Ukraine establishes independent Orthodox church

The move marks an historic split from Russia

Photo: EPA Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L) listens to Sergei Epiphanius, the newly elected primate of the Ukrainian Church

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced the creation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, marking a historic split from Russia. The newly formed community combines the current Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) and willing bishops from the Moscow Patriarchate and is expected to receive independence from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Istanbul-based institution considered the so-called "first among equals" of leaders of the world's Orthodox Churches.

On this occasion, Poroshenko said he would travel with new church's primate to Turkey on 6 January to receive an official Tomos from the head of global Orthodoxy granting the new church autocephaly.

"This day will go down in history as a sacred day ... the day of the final independence from Russia," Poroshenko told thousands of supporters, adding that 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifaniy of the Kiev Patriarchate will head the new church. His secular name is Sergiy Dumenko.

The announcement came on Saturday after an Ukrainian council of Orthodox bishops held a synod in capital Kiev's 11th-century Saint Sophia Cathedral to establish an own Orthodox church.

Broadly speaking, the establishment follows Bartholomew's decree which in October put an end to 332 years of Russian authority over Ukraine’s religious affairs, prompting Moscow to cut ties with the Istanbul-based patriarchate that is traditionally “first among equals” in the Orthodox world. Moreover, the creation of an Ukrainian Orthodox church is widely seen by country's leaders as essential to the nation's security and independence and is a key campaign issue for Poroshenko before elections next year.

"Ukraine was not, is not, and will not be the canonical territory of the Russian church," the president said, reminding again that an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church is now a "matter of national security".

As expected, the Russian Orthodox Church protested vigorously and dismissed the synod as uncanonical, since The Moscow Patriarchate sees itself as the one true church. Vladimir Legoida, a spokesman for the Moscow church, told Russian state television that the Kiev synod had "no church, religious or evangelical meaning" and that it will have "no canonical consequences". He also vowed that the Moscow Patriarchate will continue to work in Ukraine despite the creation of the new independent church.

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