A COLD blast from Moscow hit the Church of Scotland yesterday when the Russian Orthodox Church decided to sever all ties with the Kirk over the issue of same-sex unions.

The news came after a better development for the Kirk, when the Presbytery of Lewis decided not to split from the Church of Scotland after the General Assembly’s historic vote to permit those in same-sex civil partnerships to be eligible to serve as ministers and deacons.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow announced yesterday that “formal contacts” with the Kirk and France’s United Protestant Church would cease.

The announcement noted that the French church voted to allow its pastors to bless same-sex marriages and the Church of Scotland approved ordaining clergy in same-sex civil unions.

The statement continued: “We regretfully acknowledge that today we have a new divide in the Christian world, not only regarding theological subjects, but regarding moral issues as well.”

The Russian Orthodox Church pointed out that it had previously suspended ties with the US Episcopal Church in 2003 after it consecrated an openly gay bishop, and with Sweden’s Lutheran Church after it sanctioned ceremonies for civil unions in 2005.

There was no surprise felt by the Church of Scotland leadership at the announcement. The Russian Orthodox Church has been vociferous in its support of the crackdown on gay rights by President Vladimir Putin and his government.

In reply to the news from Moscow, the Kirk issued the a statement saying: “The Church of Scotland’s position on same-sex unions has been determined by its supreme court, the General Assembly, made up of more than 700 church representatives from all over Scotland.

“We are saddened the Russian Orthodox church has taken this decision. We remain brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Meanwhile, on Lewis, about 300 people from congregations across the island attended a special service in St Columba’s Church in Stornoway.

A statement issued by the Presbytery strongly disagreed with the motion passed by the General Assembly in relation to ministers and deacons in same-sex civil partnerships. It added the Presbytery would “continue to assert its liberty to preach the Gospel within the Church.”

Presbytery Clerk John Cunningham said the special service was called because people within the Presbytery were hurt and confused following the decisions made by this year’s General Assembly in relation to human sexuality and the ministry.

He described the service as uplifting and inspirational, with worship, reflection and fellowship in English and Gaelic under the leadership of Presbytery. He said Rev Tommy MacNeil’s preaching was well received and there was strong participation in the singing.

Cunningham said he believed the service had achieved its aim of demonstrating solidarity across the Presbytery, with ministers and congregations contributing.

He add that he looked forward to the Presbytery continuing to participate in the life of the Church of Scotland.

The Presbytery statement added: “We believe that these Assembly decisions represent a denial of and departure from the clear teaching of God’s word: that such relationships are to be between one man and one woman, and that always within the context of marriage.”

Very Rev David Arnott, Acting Principal Clerk for the Church, said: “What is important in the statement is the expressed commitment to participate fully in the life of the Church of Scotland despite their obvious disappointment at the General Assembly decision. The Church of Scotland does not seek to make clones of its members, it acknowledges diversity of opinion within the peace and unity we all seek.”