Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox clerics call for tribunal for Patriarch Kirill, key Putin ally

More than 290 clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—Moscow Patriarchate, a body aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, petitioned Monday for a church heresy trial against Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian church and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The clerics accused Kirill of preaching “heresy” and committing “moral crimes” by endorsing the weeks-old “special military operation” in Ukraine that began on Feb. 24.

The church leaders said they can no longer be in “canonical submission” to Kirill and the Moscow Patriarchate, a major break with its parent body.

The Ukrainian clerics’ call for an “International Ecclesiastical Tribunal” was first reported Monday by the Religious Information Service of Ukraine. The petition will go to the Council of Primates of Ancient Eastern Churches, of which the Russian Orthodox Church is a member.

The priests and bishops also asked the primates to “clearly and unambiguously condemn” Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The Rev. Andriy Pinchuk, a UOC-MP archpriest in Voloske, Ukraine, started the appeal via Facebook.

“For several centuries there has been a tradition in the Orthodox Church to appeal to the court of such a Council in case of serious conflicts,” Father Pinchuk wrote.

“The Council of the Eastern Patriarchs has repeatedly considered lawsuits against the highest church dignitaries,” he added, noting the case against Moscow Patriarch Nikon some 350 years ago, which stripped the primate of his rank and position.

“Today, when Patriarch Kirill of Moscow frankly supports Russia‘s war of conquest against Ukraine, we, the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, have decided to appeal to the Council of Primates of the Ancient Eastern Churches with a lawsuit against Patriarch Kirill,” Father Pinchuk wrote.

The archpriest said Kirill “preaches the doctrine of the ‘Russian world,’” defined as “a single civilizational space, covering territories on which Russian culture has historically had a significant impact.”

Father Pinchuk said this view “does not correspond to Orthodox teaching and should be condemned as heresy.”

The Moscow primate “committed moral crimes by blessing the war against Ukraine and fully supporting the aggressive actions of Russian troops” there.

Just on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the war had resulted in the deaths of “tens of thousands” in the city of Mariupol alone.

He added, “we clearly declare that it is impossible for us to remain in any form of canonical submission to the Moscow Patriarch. This is the command of our Christian conscience.”

Most Ukrainians are Orthodox, but there is a major split in the country between two Orthodox bodies.

Approximately 23% of Ukrainians identify with the Russia-aligned Orthodox Church—Moscow Patriarchate, while more than 42% say they are affiliated with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, In 2018, the latter church was granted autocephaly, or direct communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, the world leader of Orthodoxy.

The notion of whether the Orthodox Church in Ukraine should be a national entity, equal to the Orthodox churches in such countries as Greece or Serbia, or should be a province of the Russian church in Moscow has been a major bone of contention between Ukrainian nationalism and Russian resistance to it.

The open letter organized by Father Pinchuk is the second major public protest by those clerics aligned with the Moscow church. On Feb. 27, Metropolitan Onufriy, the head of the UOC-MP, ordered his clergy to pray for Russia’s defeat in the war.

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