Ukrainian Ortho­dox Church breaks away from Rus­sia


An in­de­pen­dent Ukrainian Ortho­dox church was cre­ated at a sign­ing cer­e­mony in Turkey on Satur­day, for­mal­iz­ing a split with the Rus­sian church it had been tied to since 1686.

The Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­arch of Con­stantino­ple, Bartholomew I, signed the “To­mos” in Is­tan­bul in front of cler­ics and Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, form­ing the Ortho­dox Church of Ukraine.

It forces 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 pi­ous Ukrainian peo­ple have awaited this blessed day for seven en­tire cen­turies,” Bartholomew I said in his ad­dress.

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.”

Poroshenko thanked Bartholomew I “for the courage to make this his­toric de­ci­sion” and said that “among the 15 stars of the Ortho­dox churches of the world a Ukrainian star has ap­peared,” re­fer­ring to the up­dated num­ber of churches that don’t an­swer to an ex­ter­nal au­thor­ity.

Last month, Ukrainian Ortho­dox lead­ers ap­proved the cre­ation of a new, uni­fied church split from the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate and elected 39year-old Metropoli­tan Epipha­nius I to lead it.

Bartholomew I’s de­ci­sion in Oc­to­ber to grant the Ukrainian church “au­to­cephaly,” or in­de­pen­dence, in­fu­ri­ated Moscow and the Rus­sian church sev­ered ties with Is­tan­bul, the cen­ter of the Ortho­dox world.

Crit­i­cism con­tin­ued Satur­day when a spokesman for the Rus­sia-af­fil­i­ated church in Ukraine, Vasily Anisi­mov, said, “We con­sider these ac­tions to be anti-canon­i­cal … This ac­tion will not bring any­thing to Ukraine ex­cept trou­ble, sep­a­ra­tion and sin,” ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian state news agency Ria-novosti.

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.

Poroshenko, pres­i­dent since 2014, has pushed for the cre­ation of the church as he cam­paigns for a March 31 elec­tion. Though the church is not for­mally part of the state, it is closely tied. Re­cent opin­ion polls sug­gest he is in sec­ond or third place in the race.

Poroshenko met with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan be­fore the cer­e­mony.


Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew I, signs the “To­mos” de­cree of in­de­pen­dence for the Ukrainian church on Satur­day.

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