Ukrainian Orthodox Church gets ‘tomos of autocephaly’ at historic ceremony in Istanbul

Ukrinform

Metropolitan Epiphanius I, who was elected last month by Ukrainian Orthodox leaders to head the new church, will take the decree to Kiev.

The Patriarch has signed what is known as a "tomos", a decree officially recognising an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the presence of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who travelled to Istanbul for the occasion.

The document was handed over by Patriarch Bartholomew during an Epiphany service at St George's Cathedral in Istanbul, an AFP correspondent said, completing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople's recognition of the newly-independent Ukrainian church.

On Oct. 11, the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul greenlit the process for the Ukrainian church's independence, over Russia's objections, and with Ukrainian-Russian geopolitical tensions in the background.

"I want to thank the millions of Ukrainians around the world who responded to my appeal to pray for the church to be established", Poroshenko said at a ceremony accompanied by solemn liturgical singing.

Infuriated, the Russian church broke ties with the patriarchy in Istanbul, the center of the Orthodox belief for some 300 million Christians worldwide.

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"The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries", Bartholomew said in his address. Ukrainians can now enjoy "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention", he added. He argued Ukrainians "desired ecclesiastical independence" for centuries and never accepted that they were part of the Russian church.

Bartholomew announced the decision to recognize Ukraine's request for an autocephalous church in October. "It was signed in breach of canonicity and this is why it has no power", he said in a Telegram message, according to Reuters news agency.

Ukraine has accused Kremlin-backed churches of spreading pro-Russia propaganda, which Russian religious leaders have denied. It favours European integration and championed the independent church but the Moscow Patriarchate denounces it as schismatic.

Kyiv has been pushing for a church free from Moscow's influence, a campaign intensified after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and amid the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. In 2014 - more than two decades after Ukraine broke away from the former Soviet Union - Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and supports separatist rebels in the east of the country.

"We will have to see which Ukrainian bishops will join the new church and which other Orthodox churches will recognise it", she added.

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