Patriarch set to formalize Ukraine Church independence

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According to the Ecumenical Patriarch, this is the official recognition of the Church of Ukraine, which brings it up to the level of fourteen sister churches that make up the "fullness" of the Holy Orthodox Church.

Experts believe the split could further deteriorate relations between Ukraine and Russia because it could cause the Russian Orthodox Church to lose one-fifth of its members, The Guardian reported.

The move is forcing Ukrainian clerics to pick sides between the Moscow-backed Ukrainian churches and the new church as fighting persists in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.

Ukrainian customs officers have seized copies of an address by Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill that was to be read out in Ukrainian churches next Monday when Orthodox Christians mark Christmas, the spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said. It named Epiphany Dumenko as head of the new "autocephalous church".

Bartholomew I said the move would grant Ukrainians "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance", adding they would be "free from every external reliance and intervention". "The sole objective of our efforts is for normality to return to the Ukrainian church", he said. Orthodox churches in other countries are aligning with Moscow or Constantinople in the rift.

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Poroshenko, who is up for reelection at the end of March, has made the creation of the independent church a part of his campaign platform.

The independence decree will force Ukrainian clerics to pick sides between the Moscow-backed Ukrainian churches and the new church as fighting persists in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Russian Federation. The churches strongly deny this.

Metropolitan Epiphanius, the head of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church conducts a religion service at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, wants the Ukrainian church to stay within Moscow's orbit, and has warned of "a heavy dispute, if not bloodshed" over attempts to reassign ownership of church property.

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