Russian clerics urge Kiev officials not to fuel Orthodox split

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A senior Russian Orthodox Church official said on Tuesday that authorities in Ukraine should stop encouraging a church split in their country.
MOSCOW, July 29 (RIA Novosti) - A senior Russian Orthodox Church official said on Tuesday that authorities in Ukraine should stop encouraging a church split in their country.

"If the split does not have political support, it will end on its own," Metropolitan Kirill, who oversees foreign church relations at the Moscow Patriarchy, said.

Speaking at a news conference devoted to Patriarch Alexy II's visit to Kiev on July 26-28 for celebrations of the 1,020th anniversary of the embrace of Christianity in Kievan Rus, where modern Ukraine and Russia originated, Kirill warned against politicizing church issues.

"The church today is unfortunately too politicized. The schism took place under political forces' influence, and it has remained a weapon, a beating-stick in the hands of political groups," Kirill said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko asked Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople on Saturday to give his blessing to the country's plans for a national church independent of Russian Orthodoxy. The pro-Western leader has long sought a single and independent church.

Ukrainian officials have called the Russian Orthodox Church the Kremlin's tool to pursue its interests in the country.

The Constantinople patriarch, who Yushchenko met at the airport, was at the center of the three-day festivities in Kiev despite the presence of Alexy II, prompting Russian officials to complain of a "lack of respect" for the Russian church leader.

Church divisions are unfolding against the backdrop of disputes between Moscow and Kiev over natural gas prices, Ukraine's NATO ambitions and plans to oust Russia's Black Sea Fleet from the Crimea.

Kirill said stronger church contacts could overcome the schism. "We very much hope that this will happen some day," he said.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchy, is currently the only Ukrainian church recognized by Eastern Orthodoxy.

Other Orthodox churches in the country include the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which broke away from Russian Orthodoxy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that obtained autonomy from Moscow after the breakup of the Russian Empire and the Bolshevik revolution.

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