In an initial euphoria on Friday evening, the impression arose that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate had finally separated from the Moscow church hierarchy around Patriarch Kirill.

In the meantime, the church's website, on which she had published her statement, was also unavailable.

"We do not share the position of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill, on the war in Ukraine," it said after a country council attended by bishops, priests, religious and lay people.

The Council adopted amendments to the Church Statute which "certify the full autonomy and independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church".

Nicholas Zimmerman

Editor in Politics.

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The high expectations of the assembly also arose from the fact that the participants had to give up their phones for the duration of the council.

A groundbreaking result was to be expected, says the theologian Regina Elsner, who researches at the Berlin Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS), told the FAZ For the first time, the church has explicitly distanced itself from the Moscow patriarch, which is a “big step ' says Elsner.

Kirill is firmly behind the Russian war of aggression and Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin and justifies the invasion, among other things, with a fight against allegedly decadent western influences and says that the war is intended to protect against "gay pride parades".

"The beginning of a journey, but not the end"

However, there can be no question of a schism.

"It's the beginning of a journey, but not the end yet," says Elsner, an expert on the Eastern Churches, about the statement made by the Ukrainian Orthodox, who have so far been loyal to Moscow.

Among other things, the question of whether the Moscow church hierarchy sees the Kiev declaration as a definitive break is relevant.

That doesn't seem to be the case so far.

Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida told Telegram that "no official statement was received from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church".

This is "in a very difficult situation and is under pressure from many directions: from the authorities, from schemers, from nationalistically minded people and the media," Kirill's spokesman tried to use well-known enemy images.

But the Kiev Council declaration itself also leaves room for interpretation.

"It's clear, but it could be clearer," says Regina Elsner.

A wording along the lines of "we condemn the position of the patriarch" would have been clearer.

The independence that has existed in principle for 30 years was also emphasized, but no autocephaly was demanded.

In orthodox Christianity, this refers to the complete canonical independence of national churches, which are therefore not subordinate to any patriarch or metropolitan.

In recent years, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which competes with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, has achieved autocephaly.

In 2018, she initially subordinated herself to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, until he declared her independent the following year.

The vision of a Ukrainian national church remains far from utopia

It is not easy to determine the number of believers in the respective churches in Ukraine.

Only the number of Orthodox parishes is known.

According to this, around 12,000 congregations belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, while the autocephalous Orthodox Ukrainian Church and the Greek Catholic Church, united with Rome, each comprise around 7,000 congregations.

However, these numbers do not mean that the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is now daring the high-profile liberation, has the most support.

Eastern Church expert Elsner refers to a recent survey according to which around 50 percent of Ukrainians profess to be the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but only around 25 percent to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The latter has been in a delicate situation since the start of the Russian war of aggression on February 24 at the latest.

Regina Elsner emphasizes that the church has taken a surprisingly unequivocal stand against the war and that bishops who support Russia's invasion are in the clear minority.

Before February 24, the orientation towards Moscow was much more pronounced.

Nevertheless, the most recent declaration tries to find a middle ground by appealing to Kyiv and Moscow to continue negotiations in order to "find a strong and sensible word that could stop the bloodshed." In recent weeks, the bishops of the Ukrainian However, the Orthodox Church is also concerned about the "frequent instances of stirring up religious hostility" in Ukraine.

With the statement on Friday evening, the church, which has so far been closely linked to Moscow, also expresses its relationship with the autocephalous fellow believers.

She advocates dialogue, but sets preconditions for such a dialogue that are hardly acceptable to the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” written in brackets in the document.

As long as one church implicitly or explicitly regards the other church as illegitimate, the religious schism will continue - and the idea of ​​an orthodox national church will remain a distant utopia.

Regina Elsner says that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church "broke a lot of glass" in the dispute that has been going on for years.

It turns out that the exact same liturgy in all three Orthodox churches in the country is not a sufficient prerequisite for ecumenism.