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A Schism in the Orthodox Church?

Russian secular and religious leaders may be ganging up to pre-empt what they see as a bid for influence in Ukraine on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. Church in Russia is seen as "department" of government.

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A high-level source at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople has told this newspaper that Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus cancelled his participation in a pan-Orthodox celebration after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened to withdraw support of Nicosia on the Cyprus problem.

Negotiations between Cyprus and the Turkish-Cypriots for political reunification are about to reopen on July 25 after more than four years in abeyance (click here).

"Chrysostomos was subjected to raw and clear blackmail," the source said.

"The Cyprus case proves clearly now that, essentially, the Church of Russia is a department of the Russian state. It is not an independent church. It is a state organ that expresses Russian state policy at the church level," the church source told the Athens News.

The alleged blackmail from Lavrov came two days ahead of a letter dated July 20 from Patriarch Alexei of Moscow to all Orthodox patriarchs and archbishops. In the letter, Alexei warns them not to attend celebrations for the 1020th anniversary of the Christianisation of Ukraine because that could produce a schism like the one that split Christendom into East and West in 1054.

"With cognisance of the dangerous consequences, we asked the ecumenical patriarch not to proceed with uncanonical moves. If that call is received with understanding, we are ready to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy and hold talks with him. Otherwise, we may see an ecclesiastical division that could be compared to the events of 1054 (the Great Schism)," Alexei wrote.

Alexei accuses the ecumenical patriarch of talking to Ukrainian schismatics in a bid to undermine Moscow's authority in Kiev.

The Ukrainian Church (about 9.5 million faithful) is under the canonical jurisdiction of Moscow, with Metropolitan Vladimir, but two breakaway churches (14.5 million faithful combined) developed after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The one led by Filaret of Kiev seeks independence from Moscow with the blessing of Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko. Alexei was reportedly enraged when Filaret and Yushchenko's brother visited Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos on July 14 at the Phanar.

Another schism?

Alexei's four-page letter and Lavrov's alleged warning to Chrysostomos have opened an explosive rift between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow. Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria, who once served as church envoy to Moscow, will not go, and Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem was hedging until the last minute.

But Archbishop Anastasios of Albania will attend, and Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece called an emergency synod on July 22 before deciding to go. The patriarchs of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania will not attend due to advanced age or health problems.

Alexei's letter narrowed his earlier invitation for the other Orthodox churches to send delegations, asking the leaders of the churches "to avoid your personal participation in the celebrations so that your presence cannot be interpreted as a show of support for possible anti-canonical acts".

Vartholomeos responded angrily to Alexei on July 22 that his letter was "insulting to my person" and included threats based on "indiscriminate rumours". Vartholomeos underlined that he had no intention of praying with the schismatics, and he again invited Alexei to celebrate the liturgy with him in Kiev.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate privately expressed its outrage to this newspaper.

"The source of the clash between the two patriarchates is precisely the significance of Ukraine, which for the Orthodox Church is as great as the geostrategic, political, energy and defence importance of Ukraine is right now. Ukraine has shifted Westwards in all these areas, and it is doing the same ecclesiastically. The West for Ukraine means Constan

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