Kiev (AFP) – The Ukrainian Orthodox Church will never return to Russia’s fold, its head Patriarch Filaret said on Friday, accusing Moscow of “lying.”
Patriarch Filaret called a press conference after he wrote to Russian Patriarch Kirill urging him to end “confrontation” in a letter that made headlines in both countries late on Thursday.
The Kiev-based church released the November 16 letter to Patriarch Kirill after Russian media said Patriarch Filaret had asked Moscow for “forgiveness,” a claim it denied.
“See how Moscow is lying? You can’t trust her,” Patriarch Filaret told journalists in Kiev, accusing Russia of trying to lure his church back.
“The Ukrainian church will never return to the Moscow Patriarchy. Why? Because we have our own state,” he said, but added that his church “would not refuse dialogue” and “does not want to feud.”
After Ukraine gained independence in 1991, a conflict erupted between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church backed by Moscow and a breakaway Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The outbreak of the separatist conflict between Kiev and Kremlin-backed rebels in the east of the country in 2014 has exacerbated those tensions, with Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church famously saying Russia’s Vladimir Putin was “possessed by Satan.”
– ‘Putin possessed by Satan’ –
He added that he “forgave everyone.”
The letter was read out at a key congress of Orthodox bishops, which began in Moscow earlier this week.
On Friday, Putin became the first Russian president to attend the congress.
The Kiev church said Patriarch Filaret’s letter was guided by “goodwill” and expressed hope that Russia would recognise the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate.
In Moscow, Bishop Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations, said Russian media had misrepresented the letter, which he said was “received with gratitude.”
The letter was seen in Moscow “as evidence of readiness to start negotiations on overcoming the dismal separation that has lasted a quarter of a century,” he said, TASS reported.
A commission was established to look into the matter, Bishop Hilarion said, adding however that there were no immediate plans for the two church leaders to meet.
The Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church supported a bloody popular uprising that ousted a Kremlin-backed government in 2014.
St. Michael’s golden-domed monastery in Kiev famously opened its doors to protesters when violence erupted in the Ukrainian capital, shielding them from riot police.
Patriarch Filaret said in 2014 that Putin “like Judas Iscariot, had become possessed by Satan,” accusing the Russian strongman of inciting “bloodshed and killings” in eastern Ukraine.
The Kiev-aligned Orthodox Church has great support in central and western Ukraine, while the Moscow-backed Church is popular in the eastern and central regions.