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The Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church

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The Faith departed from Constantinople long ago

November 1, 2018

-Your Grace, could you express the position of the Old-believers’ Church in relation to the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the subsequent break of the ROC MP with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

-The religious processes taking place in Ukraine today are an internal affair of the Ukrainian nation and the community of the many New Orthodox churches that have been established there. However, in Ukraine there is a completely independent, self-governing, rather large Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is in canonical communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. The appearance of the UOC Kiev Patriarchate, which caused a split in the Moscow Patriarchate, are internal church problems that must be resolved by this very community. I believe that the New-believers’ churches of Ukraine are able to overcome all the disarray that arises on their own. There is an underlying political reason for all these events related to the activities of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the territory of Ukraine. In my opinion, church and political-national processes should not be mingled, especially when some politicians use the Church as a tool for sowing hostility between the fraternal Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

-What is recorded in history? It is known that in the 15th century there was an actual severance of prayerful communion between the Russian and Constantinople church.

-Yes. We talk about it all the time. Today, unfortunately, the state of the Church of Constantinople in the 14–15th centuries has almost been forgotten. It was an epoch of actual decline, disorder, delusion, impoverishment of faith and piety, and heresies. In Orthodox Rus’, a very deep distrust of the Church of Constantinople – “the Greeks” – was arising. The Patriarchate of Constantinople was also called the Greek Church. The patriarchs and emperors of Constantinople were long directing their gaze toward Rome, believing that Western Europeans, under the influence of the pope, would protect Byzantium from Mahometan invasion. That is why in 1438 the Greeks signed the shameful, apostate Ferrara-Florentine Council, which forever discredited the Greek Church and its hierarchs in the eyes of the Russian Church. In fact, after this there was no canonical communion between these two churches. And what did this union lead to? Apostasy and the decline of piety, the loss of churchliness and a powerful blow to the Orthodox culture. Political problems were not resolved with the union either. The Pope of Rome did not send any troops to help Byzantium in the battle against the Ottoman invasion. The Byzantine Empire as the Second Rome, as an Orthodox civilization, ceased forever to exist. A massive Islamisation of the once Orthodox East took place there. Constantinople became Istanbul and the majestic Hagia Sophia church was converted into a mosque. The frescoes were plastered over with clay and minarets were attached. In Istanbul, any external Christian symbolism was prohibited, and the clergy did not even have the right to appear in the city streets wearing clerical robes. Whilst the very figure of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the world of Orthodoxy became nothing more than a symbol.

-Are today’s processes a continuation of those events?

-Actually, after the loss of its positions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at home, in former Byzantium, this church conducts active missionary activities outside its territorial geographic bounds. A huge number of parishes of the Patriarchate of Constantinople have been opened abroad and on other continents. In a manner of speaking, it is possible that Patriarch Bartholomew acts in line with this established “tradition” and desires to have his own church in Ukraine. However, this is only a subjective opinion.

-Did the Old-believers warn the Russian Orthodox Church of a possible break with Constantinople?

-No, there were no such warnings. We do not hold a dialogue of such orientation. We pray that God will grant peace and harmony to the long-suffering Ukraine. Recall that previously, Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’ Kirill expressed his conviction of the “global order” aimed at the destruction of the unity of the Orthodox Church. According to the patriarch, this is the goal being pursued by Constantinople with its determination to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate. At the same time, Cyril did not list the specific names of the “instigators” of the schism, but noted that “the world is imposing” many values, incompatible with Orthodoxy, upon the faithful. Disagreements between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and Constantinople began at the onset of autumn. Then the ROC made a categorical refusal to grant autocephaly to the unrecognised Ukrainian church. However, the Ecumenical Patriarch expressed a contrary opinion. Although a tomos for autocephaly has not yet been officially issued, the opposition of the Russian church and Constantinople has become global.