Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks away from Russian influence

Patriarch Filaret head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Patriarch Filaret head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and Head of the global Orthodox Church Bartholomew I signed the "Tomos" independence decree in a ceremony in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Saturday.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, wants the Ukrainian church to stay within Moscow's orbit, and has warned of "a heavy dispute, if not bloodshed" over attempts to reassign ownership of church property.

In his New Year address, Vartholomaios described the decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian church as the most important event in 2018 for Orthodoxy. In April 2018, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko wrote a personal letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople asking for autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko were on hand to witness the ceremony.

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

The move is forcing Ukrainian clerics to pick sides as fighting persists in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.

Moscow argues it has had legal authority over Ukrainian churches since 1686, according to the BBC.

Ukrainian border officials have reportedly detained a shipment of a Christmas message from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church following the creation of a new Ukrainian Orthodox church independent of Moscow.

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.

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.

Kiev claims Moscow-backed churches in Ukraine are a Kremlin tool to spread propaganda and support fighters in the east in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.

"We will have to see which Ukrainian bishops will join the new church and which other Orthodox churches will recognise it", she added. In the latest standoff in November, Ukraine imposed martial law after Russian Federation captured three Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait near Crimea.

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