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22 November 2014
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News

Russian Orthodox leader turned away at Ukraine border

Russia's Orthodox Church has protested to Kiev after one of its top leaders was denied entry to eastern Ukraine amid tension over last Sunday’s pro-Russian referendum ballots. “We are perplexed and deeply regret this decision, taken in circumstances where people are being subjected to severe tests in Ukraine,” the Moscow Patriarchate said on Tuesday. “The Russian Orthodox Church is doing everything possible to achieve peace and harmony in the country, and to promote dialogue between the warring parties.”

The Patriarchate said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who heads its foreign relations department, was “arrested” by airport border guards at Dnepropetrovsk last Friday when he arrived to celebrate the birthday of the “honoured and revered” local Orthodox bishop, Ireneus. It added that the 47-year-old metropolitan, traditionally viewed as No. 2 in the Russian church hierarchy, was given “formal written notification” of his persona non grata status, and greeted Bishop Ireneus instead at the checkpoint before flying back to Moscow.

Russian Orthodox leaders have been bitterly criticised by Ukraine's breakaway Orthodox Church of the Kievan Patriarchate for allegedly endorsing the March annexation of Crimea and failing to condemn pro-Russian separatist violence. During a controversial visit to Crimea on 9 May, Russian President Vladimir Putin was greeted at Sevastopol's nineteenth- century Orthodox cathedral by its bishop, Metropolitan Lazar, and praised the building, which was restored with Russian Defence Ministry funding, as “a symbol of Russia’s spiritual presence on the Black Sea”.

Meanwhile Cardinal Kurt Koch told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine this week that the Christian Churches bore a special responsibility in the present situation in the Ukraine. “The more they jointly raise their voices, the more they will be able to contribute towards a peaceful solution,” the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity emphasised.

It should not be forgotten that although politically Ukraine was an independent state, from the ecclesiastical point of view it came under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, Cardinal Koch recalled. Patriarch Kirill I, as Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, therefore bore a particular responsibility in the resolution of the conflict. He had recently emphasised that his Church wanted to take a neutral position, and above all advocated reconciliation, Koch explained, adding: “It is very much to be hoped that the Orthodox will reunite as that will also greatly benefit ecumenism.

Asked if the Vatican was covertly helping diplomatically, Cardinal Koch said, “In such a difficult and sensitive situation, help must also be given covertly so that it can better achieve its goal.”