Ukraine Orthodox church breaks with Russia’s
The Ukrainian Orthodox church has joined a political struggle by Kiev against Russia, declaring “independence” from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the development on Saturday, after a council of Orthodox bishops held an official gathering in the capital, Kiev, to establish an “independent” Orthodox church.
“This day will go down in history as a sacred day... the day of the final independence from Russia,” a fiercely anti-Russia Poroshenko told supporters outside Kiev’s Saint Sophia Cathedral, claiming that an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was now a “matter of national security.”
“This is a question of Ukrainian statehood,”' he said. “We are seizing spiritual independence, which can be likened to political independence. We are breaking the chains that tie us to the [Russian] empire.”
Poroshenko often speaks of a “Russian empire,” in what is generally seen as an attempt to drum up anti-Russia sentiments inside Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate for centuries, but tensions within the church mounted after Ukraine became independent in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The drive for the establishment of an independent church intensified in 2014, when the Crimean Peninsula chose to join Russia following a referendum.
The Ukrainian president also announced on Saturday the election of 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifaniy of the Kiev Patriarchate as the head of the new church. Epifaniy’s regular name is Sergiy Dumenko.
The new church leader is expected to visit Turkey, alongside Poroshenko, in January to receive an official decree of independence from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, an Istanbul-based institution considered the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide.
The Russian Orthodox Church has long objected to Kiev’s attempts to create an “independent” church.
The Saturday gathering of Ukrainian bishops was swiftly denounced by the Russian Orthodox Church, which branded the decision to be “void.”