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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bishops Punish Dissenters

Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, struggling to maintain unity in a rapidly modernizing society, decided Thursday to excommunicate the head of the breakaway Ukrainian church and a defiant defrocked priest.

The Council of Bishops, meeting this week in Moscow, imposed the punishment on Patriarch Filaret, head of the breakaway Kiev Patriarchate, and Gleb Yakunin, a former dissident priest and a current deputy in Russia's parliament.

A church commission also advised against bestowing sainthood on Tsar Nicholas II, murdered by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution, Interfax reported.

Both Filaret and Yakunin are vehement critics of the Moscow Patriarchate and have already been defrocked.

The two have refused to recognize the church's decisions, however, and continue to wear clerical garments and conduct their church activities.

Yakunin's criticism of the Moscow Patriarchate dates back to the Soviet era, when he was imprisoned for advocating freedom of conscience while church leaders were effectively under strict government control.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Yakunin spearheaded a campaign in which he accused the church hierarchy of having collaborated with the Soviet secret police. He has demanded the church repent and purge the priests involved.

Factual evidence of such collaboration has been thin, however, and the church leadership maintains that it did the best it could to see the church through the totalitarianism of the Soviet era.

The bishops said Filaret, the long-time Metropolitan of Kiev during the Soviet era, has tried to engineer a split in the Orthodox Church since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When Ukraine became independent, Filaret declared an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Kiev Patriarchate, and he led a breakaway of the nationalist-minded segment of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. At the time, the action had the clear support of Ukraine's first president, Leonid Kravchuk.

With regard to the deliberations over Nicholas II, Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsa and Kolomna said the Holy Synod's commission on canonization and beatification had thoroughly studied the state and church activities of the tsar, but "has not found sufficient reasons for canonizing him,'' Interfax reported.