Orthodox spiritual leader says Russian church has 'disappointed us' over Ukraine

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, leads the Easter Service at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, Turkey April 24, 2022. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

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ATHENS, May 25 (Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church has let Christian Orthodox fathers down by supporting Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 260 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, said in an interview.

Moscow calls its three-month-old invasion a "special military operation" to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill has supported Moscow's action and his stance has splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church. The World Council of Churches (WCC) has asked Patriarch Kirill to "intervene and mediate" to help stop the war.

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In an interview aired on Greek state TV ERT on Tuesday evening, Patriarch Bartholomew said he expected Patriarch Kirill to stand up against Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine and resign, if needed, in an act of opposition.

"It would not be possible for all churches not to condemn violence, war. The Russian church disappointed us. I did not want the Church of Russia and Brother Patriarch Kirill to be this tragic exception. I do not know how he can justify himself in his conscience," he said.

"I expected Brother Kirill to stand up to this crucial, historic moment. If needed, to sacrifice his throne, to tell Putin, 'Mr. President, I can not agree with you, I resign'," he said.

The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church clashed four years ago over Ukraine's decision to establish an independent or "autocephalous" Church.

About 100 million Orthodox Christians are in Russia. Ukraine has about 30 million Orthodox believers.

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Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Alex Richardson

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