19 Apr 2018 14:14

Ukrainian Orthodox Church's autocephaly is geopolitical issue - Poroshenko

KYIV. April 19 (Interfax) - The autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is a geopolitical issue, considering that Russia uses the church as leverage, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in his address to the Verkhovna Rada on Thursday.

"This is far from being a mere church affair! This is about our final independence from Moscow. It is not just religion, it is geopolitics. It is national security and our defense in the hybrid war, because the Kremlin sees the Russian Orthodox Church as a key instrument of influence on Ukraine," Poroshenko said.

"To me, the establishment of an independent local church is as important as the visa-free travel system and the Agreement of Association with the European Union we have already achieved, as well as our struggle for a place in the European Union and NATO, which has yet to be won," Poroshenko said.

"We will not be detached observers of another country's interference in our church affairs and attempts at using the feelings of certain Ukrainian Orthodox believers to its ends," he said.

Poroshenko called for applying the ancient canonical principle and "supplementing the civil and territorial division with a division in church affairs. The debate on autocephaly started after the country became independent. Similar processes took place in Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, and even Russia over various periods of time. As an independent country, Ukraine has the right established by the traditions of the Orthodox world and simply must constitutionalize this church and ensure its recognition by the international Orthodox community," he said.

The president cited opinion polls indicating that an increasing number of Orthodox believers in Ukraine wanted to have a single autocephalous church, which is customary in the Orthodox world and a majority of Orthodox countries, "to have a Eucharistic and devout connection to other local churches, but to be administratively independent from foreign church jurisdictions."

"We have found a formula in which all Orthodox jurisdictions of Ukraine could participate in the local church's constitutionalization. This is a priority of all genuine advocates of strengthening Ukrainian unity. This unity is our major weapon against the Russian aggressor. I will be firm. And I will oppose everyone who tries to hinder the national interests of Ukraine and our cooperation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople," he said.

Poroshenko said he had had several meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. "Through all these years [of my presidency], I have been in an invisible dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Members of my team have been frequenting Phanar. Fighting for the Ukrainian Church is important, honorable, responsible work," Poroshenko said.

The Easter meeting he had with the Ecumenical Patriarch on April 9 "was far from being the first, but turned out to be among the most inspiring and productive." "We spoke for several hours, and I realized that it was time to break the long period of diplomatic silence with fast, concrete steps," he said.