Finnish Orthodox Church hopes to maintain ties with Moscow Patriarchate

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The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) stopped "eucharistic communication" with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill conduct Sunday service in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George at the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey July 5, 2009.

"We can't keep the contact with this church, who is in a situation of schism", he added.

The Belarusian Orthodox Church, which is by far the biggest religious denomination in the nation of almost 10 million, is under the direct jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In Ukraine, for decades there have been three Orthodox churches: two self-declared autocephalous, or independent, and not considered canonical by the other Orthodox churches.

While the Patriarch of Moscow up to now has formally overseen Orthodox churches in Ukraine, the country has two other Orthodox authorities which have splintered off without being recognised by Constantinople - until last week. And it is now backing the creation of a new unified Orthodox Church based in Kiev.

"The Church that recognized schismatics [ie Filaret of Kiev - ed], and has restored relations with them, has excluded itself from the canonical scope of the Orthodox Church", concluded Ilarion.

The Russian Orthodox Church's head, Patriarch Kirill, is seen as a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.

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Many monks of the Russian Orthodox Church live and work in important monasteries under Constantinople, notably on Mount Athos in Greece, and many Orthodox sites in Greece and Cyprus are important pilgrimage centers for Russian Orthodox believers. In Ukraine, Moscow can organize provocations in an attempt to cast blame on the Ukrainians; but Kyiv is prepared for that and has warned the world that this is, in fact, what the Russians are up to.

Apart from that, the holy synod of the Russian Orthodox Church hopes that there will be no clashes in Ukraine over this issue.

The Russian Church has also voiced concern that the Constantinople patriarchate's actions could deepen religious divides in Ukraine and inspire breakaway branches to take over church buildings, Reuters reports.

The religious split comes amid deep political tensions, with Ukraine opposing Russia's 2014 annexation of its Crimea peninsula and fighting a Moscow-backed uprising in its east in which more than 10,000 people have been killed.

Weakening Moscow's influence over Ukrainian worshippers has been an integral part of Ukraine's statehood since the ex-Soviet republic became independent in 1991.

The various Orthodox churches are already divided on the issue.

Ukraine never had and will never have an established church. "If the Russians are missing, that is something like half of the faithful in the Orthodox world, which is very significant".

Constantinople has annulled the transfer of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to Moscow's jurisdiction, which happened in 1686.

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