New Ukrainian church picks leader
Ukraine’s Orthodox church has selected a leader for a newly independent denomination in a split from Russia, further straining bilateral relations.
Sanctioned in October by the Ecumenical Patriarchy in Istanbul, the move is part of Ukrainian efforts to cut ties with Russia.
Representatives of Ukraine’s three Orthodox Churches attended the synod in Kiev, but only two members of the branch still loyal to Moscow attended.
Russian bishop Metropolitan Hilarion in Volokolamsk compared the two representatives of the Moscow-backed church to the biblical traitor, Judas.
Ukraine’s leaders say the move is vital to the country’s security and independence but could increase tensions further with Russia.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Metropolitan Epifaniy of the Kiev Patriarchate church had been chosen as head of the church by a council. He compared the move to Ukraine’s referendum on independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
“This day will go into history as a sacred day…the day of the final independence from Russia,” Poroshenko told supporters in Kiev.
“And Ukraine will no longer drink, in the words of Taras Shevchenko, ‘Moscow’s poison from Moscow’s cup,'” he said in reference to the national poet.
Poroshenko, who is battling low approval ratings ahead of a re-election campaign next year, said Ukrainians finally had their own church.
“What is this church? This is a church without [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. What is this church? This church is without [Russian Orthodox Patriarch] Kirill. What is this church? This is a church without prayers for the Russian authorities and Russian troops because they kill Ukrainians. But this is a church with God and Ukraine,” the embattled president told the event.
A spokesman for Kirill, the head of the Russian church, said the Moscow Patriarchate would continue to work in Ukraine despite the new church.
The conflict with Russia has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
Epifaniy, 39, whose secular name is Sergiy Dumenko, was chosen by a council at St Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev, consecrated by the son of Prince Volodymyr, whose baptism in 988 led to the regional spread of Christianity.
Epifaniy told the crowd: “God heard our appeals and gave us this anticipated unity.”
The Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow dismissed the synod as uncanonical.
Vladimir Legoida, a spokesman for the Moscow church, said the Ukrainian synod had “no church, religious or evangelical meaning” and that it would have “no canonical consequences”.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko makes the break. Kiev is the regional hub for Christianity. Picture credit: YouTube