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Blessings and Curses From Constantinople

How the Orthodox Church Is Reshaping the Conflict Between Russia and Ukraine

A man dives in icy water during Epiphany celebrations near a monastery in Rostov Veliky, Russia, 2009.  Thomas Peter/REUTERS

For a community where the passage of time is measured in centuries rather than weeks, recent events in the Orthodox Church have been unfolding at breakneck speed. On October 11, Bartholomew I, patriarch of Constantinople and one of highest-ranking leaders in the Orthodox world, announced that he would grant Ukraine’s Orthodox Church full independence—“autocephaly” in church-speak—ending several centuries of control by the Russian Orthodox Church over much of what is today Ukraine. Bartholomew also reaffirmed the priestly legitimacy of the heads of Ukraine’s two dissident Orthodox bodies, which had not recognized Moscow’s authority.  

Ukrainian leaders had been lobbying for this decision for many months. Recognition of a fully independent, national church carries enormous weight in a country where some seven out of ten people identify as Orthodox Christians. But beyond matters of religious affiliation, the decision is likely to shape Ukraine’s sense of cultural and

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