Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks away from Russian influence

Marsha Scott
January 6, 2019

Kiev has been pushing for a church free from Moscow's influence, which intensified after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and amid the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Bartholomew I of Constantinople has handed over the so-called tomos - a Patriarch's decree proclaiming the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine formally independent of the Russian Orthodox Church - to Metropolitan Epifaniy, the self-styled head of the new entity.

The patriarch, who is 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".

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, signed the decree of independence, or "Tomos", in Istanbul, formalizing a split that has angered Moscow amid a broader political conflict between Ukraine and Russian Federation.

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 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.

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

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

It had been "signed in violation of the canons and therefore not possessing any canonical force", Legoida added in a statement. Metropolitan Epiphanius was elected the primate of the new church.

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

Bartholomew I, signed the "Tomos" in Istanbul in front of clerics including the leader of Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphany.

Ukraine and Russian Federation have been at loggerheads since 2014 when Kiev street protests urging Ukrainian integration with Europe led to the ousting of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.

Constantinople's recognition of an autonomous church is a boost to Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, who is facing a tough battle for re-election in March. Kirill has also objected to Bartholomew's close relationship with the Roman Catholic church and Pope Francis, and has long seen Moscow as a rival power centre to Constantinople.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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