FaithWorld

Religious tensions deepen Ukraine splits – Russian Orthodox official

May 16, 2014
(Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department, attends an interview with Reuters in Moscow May 16, 2014. Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine's crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion said on Friday. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov )

(Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, at an interview with Reuters in Moscow May 16, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov )

Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine’s crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, a senior official of the Moscow-based church said on Friday.

Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Church’s foreign relations department, said other churches had clearly lined up behind the Kiev government and he cited religious differences for its decision to refuse him entry to Ukraine last week.

Hilarion told Reuters his Church, which has broad support in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, did not take sides and wanted to play a mediating role in the crisis. But he doubted the others would see it as impartial.

“This lack of sympathy, unfortunately, is mutual,” he said in an interview at his office in Moscow’s Danilov Monastery.

The Russian church’s critics certainly do not see it as neutral in the crisis. Its head, Patriarch Kirill, is close to President Vladimir Putin and has supported his drive to forge closer ties with former Soviet regions outside Russia.

However, Hilarion said his Church had contacts in Ukraine that the Kremlin lacked, including between Patriarch Kirill and Ukraine’s acting President Oleksander Turchinov. But he said the government did not appear interested in the offer of mediation.

Kiev’s sensitivity to the activities of Russian church leaders was clearly on display on May 9 when Hilarion was barred entry after flying into the city of Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine to give a local bishop an award on his 75th birthday.

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