of Autocephaly and Belarus Could Gain that Status, Constantinople Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 2 – If Moscow continues to interfere with the march of Ukraine’s Orthodox to autocephaly, it could lose not only its church in Ukraine – there is no Russian church there now legitimately, a representative of the Universal Patriarchate says – but even have its own autocephaly taken away and watch as Belarus gains autocephaly as well.

            In an interview to BBC’s Ukrainian service, Archbishop Iov of the Universal Patriarchate in Constantinople, says that the Moscow Patriarchate, having lost its position in Ukraine, could easily lose more if it continues to interfere and refuses to accept the decision on autocephaly for Ukraine that only Constantinople is entitled to make.

            If it does not stop and does not accept the inevitability of Ukrainian autocephaly, Iov continues, Constantinople will have to consider other steps, including even the possibility of stripping Moscow itself of the autocephaly Constantinople gave it in the first place ( in Ukrainian; in Russian; cf.

            “We hope that Russia will reflect upon this and return to unity with the Universal throne for the Universal throne does not want to break relations with it. But if this situation will continue for a long time, of course, the Universal throne will be forced to take definite decisions in order to guarantee the unity of the church,” Iov says.

            Taking autocephaly away from Moscow would be a “nuclear option” and it very unlikely; but Constantinople has the power to take that step. More immediately, Iov pointed out, it has the option of granting autocephaly not only to Ukraine but also to Orthodoxy in Belarus, something that would further limit Moscow’s influence especially now that it has lost Ukraine.

            Moscow is clearly losing this church battle, something that will have serious consequences for Patriarch Kirill in the first instance – he could even be forced from office – but also for his church and for the Russian state it serves.  Constantinople isn’t intimidated, and Moscow religious and secular has to decide just how far it will go given that the stakes against it are becoming so large.   

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