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Russia Hinting at Establishing Exarchate in Turkey, Deepening Schism

Exarchate Turkey
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at his enthronement ceremony in Moscow. Credit: SA 4.0

The Russian Orthodox Church is hinting that it wants to establish an exarchate in Turkey, as it has just done in Africa, taking 102 formerly Greek Orthodox prelates under its jurisdiction, deepening the schism that opened up in the Ukraine when it formed its own Orthodox Church.

The rift formed by the breaking off of the Ukrainian Church from Russian jurisdiction sent tidal waves across Orthodoxy, with the new moves seen as tit-for-tat in the religious skirmish.

On December 29, the Moscow patriarchate directly challenged the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under Bartholomew in establishing a “Russian Exarchate in Africa,” “adopting” a total of 102 clergymen who had previously been part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria under Patriarch Theodore.

Exarchate in Turkey would be viewed as shot across the bow in Orthodox schism

But as the Orthodox Times reports on Monday, the African decision may be just a foretaste of what the Moscow Patriarchate hopes to create in Turkey.

As part of an interview with Ria Novosti, Metropolitan Hilarion, the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk and chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, stated “The Russian Orthodox Church cannot refuse to nurture the Orthodox in Turkey.”

Clearly, the Ukrainian schism is reverberating far and wide, with Metropolitan Hilarion justifying the creation of the “Russian Exarchate in Africa” by saying: “In 2019, Theodore II, Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, recognized the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

The consequences of this decision, he stated, “could affect the care of our faithful compatriots in Africa, who live in the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.”

The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church announced the decision to establish the Patriarchal Exarchate in Africa just before the New Year.

Metropolitan Hilarion had very harsh words for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the interview, saying: “We could not say no to the clergymen of the Patriarchate of Alexandria who realized the false position of their Patriarch… the Patriarch of Constantinople took part in the schism.”

Ecumenical Patriarch recognize autocephalous Ukraine Church in 2019

In October of 2018, in the largest schism in Orthodox Christianity for over a century, the Russian Orthodox Church cut all ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate over a “historic” decision to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as independent.

Metropolitan Hilarion, a bishop in charge of the Russian Orthodox, told journalists that the decision to break relations with the Constantinople Patriarchate was taken by The Holy Synod, the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church, in Minsk, Belarus.

In an official declaration, members of the Holy Synod wrote that allowing another church to break away “is tantamount to renouncing its historical roots and commitments” making it “impossible” for the Russian Orthodox Church to continue its union with Constantinople.

In January of 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presented a decree of independence to the head of the nascent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, severing its centuries-long ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The move was hailed by many Ukrainians, who had resented the status of the Moscow-affiliated church. The push for a full-fledged Ukrainian church was bolstered by fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels. The conflict in the country’s industrial heartland erupted after Russia’s annexation in 2014 of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and has killed more than 14,000 people since then.

Russian Church severed relations with Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2018

The Russian Orthodox Church has denounced the move by the Ecumenical Patriarch, which forced clergy and believers to choose between belonging to the old Moscow-affiliated church or the new Ukrainian one, as a politically-driven encroachment on religious freedoms.

The news of the creation of the African exarchate was announced on December 29, 2021 by Russian journalist Vladimir Legoida, the head of the Synodal Department for the Church’s relations with society and mass media, on his personal Telegram account.

“The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church declares that it can no longer refuse to accept the clergy of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria, who have submitted applications, under its omoforion,” Legoida stated.

“For this reason, it decided to receive under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, 102 clergymen of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, from eight African countries.”

The recognition of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Patriarchate of Alexandria was apparently being punished by the Moscow Patriarchate, further deepening the schism in the Orthodox Church.

The statement of the Patriarchate of Moscow claims that the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, at its meeting held on December 29, 2021, chaired by Patriarch Kirill, heard a report from the vice-chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, Archbishop Leonid of Yerevan and Armenia, on the numerous appeals from clergymen of the Orthodox Church in Alexandria to take them under its wing.

It was these appeals, Legoida stated, that set the ball rolling in the effort to place the prelates under the omophorion of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“In this connection, the Synod resolved that 102 clergy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria from eight countries in Africa, in compliance with their petitions, be accepted in the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church”, Legoida said.

“The Holy Synod resolved that the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa be formed consisting of the Diocese of North Africa and South Africa and the head of the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa be given the title “of Klin,” he added.

The Synod ruled that the Diocese of North Africa the bishop of the Diocese of North Africa would take the title “of Cairo and North Africa.”

Legoida noted that the Diocese of South Africa would include the parish of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Republic of South Africa, adding “The Synod resolved that the ruling bishop of the Diocese of South Africa be given the title “of Johannesburg and South Africa.”

The Synod appointed Archbishop Leonid of Yerevan and Armenia as Patriarchal Exarch for Africa, and Metropolitan of Klin.

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