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Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally splits with its Russian counterpart


Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally splits with its Russian counterpart

Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

The leaders of the combined Orthodox Churches of Eastern Europe will today formally recognise the newly-created and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The self-proclaimed leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany, will formally receive his authority in Istanbul today. The push for an independent church is part of efforts to break away from the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which oversees over 150 million. The loss of Ukraine would see this figure shrink by a third.

Spiritual independence from Moscow is seen by President Petro Poroshenko as another front in forging Ukrainian national identity and bolstering his support ahead of a re-election bid later this year. Russia has sought to pressure neighbouring countries, through their affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, to boycott the new ecclesiastical entity through a break in ties with the leadership of Orthodox Christianity, the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The Kremlin is expected to retaliate diplomatically as a result of this new spiritual spat, continuing to pressure closely-aligned Balkan countries with strong orthodox populations to also protest the move. However, Poroshenko is expected to frame the dispute as part of a renewed pushback against Russian aggression and to reclaim a key part of Ukrainian society from Russian influence, by highlighting the nationalist symbolism of an independent Ukrainian church.

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