Minsk (AFP) - The Russian Orthodox Church said Monday it is breaking ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate over its decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which Moscow does not recognise.
"A decision has been made to rupture full communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate," which means priests from the two churches cannot serve and worshippers cannot take communion together, Hilarion, the bishop in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church's diplomacy, told journalists in Minsk.
Speaking after the meeting of the Holy Synod, or decision-making body, of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion said it does not recognise the decision taken last week by the Constantinople Patriarchate as it has "completely associated itself with the schism".
Moscow considers the Kiev Patriarch Filaret to be a schismatic, a decision Constantinople has backed since the 1990s but reversed last week amid the drive by Ukraine for its own Orthodox Church independent from Moscow.
The Constantinople Patriarchate, a leading Orthodox authority, also overruled its own decision from the 17th century which adjoined Kievan Orthodox churches to Moscow.
Most of the Orthodox parishes in Ukraine have historically been under the umbrella of the Moscow Patriarchate, and many of these may eventually switch to the new independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, despite Moscow's warnings.
Hilarion said Constantinople's decision to back a schismatic church effectively drives it into a schism. "We cannot be in communication with this church, which is in a schism," he said. "We hope that common sense prevails and that the Constantinople Patriarchate changes its mind."
The decision in Istanbul was "illegal and canonically worthless," he said. "The Russian Orthodox Church does not accept these decisions, it will not follow them. The schism is still a schism and the schismatics are still schismatics," he said.