Ukraine Orthodox Church granted independence from Russian Church

The drive for Ukrainian Orthodox independence intensified in 2014, when Russian Federation annexed Crimea and Russia-backed separatists seized a big swathe of territory in eastern Ukraine.

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and Head of the global Orthodox Church Bartholomew I signed the "Tomos" independence decree in a ceremony in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Saturday.

Bartholomew I, considered first among equals in Orthodox patriarchy, announced the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has become the 15th independent Orthodox church.

"We will have to see which Ukrainian bishops will join the new church and which other Orthodox churches will recognise it", she added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Ukrainian couterpart Petro Poroshenko met early Saturday for a breakfast in Istanbul, where the Ukrainian leader is visiting to receive a decree granting autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

"I want to thank the millions of Ukrainians around the world who responded to my appeal to pray for the church to be established", Poroshenko said at a ceremony accompanied by solemn liturgical singing. He argued Ukrainians "desired ecclesiastical independence" for centuries and never accepted that they were part of the Russian church.

Metropolitan Epiphanius I, who was elected last month by Ukrainian Orthodox leaders to head the new church, will take the decree to Kyiv, where it will be displayed Monday at the Sophia cathedral complex in downtown Kyiv.

Russian Federation has long campaigned against the move since Orthodox churches in Ukraine has traditionally been administered by the Moscow Patriarchate.

It had been "signed in violation of the canons and therefore not possessing any canonical force", Legoida added in a statement.

The new church united the two previously non-canonical structures.

Yepifaniy, whose secular name is Sergiy Dumenko, has been a critic of Moscow's religious influence in Ukraine and has supported Kiev's army against pro-Russian rebels. Many Russians oppose the split, an opinion that hardened after fighting in 2014 when Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russian Federation captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait.

Poroshenko, president since 2014, has pushed for the creation of the church as he campaigns for a March 31 election.

The decree opens the way for Ukraine's Orthodox Church to be recognised by other branches of orthodoxy and other churches.

The Patriarchate of Moscow has more followers than the Patriarchate of Constantinople and has challenged it for authority in the past.

  • Rogelio Becker