Ukrainian Orthodox Church Officially Gains Independence From Russian Church

The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011

Bartholomew I signs the Tomos of Autocephaly, marking the formal independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at the Patriarchal Church of St. George, in Istanbul.
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, signed the decree of independence, or "Tomos," in Istanbul, formalizing a split that has angered Moscow amid a broader political conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

"The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries," Bartholomew I said in his address at the Patriarchal Church of St. George.

The Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly denounced the creation of an independent Ukrainian church and severed ties with Istanbul, the historical seat of the Orthodox faith, after Bartholomew I approved the Ukrainian church's request for "autocephaly," or independence, last October.

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and Metropolitan Epiphanius, the head of the new, independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, attend the ceremony of signing the decree of independence for the Ukrainian church. Emrah Gurel/AP

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attended Saturday's signing, which many in his country see as one more step toward independence from Moscow, as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports. Poroshenko, who is up for reelection at the end of March, has made the creation of the independent church a part of his campaign platform. Joining Poroshenko was 39-year-old Metropolitan Epiphanius, who was elected last month as head of the new Ukranian Orthodox Church.

Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians have belonged to a unified church for centuries. Moscow argues it has had legal authority over Ukrainian churches since 1686, according to the BBC.

"In many circles in Ukraine, the idea of the creation of an independent Orthodox Church independent from Moscow is the culmination of Ukraine's political independence," Edward Siecienski, a professor of Byzantine theology at Stockton University, told NPR last month. "You can't have one without the other."

The Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church controls the majority of churches in the country — 12,000 to the new church's 5,000, the BBC reports. Ukrainian clerics will now be forced to choose between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kiev Patriarchate, amid continued conflict between the two countries in eastern Ukraine.

Russian church leaders and spokespeople have called the split "anti-canonical," according to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti. Russia has compared the independence of the Ukrainian church to the split between Eastern and Western Christianity a thousand years ago, NPR's Lucian Kim reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has seen part of his role as safeguarding the Orthodox faith, with frequent visits to churches and monasteries broadcast on state television, Kim reports. The proximity between the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian army has driven a wedge between the Russian church and Ukrainian believers.

Tensions escalated in the religious and political schisms after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, following the ouster of a pro-Moscow president in Kiev. The war in eastern Ukraine that erupted between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists after the annexation has left more than 10,000 people dead.

In November, Russia intensified the conflict when it seized three Ukrainian vessels and 24 soldiers and security officers near Crimea. Russia accused Ukraine of illegally entering its waters, but Ukraine said its two navy ships and tug boat were following international maritime rules.

Ukraine's split may have caused the Russian Orthodox Church to lose 30 to 40 percent of its 150 million members, as The New York Times reported last month.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church Officially Gains Independence From Russian Church

It is not that simple, of course. The Russian Church won't recognise this new Ukrainian Church.

Most clergy loyal to Moscow in Ukraine have refused to join it and have also severed ties with Bartholomew:
Ukrainian Orthodox Church severed ties with Constantinople | Russian news EN

And other Churches allied to Russia won't recognise them either:
Serbian Church 'Doesn't Recognize' Ukrainian Churches' Leaders Seeking Moscow Split
“We prayerfully support the Ukrainian Church headed by Met. Onuphry”—Met. Rastislav of Czech Lands and Slovakia

The Armenian Church will likely support Russia too; and even the more pro-Western Georgians have been trying like hell to maintain neutrality on this thing so far, not wanting, understandably, to piss off their giant neighbour; see this thread: Armenian church dragged into Russia-Ukraine feud

The Georgians likely will recognise, however: The Georgia Patriarchate may recognize the new Autocephalous Church of Ukraine ⋆

The Polish Orthodox, on the other hand, just reiterated their non-recognition of the new Ukrainian Church couple days ago: Polish Church rejects Pat. Bartholomew’s request to recognize new Ukrainian church

Even Ukraine's greatest boxing champion, Alexander Usyk, who is originally from Crimea (but left after 2014, because he did not want to switch citizenship, wanted to keep fighting for Ukraine)

has said he supports the Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Church, and would personally come help defend the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, the seat of power of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, currently still controlled by the Russia-backed Church

if nationalist radicals try to seize it by force: Boxer Usyk has declared his willingness to defend the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra – RIA Novosti

This shit is gonna cause a lot more turmoil in Ukraine and create more problems it was ever supposed to solve. I do wish Bartholomew would have just kept the fuck out of it...

The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has handed over a "tomos" of autocephaly to Metropolitan Epifaniy of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Bartholomew presented the document at a church service in Istanbul on January 6, after signing it during a ceremony the previous day.

The historic document grants the Orthodox Church in Ukraine independence, or autocephaly, and ends more than 330 years of Russian religious control in Ukraine.

The patriarch urged the new church in Ukraine to "strive for unity and peace" with believers who remain under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and to "help them understand that Ukraine deserves a united church body."

"Unity has been restored," Metropolitan Epifaniy said during the ceremony in Istanbul's St. George's Cathedral. "Now we are united."

At the January 5 signing ceremony, Bartholomew said that Ukrainians could now enjoy "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence, and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who attended the two-day events, said on January 6: "The 'tomos' is one more act declaring the independence of Ukraine."

Following the mass, both Poroshenko and Epifaniy attended a traditional Orthodox event on the Bosphorus in which dozens of men braved the cold and jumped into the waters to grab a cross flung by Patriarch Bartholomew.

Metropolitan Epifaniy was expected to take the document back to Kyiv later, where it will be displayed on January 7 in the Sophia Cathedral complex.

Bartholomew announced the decision to recognize Ukraine's request for an autocephalous church in October.

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.

Russia long opposed such efforts by the Ukrainians for an independent church, which intensified after Russia 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.

The announcement by Bartholomew, who is considered the leader of the 300-million-strong worldwide Orthodox community, came amid deepening tension over efforts by Ukrainian Orthodox churches to formally break away from Russia's orbit.

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

Vladimir Legoida, a Russian Orthodox Church spokesman, denounced the tomos on January 5 as "a document that is the result of irrepressible political and personal ambitions."

It had been "signed in violation of the canons and therefore not possessing any canonical force," Legoida said in a statement.
Decree On Independence Handed Over To New Orthodox Church In Ukraine