Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be independent of Russian Federation

Filaret and Petro Poroshenko

Filaret and Petro Poroshenko

The Kremlin vowed to protect the interests of the Orthodox believers in Ukraine "politically and diplomatically", claiming Moscow does not intend to interfere in the "interchurch dialogue", that's according to a Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who commented on the latest decision of the Ecumencial Patriarchate of Constantinople to proceed to granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill conduct Sunday service in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George at the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey July 5, 2009.

It also made a decision to "accept and review the petitions of appeal of Filaret Denisenko, Makariy Maletych and their followers, who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy from all of the Autocephalous Churches".

Russian Federation annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea later that year and backed rebels who carved out two unrecognised breakaway regions in Ukraine's mineral-rich east in a conflict that continues to this day.

Ukraine accuses the Russian Orthodox Church of wielding a pernicious influence on its soil, allowing itself to be used as a tool of the Kremlin to justify Russian expansionism and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

"This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness", Poroshenko said in televised remarks, adding that Ukraine has been waiting for this "historic event" for more than 330 years.

The decision was reached during a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and published on the Patriarchate's website.

However, there were calls for the Ukrainian Church to be given independence, with the Church's former leader Patriarch Filaret leading the drive, though the campaign was weakened drastically by his excommunication in 1997.

On Wednesday, an influential Moscow Patriarch cleric went so far as to warn that parishioners will not hand over churches to a new Orthodox institution willingly.

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Orthodox Christianity was formally adopted in the Slavic region in 988 by Vladimir the Great, whose empire encompassed much of modern-day Ukraine and western Russian Federation.

The church known as the Moscow Patriarchate, which is aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, earlier dominated in Ukraine but has been challenged by a rival known as the Kiev Patriarchate formed after the 1991 break-up of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.

"We discussed cooperation with the Interior Ministry to prevent sectarian strife, provocations and violence during the settlement process between the churches", Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.

"In the event that the events which are developing take the course of illegal activities, then of course, just as Russia defends the interests of Russians and Russian speakers - and Putin has spoken about this many times - Russia will defend the interests of the Orthodox", he told reporters.

Why does Ukraine want its own Church?

Why did Patriarch Bartholomew agree to the split?

"There was also an exchange of views on the situation around the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine after the well-known decision of the Constantinople Patriarchate", Peskov added.

Ukraine wants to establish a national church, free from its traditional ties to Russia, which it says is a vital step to tackling Russian meddling in its affairs. "I think it would be tragic to see that".

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