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Russia: Patriarch Kirill defends freedom of religion and conscience in Ukraine. The first Council of the Authocephalous Church tomorrow in Kiev

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and of All Russia sent messages to the leaders of Christian Churches – to Pope Francis – to the governments of France and Germany and to the United Nations denouncing the “blatant” interference of the Ukrainian State in the affairs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and to demand the respect of freedom of religion and conscience in the Country in the light of large-scale violations carried out against clerics and bishops. The message was released today by the Patriarchate of Moscow on the eve of the first Unification Council of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that will be held at Kyiv’s St. Sophia Cathedral tomorrow. The Council was announced a few days ago by President Petro Poroshenko. The approval of the charter of the newly-established national Church and the election of its Primate will take place during the assembly that will bring together the religious hierarchy of Orthodox Churches independent from the Patriarchate of Moscow. Immediately after his appointment the newly-elected Primate will leave for Istanbul where Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I will hand him over the tomos – the formal recognition of autocephaly.

In his message Patriarch Kirill is heavy on accusations, mentioning even a risk of “persecution.” “Recently, the interference of the leaders of the secular Ukrainian state in church affairs has grown into a blatant pressure on the episcopate and clerics of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, that allows us to speak of the beginning of large-scale persecutions.” For Kirill, the pressure increased because of the refusal of the Ukrainian Orthodox episcopate (connected to Moscow) to participate in tomorrow’s Council, which in Russian eyes aims to “replace” the largest confession in the country that counts 13 thousand parishes, over two hundred monasteries and millions of believers, with “some new religious organization that is being created by the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko in concert with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.”

The letter of Kirill is long and detailed. It enlists all the violations carried out in the last period against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church tied to Moscow. Kirill even mentioned “questioning by the Security Service of Ukraine” and denounced that on December 9, the Security Service of Ukraine denied Metropolitan Ilarion of Donetsk, a citizen of Ukraine, entry into the country, invoking “special instructions from Kiev.” The letter denounces the attempt on the part of local authorities to deprive the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of its legal rights to use the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras – major holy sites of the Orthodox Ukraine. Bishops and clerics – underlines Patriarch Kirill – have been made criminally liable on “baseless charges” of “high treason” and “incitement to religious hatred.” The letter even reports searches “conducted in cathedrals, diocesan administrations, churches and even private houses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s clergymen in the cities of Zhytomir, Ovruch and Korosten.”

“We do not know what steps the authorities of Ukraine will take next, what actions they can dare to undertake to achieve their goal in a time left before the presidential elections”, wrote the Russian Patriarch referring to Petro Poroshenko and the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine. He added: “the numerous facts of discrimination to which the Ukrainian Church has already been subjected make us fear even more serious infringement on the rights and freedoms of the Orthodox Christians, their greater sufferings for remaining faithful to the canonical Orthodoxy.”

Patriarch Kirill addressed his message to Pope Francis; Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Anglican Communion; Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches; Mr. António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General; as well as to Emmanuel Macron, President of France; and Mrs. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. He called upon the religious leaders, senior statesmen and heads of international organizations “to make every effort to protect the episcopate, clergy and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from discrimination and pressure exerted by the Ukrainian authorities and to defend the freedom of conscience and religion secured by the international law.”

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