Ukraine creates church independent from Russia
Ukraine chose the head of a new national Orthodox church on Dec. 15, marking an historic split from Russia which its leaders see as vital to the country’s security and independence.
President Petro Poroshenko said 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifaniy of the Kiev Patriarchate church had been chosen as head of the church by a council, comparing the move to Ukraine’s referendum for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. “This day will go into history as a sacred day ... the day of the final independence from Russia,” Poroshenko told thousands of supporters, who shouted “glory, glory, glory.”
“And Ukraine will no longer drink, in the words of Taras Shevchenko, ‘Moscow’s poison from Moscow’s cup,’” he said, quoting the country’s national poet.
The Ukrainian Orthodox church has been beholden to Moscow for hundreds of years, and Ukraine’s leaders see church independence as vital to tackling Russian meddling.
Kiev says Moscow-backed churches on its soil are a Kremlin tool to spread propaganda and support fighters in the eastern Donbass region in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people. The churches strongly deny this.
Ukraine won approval for the new church in October from the Fener Greek Patriarchate in Istanbul, the seat of the global spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians.
Poroshenko had hailed the decision of the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch Dimitri Bartholomew in October.
“This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness,” Poroshenko had said in televised remarks, adding that Ukraine had been waiting for this “historic event” for more than 330 years.
Since the late 1600s, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine had been a wing of the Russian Orthodox Church rather than being ecclesiastically independent. Many Ukrainians, however, resented the implication that Ukraine was a vassal of Russia.
The move on Dec. 15 raises deep concerns about what will happen to the approximately 12,000 churches in Ukraine that were under the Moscow Patriarchate.