Ukraine wins approval for historic split from Russian church

Ukrainian church wins independence battle against Moscow Patriarchate

Russian Federation opposes any steps that lead to a split in Orthodox Christianity, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, when asked about Ukraine's bid to establish an independent church outside Moscow's control.

Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, speaks during a news briefing in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are now divided between a semi-autonomous branch loyal to Moscow and Kirill, the one lead by the Filaret, and third church which emerged in the 1920s as a response to Soviet repression.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the decision, announced Thursday after a three-day meeting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and his top advisers, as a turning point in efforts to tear free of the grasp of its former master. The move prompted a harsh response from the Russian Orthodox Church, which has for centuries claimed jurisdiction over Orthodox believers in Ukraine.

"For us, our own church is a guarantee of our spiritual freedom", Poroshenko said.

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But the Russian Orthodox Church said that the Patriarchate had taken "catastrophic" decisions both for itself and global Orthodoxy.

"The Patriarchate of Constantinople has crossed a red line", a spokesman for Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, Alexander Volkov, said in televised remarks. The Russian church has said it will no longer regard the Ecumenical Patriarch as first among equals if the Ukrainian church is recognized as legitimate.

The leader of the larger of the two schismatic churches, Patriarch Filaret, said he would call a council with the leadership of the other schismatic church to choose a leader of the autocephalous church. Moscow-loyal church representatives can attend if they desire, he said.

The victory for Kyiv could boost Poroshenko's reelection bid ahead of March 2019 elections.

Ukrainian authorities and many worshippers are wary of the influence of Kirill, a strong ally of President Vladimir Putin who has supported the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the separatists in the east of the country.

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