Orthodox Patriarch welcomes Ukraine's independent church
The leading authority in Orthodox Christianity invited new church's leader to Istanbul for confirmation
The Orthodox Patriarch has welcomed the creation of an Orthodox church in Ukraine independent of Moscow and invited its leader to Istanbul to receive official confirmation of its status.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the leading authority in Orthodox Christianity, expressed "great joy and satisfaction" in a statement late Saturday.
Earlier Saturday, a council of Orthodox bishops in Kiev created the new Ukrainian church at a historic synod in Kiev's 11th-century Saint Sophia Cathedral, ending more than 300 years of Moscow domination.
Ukrainian bishops met on Saturday and voted to approve a charter for the new church and elect a leader.
The council chose 39-year-old Metropolitan Epiphanius, whose secular name is Sergiy Dumenko, to lead the new church.
In his first liturgy as head of the newly christened Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphanius called for Ukrainians to unite under the new church and pray for peace in Ukraine.
Mr Epiphanius on Sunday said "we must complete the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy ... pray for an end to the war (in eastern Ukraine), and for a just peace in Ukraine."
The creation of a new church is an attempt to unite Ukrainian Orthodox believers under one roof. But questions remain over the future of the branch in Ukraine loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Mr Epiphanius wrote a paper in 2015 in which he accused the Kremlin of using Ukraine's Orthodox church - loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate - to stifle his country's independence.
He is close to the patriarch of Kiev, Filaret, who was excommunicated by Moscow for starting a dissident church in Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Mr Bartholomew, considered the "first among equals" of Orthodox patriarchs, rehabilitated Filaret only last October.
In his message Saturday, Mr Bartholomew invited Mr Epiphanius to Istanbul to receive the official decree confirming the establishment of his church.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been a vocal supporter of the new church.
Ties between Russia and Ukraine have broken down since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 following a pro-Western uprising in Kiev.
This year, those tensions spilled over into the religious arena.
Earlier this month, Ukrainian security services raided several Orthodox churches aligned with Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church, furious at Bartholomew's recognition of the new church, has already cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
It has dismissed the new church as “uncanonical”.
Updated: December 16, 2018 08:11 PM