The Russian church's Holy Synod ruled late Thursday to rupture all links with Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa. It noted, however, that it will remain in communion with those clerics of his church who didn’t support the decision.
The Holy Synod also decided that its parishes in Africa will be removed from the Patriarchate of Alexandria's jurisdiction and made directly subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church’s head, Patriarch Kirill.
The move follows January's decision by Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is considered first among equals in Orthodox patriarchy, to grant independence to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, severing its centuries-long ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Many Ukrainians had resented the status of the Moscow-affiliated church. The push for a full-fledged Ukrainian church intensified amid a tug-of-war between the two ex-Soviet neighbors that followed Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
The Constantinople Patriarch's move angered the Russian Orthodox Church, which cut ties with the Istanbul-based Patriarchate. The decision to grant independence to Ukraine's church has split the Orthodox world, with some churches supporting it and others criticizing the move.
The Eastern Orthodox Church in Africa represents a small fraction of Egypt’s Orthodox Christians, the majority of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The Coptic church’s followers are believed to constitute ten percent of Egypt’s 100 million population. The official spokesman of the Coptic Church Paul Halim told The Associated Press on Friday that his church never discussed whether to recognize the Ukraine’s church and that the Coptic Pope Tawadros II maintains “excellent relations” with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Several European and Egyptian media outlets had mistakenly reported that the Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with the Coptic Pope.
Noha ElHennawy in Cairo contributed to this report.