Orthodox patriarch signs decree on independent Ukraine church

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Rancor between Ukraine and Russian Federation grew after Moscow's seizure of Crimea in 2014.

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.

Poroshenko met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the ceremony.

The patriarch, considered "first among equals" in Orthodox Christianity, said Ukrainians could now enjoy "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention". He was joined by the 39-year-old Epiphanius, the self-styled Patriarch of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

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Ukrainian Orthodox Church Officially Gains Independence From Russian Church

The Russian Orthodox Church has refused to recognize the results of the unification council and Constantinople's decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian church, insisting that Constantinople legalized schism and adding that the day when the Tomos was signed was a "tragic" one for the global Orthodoxy.

The Ukrainian church has been under the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate since 1686, and its independence is a heavy blow to Moscow.

Ukrainian border officials have reportedly detained a shipment of a Christmas message from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church following the creation of a new Ukrainian Orthodox church independent of Moscow.

It had been "signed in violation of the canons and therefore not possessing any canonical force", Legoida said in a statement.

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The patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, endorsed Ukraine's request for the new church in October.

The decree opens the way for Ukraine's Orthodox Church to be recognised by other branches of orthodoxy and other churches. "Meanwhile, the new church will not be completely independent as it is likely to be "[tightly] controlled by Constantinople".

Russia subsequently annexed Crimea and has supported Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine's east, in a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.

Ukraine has accused Kremlin-backed churches of spreading pro-Russia propaganda, which Russian religious leaders have denied.

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Reuters reported that Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russian Federation captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait.

Poroshenko announced the end of the measure last month, saying military rule had to be lifted on account of an upcoming presidential vote scheduled to be held on March 31.

Now Moscow fears losing many of its 12,000 parishes in Ukraine.

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