n Monday evening, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church resolved to break with the Patriarchate of Constantinople – setting the largest branch of Eastern Orthodoxy on a collision course with its spiritual center.
The move was driven by a decision by Bartholomew I of Constantinople to remove barriers to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church gaining autocephaly (independence) from Moscow.
A spokesman for the Russian church had called the decision “lawless”, an “intrusion into [its] canonical territory”, and one that “liquidated” Constantinople as the center of Eastern Orthodoxy.
The Russian Orthodox Church won’t sit idly by and watch this,” said Archbishop Kliment Vecheria, spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is part of the Russian church.
Russia, which has the largest number of Orthodox believers and views itself largely as the leader of the Orthodox world, vehemently objects to the plan.
“For the entire Orthodox world the single preferable scenario is the preservation of unity,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The Russian Orthodox Church has even compared the granting of an independent church to Ukraine to the schism between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in 1054.