12 April 2022, The Tablet

Orthodox priests call for patriarchs to depose Kirill

“We clearly state that we can’t continue to remain in any form of canonical subordination to the Moscow patriarch.”

Orthodox priests call for patriarchs to depose Kirill

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow
Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/Alamy

More than 300 priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have signed a petition to the Council of Eastern Patriarchs asking it to put Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on trial.

The petition accuses Kirill of heresy in preaching the “Russian world” ideology, and of moral crimes in blessing Russian troops and their invasion of Ukraine. It calls on the primates of the local Orthodox Churches to subject him to an international ecclesiastical tribunal.

The priests belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church still officially loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. They describe the efforts of their own primate, Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv, to persuade Kirill to condemn the war, and the “mass indignation among clergy and faithful” caused by the patriarch’s failure to do so.

Although Kirill claims Ukraine’s Orthodox as his flock, the petition says, “today he directly blesses the physical destruction of his flock by Russian troops”.

The allegation that both Kirill “and numerous clergy in Russia” support the invasion comes amid reports of Orthodox clerics being called on to rally demoralised Russian troops.

The petition notes that fifteen dioceses have officially ceased to remember Kirill in their prayers, and that many other bishops have given tacit approval to priests removing his name from the liturgy, but say that this is not sufficient.

“We clearly state that we can’t continue to remain in any form of canonical subordination to the Moscow patriarch. This is a command of our Christian conscience.”

The petition was posted on the Facebook page of Archpriest Andriy Pinchuk, a priest in the Dnepropetrovk diocese, on 10 April.

Besides renouncing Kirill’s authority, the signatories also call for his formal deposition as patriarch for breaching the internal legislation of the Russian Orthodox Church: “the position of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding the war against Ukraine does not meet either the norms of Christian morality or even its own regulatory documents”.

Roughly a fifth of Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians profess adherence to the Moscow patriarchate. Since 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has recognised an autocephalous Kyiv patriarchate which Moscow regards as schismatic.

Patriarch Kirill severed communion with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I over the matter, but the signatories reject this too:

“We declare our loyalty to universal Orthodoxy, our desire for the fullness of our communion with it, and condemn any attempts to limit our communion with it. We also believe that it is the fullness of ecumenical Orthodoxy that should pay attention and responsibility to the statements of Patriarch Kirill today.”

The Council of Eastern Patriarchs to whom the petition is addressed is the historical body which considers allegations against the dignitaries of the Orthodox Church. It is composed of the heads of the autocephalous Churches which make up the Orthodox communion.

The petition also condemns the “Russian World” ideology, which claims Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians are a single people and Church. Invoking the declaration by theologians in March which condemned the ideology as “un-Orthodox” and heretical, it argues that this renders Kirill unfit for office.

The petition references the deposition in 1666 of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow by the Court of Eastern Patriarchs as a precedent for removing Kirill.

It calls for the Council to make an authoritative judgment on the “Russian World” and “in the case of condemnation of this doctrine, bring Patriarch Kirill to justice and deprive him of the right to hold the patriarchal throne”.

The Moscow-affiliated Church in Ukraine is the object of growing hostility among the population, amid allegations of collaboration against some of its clergy. A poll by Sociological Group Rating found that three-quarters of Ukrainians wanted it to sever its ties with Moscow, and half wanted their government to ban it entirely.

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