Ukraine Orthodox Church breaks with Patriarch Kirill I and the Russian Church

Kiev, May 29 (– The leaders of the central branch of the Orthodox church in Ukraine Kirill I blessing Russian troopshave made a formal break with the hierarchy in Moscow, widening the schism that is opening since 2014, and declared independence from the Russian Orthodox Church over its support of the Kremlin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, according to a statement on the Ukrainian church's Facebook page on Friday.

Archbishop Kliment said the church's congregation felt it could no longer remain silent. He was speaking inside Kyiv's Pechersk Lavra monastery –one of the most ancient and holy sites in Ukraine– a day after the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchy declared "full independence"... "It is difficult for me to (understand) the explanation or silence of the representatives of the Moscow patriarchate on the tragedy that is happening today," he added, as tens of thousands are killed and millions displaced. His wing of Ukraine's church is one of the last remaining links to Russia.

Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of Russia's Orthodox Church, has repeatedly blessed the Russian military forces invading Ukraine. He has also avoided condemning attacks on civilians, even though he was the spiritual leader of Orthodox churches in both countries, according to the New York Times.

The Ukrainian church has been under the wing of the Moscow Patriarchate for centuries, and its departure will markedly decrease the size of the patriarch’s flock because Ukrainians attend church in much greater numbers than Russians.

The Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaking away represents a major schism, though it is unclear how many Ukrainian bishops and parishes will follow the leaders of the church. Before the announcement on Friday, about half the 45 dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had already stopped mentioning Patriarch Kirill in their prayer services, the first step toward a formal rupture.

This month, Pope Francis criticized Kirill for his support for the invasion, telling him to not "transform himself into Putin's altar boy. Brother, we are not state clerics, we cannot use the language of politics but that of Jesus. We are pastors of the same holy people ..."

Kirill, 75, was elected in 2009 as the Patriarch of the influential Russian Orthodox Church, which has more than 100 million followers. Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith in both Russia and Ukraine — but since the war, the church has contributed to a rift between Moscow and Kyiv, as Kirill has dug his heels into pro-war rhetoric.

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