Split on Christmas Eve: Ukraine’s Orthodox Church gets independence decree from Constantinople

Split on Christmas Eve: Ukraine’s Orthodox Church gets independence decree from Constantinople

Joining Poroshenko was 39-year-old Metropolitan Epiphanius, who was elected last month as head of the new Ukranian Orthodox Church.

Leader of Orthodox Church of Ukraine Metropolitan Epiphany also attended the ceremony.

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.

"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.

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 tomos was signed in the presence of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who traveled to Istanbul specifically for the occasion. He is expected to get a tomos of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Istanbul on January 6.

The decree was signed at a landmark ceremony on Saturday, putting the formal stamp on a break with the Russian Orthodox church which has infuriated Moscow.

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The recently formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine has officially grained independence, severing its relationship to the Russian Church that it had been tied to for more than 330 years.

Bartholomew announced the decision to recognize Ukraine's request for an autocephalous church in October.

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.

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

He has been a long time critic of Moscow's religious influence in Ukraine. It favours European integration and championed the independent church but the Moscow Patriarchate denounces it as schismatic.

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. In 2014 - more than two decades after Ukraine broke away from the former Soviet Union - Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and supports separatist rebels in the east of the country.

Istanbul remained the centre of the Orthodox Church after the Muslim Ottoman Turks occupied the city, then known as Constantinople, in the 15th Century.

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