Final approval granted for fully-independent Ukrainian Orthodox Christian church

Final approval granted for fully-independent Ukrainian Orthodox Christian church

Final approval granted for fully-independent Ukrainian Orthodox Christian church

In December, Ukrainian Orthodox leaders agreed on the creation of a new national Orthodox church and elected the 39-year-old Epifaniy to head that church.

The document was handed over by Patriarch Bartholomew during an Epiphany service at St George's Cathedral in Istanbul, an AFP correspondent said, completing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople's recognition of the newly-independent Ukrainian church.

Accompanied by solemn liturgical singing at the packed Istanbul ceremony on Saturday, Poroshenko thanked Bartholemew "for the courage to make this historic decision", adding: "I want to thank the generations of Ukrainians who dreamed ... and finally God sent us the Orthodox church of Ukraine".

"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.

Ukraine is home to millions of believers who belong to the Orthodox Church, but their loyalties are divided between the Kiev and Moscow patriarchates.

"The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries", Bartholomew said in his address on Saturday.

In November, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Bartholomew signed a cooperation agreement. Though the church is not formally part of the state, it is closely tied. "It was signed in breach of canonicity and this is why it has no power", he said in a Telegram message, according to Reuters news agency.

The decision may also lead to a lasting schism in the global Orthodox movement, says the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Kiev, Ukraine.

He has been a long time critic of Moscow's religious influence in Ukraine.

It came after Bartholomew I revoked a 1686 ruling that placed Ukraine under the patriarchate in Moscow in October.

Previously, the Ukrainian church that was tied to the Moscow Patriarchate was considered canonical, or legitimate.

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.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia devolved into hostilities in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and violent conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government.

What Kiev is doing is "very risky because if, let's just say, a number of autocephalous churches do not accept the Ukrainian new church, then we will have a schism, a break", Fr Mark Tyson, an American Orthodox priest and rector of a West Virginia-based church, explained to RT.

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