MOSCOW, February 26 (RIA Novosti) – Russia called on clerics from major Orthodox branches in Ukraine Wednesday to prevent a religious conflict from escalating in the country.
Ukraine has three major Orthodox churches, but only one of them – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) - is under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction of Russia and canonically recognized by the whole Eastern Orthodox communion.
The schism in Ukraine’s Orthodox community largely reflects the decades-long political split in the country, with pro-European west and pro-Russian east and south. The pro-Russian UOC-MP complained of “provocations” against its places of worship earlier this week.
"Russia is extremely concerned by violent behavior of extremists, who continue to impose their will and enforce their views because they are absolutely sure that it will be tolerated and their actions will go unpunished,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The UOC-MP has the allegiance of more than half of all Orthodox Christian communities in Ukraine. It is the largest religious body and controls two thirds of all religious organizations in the country.
The other two are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The first has a strong presence in the capital Kiev and in central regions, while the second enjoys overwhelming support in the Western half of the country.
The UOC-MP said in a statement on Wednesday that holy places under its administration “became a target for provocations by radicals.”
The statement follows a reported attempt to seize an UOC-MP cathedral in the northern Ukrainian city of Sumy by a dozen individuals. They demanded that priests permit services by the UOC-KP, which split from the UOC-MP in 1992 to establish a church that would be independent from the Moscow Patriarchate.
They threatened to set fire to the church with Molotov cocktails if their demand was refused.
In an unrelated incident, senior clerics of Ukraine’s second largest monastery, Pochayiv Lavra in the western Ternopil Region, claimed in an official statement that “a group of schismatics” had unsuccessfully tried to seize one of the monastery’s churches.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday, calling the incidents “extremely dangerous” and saying that such events might “trigger new disturbances and deepen the split in the Ukrainian society.”
The ministry called on “all sober-minded forces in the country to avoid further escalation of tensions and prevent the country from plunging into a religious confrontation, before it gets too late.”