Orthodox Church of Ukraine officially separates from Russian counterpart

Mikhail Tereshchenko  TASS

Mikhail Tereshchenko TASS

The Russian Orthodox Church has refused to recognize the results of the unification council and Constantinople's decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian church, insisting that Constantinople legalized schism and adding that the day when the Tomos was signed was a "tragic" one for the global Orthodoxy.

The patriarch, considered "first among equals" in Orthodox Christianity, said Ukrainians could now enjoy "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention".

In November, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Bartholomew signed a cooperation agreement.

The whole issue should first have been assessed and discussed with all other Orthodox churches to avoid "dangers that would lead to peace and unity neither in Ukraine, nor in the Orthodox world", John X said in a letter addressed to Bartholomew I.

The move is forcing Ukrainian clerics to pick sides between the Moscow-backed Ukrainian churches and the new church as fighting persists in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.

The Russian Orthodox Church vehemently opposed the creation of Ukraine's new entity, calling it unlawful under canonic law and devastating for the centuries-old spiritual bond between Moscow and Kiev.

On Oct. 11, the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul greenlit the process for the Ukrainian church's independence, over Russia's objections, and with Ukrainian-Russian geopolitical tensions in the background.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church's media relations, Vladimir Legoida, dismissed the Istanbul decree-signing ceremony.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, left, talks to Metropolitan Epiphanius, the head of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in Istanbul on Saturday.

The Ukrainian church's new leader is Metropolitan Yepifaniy. Though the church is not formally part of the state, it is closely tied.

He has been a long time critic of Moscow's religious influence in Ukraine.

Reuters reported that 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, who had pushed for the new church, attended the presentation ceremony in Istanbul.

Russian Federation long opposed such efforts by the Ukrainians for an independent church, which intensified after Russian Federation seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and began supporting separatists shortly thereafter in parts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

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

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