A branch of Ukraine's Orthodox church has broken ties with Russia's Patriarch Kirill over the Russian spiritual leader's support for the war in Ukraine, deepening a rift between the Moscow church and other Orthodox believers.
Leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which had been formally subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, held a council Friday in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In a statement, the council said it "condemns the war as a violation of God's commandment 'Thou shalt not kill!'" and urged the governments of Ukraine and Russia to pursue a path of negotiation.
But the council also had criticism for Patriarch Kirill -- who has given his support to the invasion of Ukraine and has put his church firmly behind Russian President Vladimir Putin -- and said it had opted for the "full independence and autonomy" of the Ukrainian church.
A large part of the Orthodox community in Ukraine has already moved to establish independence from Moscow. That movement took on further momentum in 2018, after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople -- a Greek cleric who is considered the spiritual leader of Orthodox believers worldwide -- endorsed the establishment of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate, which has become closely entwined with the Russian state under Putin's rule, responded by cutting ties with Bartholomew.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which has allegiance to Bartholomew, is separate from the UOC, which made its announcement Friday. But the emergence of a church independent of Moscow has also infuriated Putin, who has made restoration of the so-called "Russian world" a centerpiece of his foreign policy and has dismissed Ukrainian national identity as illegitimate.
The UOC council's statement on Friday said the war had been devastating for members of the church.
"During the three months of the war, more than 6 million citizens of Ukraine were forced to leave the country. These were mainly Ukrainians from the southern, eastern, and central regions of Ukraine. A large majority of them are faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church," the statement read. "It is necessary to further develop the mission abroad among Orthodox Ukrainians to preserve their faith, culture, language and Orthodox identity."