Kiev's Orthodox church calls on Russian Patriarch to end 'confrontation'

Kiev (AFP) –


The head of the Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church has called on Russian Patriarch Kirill to end "confrontation" between the two institutions for the sake of the faithful amid a rumbling conflict between Kiev and rebels.

After Ukraine gained independence in 1991 a conflict erupted between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church backed by Moscow and a breakaway Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The outbreak of the separatist conflict between Kiev and Kremlin-backed rebels in the east of the country in 2014 has exacerbated those tensions, with Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church famously saying Russia's Vladimir Putin was "possessed by Satan."

The Kiev-based church published late Thursday Patriarch Filaret's letter to Russian Patriarch Kirill in which he called for the end to "the current confrontation" for the sake of "peace between Christians of the same faith."

The November 16 letter was released after Russian media said that Patriarch Filaret had asked Moscow "for forgiveness," a claim the Kiev-based church denied.

Patriarch Filaret signed the letter as "your brother Filaret" and, in the final sentence, wrote: "I ask for forgiveness in everything that I did by word and action."

He added that he himself "forgave everyone."

His letter was reportedly read out at a key congress of Orthodox bishops, which began in Moscow earlier this week.

Putin is due Friday to become the first Russian president to attend the key congress.

In a statement, the Kiev church said Patriarch Filaret was guided by "goodwill" and expressed hope that Russia would recognise the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate.

In Moscow, Bishop Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations, said Russian media had misrepresented the letter, which he said was "received with gratitude."

The letter was seen in Moscow "as evidence of readiness to start negotiations on overcoming the dismal separation that has lasted a quarter of a century," he said, TASS state news agency reported.

A commission was established to look into the matter, he said, adding however that there were no immediate plans for the two church leaders to meet.

The Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church supported a bloody popular uprising that ousted a Kremlin-backed government in 2014.

St.Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kiev famously opened its doors to protesters when violence erupted in the Ukrainian capital, shielding them from riot police.

Patriarch Filaret said in 2014 that Putin "like Judas Iscariot, had become possessed by Satan," accusing the Russian strongman of inciting "bloodshed and killings" in eastern Ukraine.

The Kiev-aligned Orthodox Church has most support in central and western Ukraine, while the Moscow-backed Church is most popular in eastern and central regions.