Ukrainian Orthodox Church separated from Russian Federation

Patriarch Filaret head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Patriarch Filaret head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

The independence decree will force 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 rebels backed by Russian Federation.

Just one day before Orthodox Christmas, an official decree marking the independence of Ukraine's new church was granted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to the head of the Kiev-established entity.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the leading authority in Orthodox Christianity, signed the decree known as Tomos at a ceremony in Istanbul.

Constantinople's recognition of an autonomous church is a boost to Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, who is facing a tough battle for re-election in March.

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

Bartholomew I said the move would grant Ukrainians "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance", adding they would be "free from every external reliance and intervention".

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church officially gained independence on Saturday, with the signing of a decree that marked its separation from the Russian church it has been tied to for centuries.

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The decision may the be beginning of a lasting schism in the global Orthodoxy and risks triggering conflicts among Ukraine's Orthodox believers, observers say.

The unification council on the creation of a single local Orthodox church in Ukraine was held at Sofiyska Square in Kyiv on December 15. On January 7, Christmas Day, a celebration and rally will take place in Kiev.

It had been "signed in violation of the canons and therefore not possessing any canonical force", Legoida said in a statement.

Many Ukrainians had resented the status of the Moscow-affiliated church. He has backed autocephaly as part of a pushback against Russian influence in Ukraine.

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.

It also prompted the Russian Orthodox Church to announce days later that it was ending its relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in protest.

Russian Federation long opposed such efforts by the Ukrainians for an independent church, which intensified after Russian Federation seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and began supporting separatists shortly thereafter in parts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

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