The Holy Synod was called by Moscow Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, after the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who is considered the leader of the worldwide Orthodox community, on October 11 agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Moscow considers the Kiev Patriarch Filaret to be a schismatic, a decision Constantinople has backed since the 1990s but reversed last week amid the drive by Ukraine for its own Orthodox Church independent from Moscow.
Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Archpriest Igor Yakimchuk has noted that Constantinople Patriarchate churches are located, in part, in Istanbul, Antalya, Crete, and on Rhodes.
The decision means priests of the Russian Church will no longer perform services with those of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and members of the Russian laity will not participate in sacraments performed by churches that come under the Phanar until the "anti-canonical decisions" are reconsidered, the Russian Patriarchate said.
Kiev sees the move, endorsed by a synod meeting in Istanbul on Thursday, as a vital step against Moscow's meddling in its affairs, but the Russian clergy fiercely opposes it as the biggest split in Christendom in 1,000 years.
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The Serbian patriarch pointed out that the move was unprecedented for the Orthodox Church.
Ukraine now has three Orthodox communities - one answering to the Russian Orthodox Church and two schismatic churches.
Hilarion said the decision by Constantinople to pronounce the entirety of Ukrainian churches as independent from Moscow "goes against historical truth" as the Kievan Metropolis of the 17th century corresponded to a different geographical area. "The church that acknowledged the schismatics has excluded itself from the canonical field of the Orthodoxy". Ukraine today is more unified, more nationalist, more oriented toward Europe and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the West than it has even been true before, and that's a direct result of Russia's intervention in Ukraine and killing of Ukrainians, ' he said as quoted by EUObserver. "Indeed, the obstinacy of the Patriarchate of Moscow was instrumental in occasionally creating repeated mergers and restorations of ecclesiastical eparchies, uncanonical elections of bishops as well as schisms, which still afflict the pious Ukrainian people".
Many monks of the Russian Orthodox Church live and work in important monasteries under Constantinople, notably on Mount Athos in Greece, and many Orthodox sites in Greece and Cyprus are important pilgrimage centers for Russian Orthodox believers.
At the gathering, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, known as the "first among equals" among his peers, said that his predecessor in 1686 - Patriarch Dionysios IV - under "great political pressure" was forced to give Moscow permission to ordain the metropolitan of Kyiv, thus annexing Ukraine's Orthodox jurisdiction. It's an issue of Ukrainian national security. "It's an issue of Ukrainian statehood". "We hope that there won't be any clashes", he said.