Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned of “the most serious consequences” over splits in the Orthodox church after Ukraine was granted the right to form an independent church, enraging Russia.
For the first time, Putin commented on the unprecedented religious feud that saw the Russian Orthodox Church break ties with Orthodoxy’s mother Church Constantinople.
“I want to stress one thing: politicking such a sensitive sphere always leads to the most serious consequences, especially for those who do it,” he said, speaking at a forum gathering representatives of the Russian diaspora in Moscow.
Putin, who has overseen the growing authority of the Orthodox church in Russia and who has close ties to religious leader Patriarch Kirill, said there are “attempts to break the bonds” between the Russian church and believers abroad.
“Our common duty, above all for the people, is to preserve spiritual and historical unity,” he added.
The leading authority in Orthodox Christianity, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, earlier this month granted the right of autonomy to the Ukrainian church, which for more than 300 years has been under Moscow’s control.
Patriarch Kirill refused to recognise the decision, blasting the Constantinople church as “schismatic” and accusing it of “violating all rules.”
The move will likely reduce Russian influence in Ukraine, where Moscow has backed separatists in the country’s east and annexed Crimea in 2014.
Most of the Orthodox parishes in Ukraine have historically been under the umbrella of the Moscow Patriarchate, and many of these may eventually switch to the new independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, despite Moscow’s warnings.
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