How Geopolitics Are Driving the Biggest Eastern Orthodox Schism in a Millennium

Oct 19, 2018 | 10:00 GMT

Worshippers attend a service at the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in Ukraine during October.

Worshippers attend a service on the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin Mary in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, a monastery and headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchy in Kiev on Oct. 14. On Oct. 11, the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate agreed to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church its independence, a move opposed by Moscow.



  • The granting of autocephaly, or self-governance, to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the subsequent break of the Russian Orthodox Church from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople mark one of the biggest schisms in the Orthodox world in the past millennium.
  • The move by Ukraine toward ecumenical independence from Moscow is part of a larger drive to separate from Russia, and it is likely to lead to greater friction between the two countries.
  • The Constantinople decision and the Russian split could lead to bigger divisions within the Eastern Orthodox world, because Moscow will probably try to persuade its Orthodox allies to break away, while other branches could seek autocephaly for themselves.

On Oct. 15, the Russian Orthodox Church announced that it would break off all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the leader of Eastern Orthodoxy. The break came after the patriarchate agreed on Oct. 11 to grant autocephaly, or self-governance, to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, putting it on the path to independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the move by Constantinople, saying it "finally dispelled the imperial illusions and chauvinistic fantasies of Moscow." The Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement saying that the decision is "out of the canonical boundaries" and that officials in Moscow have vowed a "firm and tough response."...

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