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Orthodox priests from W. Europe arrive in Moscow after historic move to side with Russian Church

A delegation from the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe arrives in Moscow on Saturday to take part in events dedicated to their reunification with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia earlier described the move as a historic decision as the archdiocese was, until recently, in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Some 100 parishes centered in Paris will become part of the Moscow Patriarchate after rejecting an order by Constantinople to dissolve.

On Saturday, the delegation of priests will visit the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, a monastery which is the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church.

They will take part in the Divine Liturgy with Patriarch Kirill at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow on Sunday and at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin on Monday.

The world of Orthodoxy is currently experiencing a tectonic change after a schism between its two leading branches, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The focal point of the conflict is Ukraine, which Constantinople claimed as its domain last year, in violation of centuries of tradition that kept it under Moscow. But the clash for loyalty of Orthodox priests is happening throughout the world, and Moscow seems to have scored a major win.

The Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe (AROCWE) was granted its request to come under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchy, the Russia-based church.

The AROCWE today includes some 100,000 believers in 100 dioceses and has its headquarters in Paris. Originating as a diaspora of Russians living in Western Europe, they parted ways with Moscow after the Bolshevik Revolution put a strain on the Russian Orthodox Church. AROCWE splintered in the 1930s and was put under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. It made an aborted attempt to go back into Moscow’s fold in the 1940s, underwent a number of reorganizations and ultimately got the status of an exarchate – a self-governing body based in a foreign land – under Constantinople in 1999.

The situation was sent into turmoil in November last year amid the schism over Ukraine. As part of its attempts to consolidate power, Constantinople ordered the AROCWE to dissolve and integrate into the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The autonomy-stripping order was overwhelmingly rejected in February during an extraordinary general assembly of the AROCWE, which decided it would change jurisdiction to another Orthodox patriarchy instead. The transfer was negotiated with several of them, before Moscow was finally picked last week. The decision was reportedly taken because the Moscow Patriarchy was the only one willing to grant Archbishop John, and his supporters among clerics and laymen, as much freedom to govern their own affairs as they wanted.

The change comes with a caveat. While the desire to preserve AROCWE as a body didn’t pose any questions with over 90 percent of the assembly voting to reject Constantinople’s diktat, re-establishing a canonical link with Moscow was far less popular.