Independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church formalized in Istanbul

Erika Holt
January 6, 2019

The spiritual head of Orthodox Christians worldwide formally granted independence to the Ukrainian church on Saturday, marking an historic split from Russian Federation which Ukrainian leaders see as vital to the country's security.

An independent Ukrainian Orthodox church was created at a signing ceremony in Turkey on January 5, formalizing a split with the Russian church it had been tied to since 1686.

In recent weeks, the Ukrainian security service, the SBU, has searched church property, including the home of the father superior of Kiev's biggest and oldest monastery, which is part of the Russian Orthodox church.

On December 15, Kiev hosted the so-called "unification" council held under the supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and brokered by the Ukrainian authorities.

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

Poroshenko thanked the patriarch "for the courage to make this historic decision" and said it was "a great day" for Ukrainians. If they decide at a general meeting that they want to voluntarily join the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine, they will be accepted into the structure of the single Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

He posted photos of the signing ceremony on his Twitter account.

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The biggest rift in Christianity in centuries is expected to open up after a new Orthodox church in Ukraine gained formal independence from Moscow in a move set to heighten geopolitical tensions in the region.

Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russian Federation captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait, a narrow sea passage close to the Crimean peninsula that separates the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

The patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, endorsed Ukraine's request for the new church in October.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church's media relations, Vladimir Legoida, dismissed the Istanbul decree-signing ceremony.

"Tomos - is just a paper, the result of restless political and personal ambitions".

The spokesman said that the official reason was a breach of "customs formalities". Orthodox churches in other countries are aligning with Moscow or Constantinople in the rift.

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