Unrecognized Orthodox Ukrainians Deny Return to Russian Church

An unrecognized group of Orthodox Ukrainians Christians has rejected calls from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to return to unity.

In a written statement issued on Tuesday, the ROC pleaded with the separationist Ukranians to repent and return to communion, saying that a "considerable part" of their faithful are being "deprived…of divine grace."

"It is sinful and fatal for the soul to live in a schism," wrote ROC external relations head Metropolitan Hilarion. "There is nothing more fearful for a Christian than to die outside the Church."

In response, the synod of the self-proclaimed Kiev Patriarchate, which separated from the ROC in 1992 and is not recognized by the Eastern Orthodox communion, said that claims of a "schism" are an attempt by the ROC at "manipulating the minds of believers by misleading them and the entire public."

"There is no church schism in Ukraine, but only the division of jurisdiction (subordination)," said the group, which claims to represent over 50 percent of the Ukrainian population.

The Kiev Patriarchate further declared that Russian Church leader Patriarch Kirill is on a mission to destroy the separationist church rather than unify with it.

"It is clear from the speeches and statements made by senior members of the Moscow Patriarchate during the current visit by the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church to Ukraine that they do not want a constructive dialog to overcome the division within the Ukrainian Church, but they want to start systemic demolition of the Kiev Patriarchate under the guise of 'changes in political circumstances' and are trying to involve the Ukrainian authorities in this," they said.

Kirill was in Ukraine on Wednesday to celebrate the anniversary of Russian Christianity. Despite protests from a group of nationalists, Kirill said that he feels the country has become more stable and that more opportunities for solidarity have opened up.

"Despite the grief, loss and suffering, our people have kept the faith," Kirill said during the celebration. "Facing aggressive atheism and resurgent paganism we remain firm in our belief in God."

In an interview with Ukraine's Inter TV channel, Hilarion said that political changes in the country have destroyed the momentum behind the schism movement, and people are tiring of the tensions.

"The schism in Ukraine was inflated artificially, and now the prerequisites for blowing it further have gone, just as the fashion for schism which was there in the 90s together with the ideas of separatism and disintegration," Hilarion said.

"Now people have come to realize that their children and grandchildren are to live in the same country and it is not necessary to continue living in a situation of enmity and accusations and it is better to live in a situation of peace and good will," he added.

The 135-million-member ROC is the largest single Orthodox Church in the world. The group is in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul – the headquarters of the world's 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The Kiev Patriarchate is led by Patriarch Filaret, who was excommunicated from the ROC in 1997.

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