By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s largest Orthodox church reaffirmed its link to its Russian parent church on Thursday despite dissent from priests who have denounced the association with Moscow over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
More than 90 percent of Moldovans adhere to Orthodox Christianity. But parishioners are divided between two churches — the Moldova Metropolis, subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Metropolis of Bessarabia, which reports to the Romanian church. Neither has autocephaly, or full independence.
The head of the Russia-linked church, Metropolitan Vladimir, last month complained to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, an ardent supporter of the war in Ukraine, that those ties were denting its appeal.
But clerics on Thursday agreed to maintain those links.
“The clergy and the people remain faithful to the Orthodox Church of Moldova and Metropolitan Vladimir,” Bishop Ioan of the
Russia-linked church said in a statement.
“There will be no discussion of linking the Molodvan Orthodox Church to the Romanian Patriarchate.”
A group of priests in the majority Russian-linked church had asked Vladimir this week to switch allegiance to the Romanian church. One cleric, Pavel Borsevschi, said the Russian patriarch had “turned himself into a political figure who hypocritically calls for fraternal blood to be spilled.”
Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, more than 60 priests from Moldova’s majority church have left and joined its Romania-linked rival.
The split reflects longstanding cultural divisions in the state lying between Ukraine and Romania — which, at different times in its history, was part of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union and “Greater Romania.”
The war in Ukraine worries many in the country of 2.5 million. Pro-European President Maia Sandu has denounced the invasion, accused Moscow of plotting to oust her and thrown her weight before a drive to secure European Union membership.
Sandu has tried to steer clear of the religious divide.
“For our parishioners it is important to feel that we want peace and that the borders of all countries must be observed,”she told a radio interviewer this week.
“The church cannot stay on the sidelines and pretend it does not see what is happening.”
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Ron Popeski and Sandra Maler)