The Patriarchate of Alexandria has become the latest to recognise Ukraine's new independent Orthodox church, prompting angry reactions from Russian leaders who bitterly opposed its establishment by the Ecumenical Patriarchate a year ago.
In a brief statement during a Cairo service, Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All-Africa said the recognition had been conferred after "many prayers and consultations" among his senior clergy. Meanwhile, in a second message to his bishops, published by Greece's Orthodox Romfea news agency, Theodore confirmed the move, adding that it had followed "mature reflection" and many personal talks, and been taken out of "concern for peace and the Orthodox churches' unity and wellbeing".
However, the act of recognition was deplored as "deeply saddening" by Russia's Moscow Patriarchate, which said its leader, Kirill I, had now deleted Theodore's name from his church's official prayer list. Meanwhile, a foreign relations spokesman for Ukraine's Moscow-linked Orthodox denomination also condemned the development, noting that Patriarch Theodore had previously called on his followers not to recognise the new church.
"Theodore II is well informed about everything currently happening in Ukraine – the excuse that he did not know the situation is not valid," said Archpriest Nikolai Danilevych in a weekend statement. "Unfortunately, what has happened can only be explained by weakness leading to betrayal. This patriarch has obviously not been able to withstand pressure from the Constantinople Patriarchate, and from Greek and US policies."
Russian Orthodox leaders cut all ties with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, after he issued a "tomos of autocephaly" formally establishing the new Ukrainian church last January under its primate, Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kiev and All-Ukraine, and are campaigning against its acceptance by other Orthodox churches.
However, the church was also formally recognised in late October by the Orthodox Church of Greece, despite opposition from several senior metropolitans. Preaching in Istanbul last week, Patriarch Bartholomew said he expected further pledges of recognition, adding that he had a "calm conscience", despite the ensuing conflict, about helping establish the new church, which was "connected more with Western democracy than any eastern repressive regime".
Catholic Church leaders in Ukraine and abroad have sought to avoid involvement in the inter-Orthodox conflict. However, in a sign of rising bitterness, the official Catholic Information Agency in Poland (KAI) last week accused the country's Orthodox leader, Metropolitan Sawa, of taking the Russian Orthodox side in the dispute and rejected his church's claims to have adopted an independent stance.