Ukrainian Orthodox Church Officially Gains Independence From Russian Church

Ukrainian Orthodox Church Officially Gains Independence From Russian Church

The Ukrainian church has been under the control of Russian Federation since 1686.

The Istanbul-based Orthodox patriarch on Saturday signed the formal decree confirming the creation of an independent Ukrainian church, marking a break with the Russian church that has angered Moscow.

"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 added in a speech at the ceremony.

Before the signing of the document, the head of the OCU, Metropolitan Epiphanius, Metropolitan Oleksandr (Drabynko) and Metropolitan Simeon (Shostatsky) transferred to the OCU from the UOC of Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan of Lutsk and Volynsky Mykhailo (Zinkevych) from the UOC of Kyiv Patriarchate took part in the collective prayer.

"The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries", Bartholomew I said in his address at the Patriarchal Church of St. George.

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".

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko were on hand to witness the ceremony. 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.

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The decision may the be beginning of a lasting schism in the global Orthodoxy and risks triggering conflicts among Ukraine's Orthodox believers, observers say.

Ukraine last month chose 39-year-old Epifaniy to head the new church, in a move which Poroshenko compared to Ukraine's referendum for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"Tomos - is just a paper, the result of restless political and personal ambitions".

Ukraine has accused Kremlin-backed churches of spreading pro-Russia propaganda, which Russian religious leaders have denied. Moscow argues it has had legal authority over Ukrainian churches since 1686, according to the BBC.

"We understand that the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine will continue to exist and there will be many who will want to stay there, but we have nothing against them".

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.

Following Bartholomew I's October decision for independence, the Russian church severed ties with Istanbul, the center of the Orthodox world.

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