Russian Orthodox Church holds synod in Minsk over Ukraine church issue
Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church were meeting in the Belarusian capital on October 15 amid a dispute over moves toward independence for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who is considered the leader of the worldwide Orthodox community, on October 11 agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The decision was criticized as "catastrophic" by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has promised a "tough" response and is expected to make an announcement after the meeting in Minsk.
The synod was called by Moscow Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to assess the latest developments.
"It will be a very important meeting, during which certain decisions regarding the situation in Ukraine will be made," Kirill said ahead of the synod.
"I hope the Orthodox Church will find the strength to overcome the crisis and preserve its unity," Kirill said on October 13 in Minsk, according to Russian media.
Ahead of the synod, Kirill held a meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on October 15, according to the Belarusian state news agency BelTA.
"A schism is always bad. It means negative consequences, and that's the most dangerous thing," Lukashenka was quoted as saying.
He wished Kirill "and all the bishops of our church wisdom and patience," adding: "As church members, we will try to maintain unity."
The Belarusian Orthodox Church, which is by far the biggest religious denomination in the nation of nearly 10 million, is under the direct jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church.
A spokesman for Kirill, Aleksandr Volkov, said on October 13 that the Russian Orthodox Church's response to Bartholomew's decision will be "appropriate and tough."
On the same day, Metropolitan Ilarion, the head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, told the Rossiya 24 television channel that the move has forced the Moscow Patriarchate to end its unity with Bartholomew.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's Security Council discussed the issue of the church in Ukraine at a meeting late on October 12, the Kremlin said.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said earlier that day that Russia will protect the interests of the faithful in Ukraine if the historic split leads to illegal action or violence. He promised that it would use "exclusively political and diplomatic" means to do so.
Meanwhile, in Kyiv on October 14, thousands of people gathered on a central square to take part in a thanksgiving prayer following the decision by Bartholomew to kick off the process of granting independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.