Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks away from Russian influence

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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. The Russian church, which now has about 150 million Orthodox Christians under its authority, could lose a fifth of its members.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, signed the decree of independence, or "Tomos", in Istanbul, formalizing a split that has angered Moscow amid a broader political conflict between Ukraine and Russian Federation.

The row over independence for the Ukrainian church is seen as a proxy for political tensions between Moscow and Kiev.

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 Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was created following the results of the December 15 All-Ukrainian Orthodox Unity Council, where Epiphanius, the metropolitan of Pereiaslav and Bila Tserkva, was elected primate of the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Patriarchate of Moscow has more followers than the Patriarchate of Constantinople and has challenged it for authority in the past. Many Russians oppose the split, an opinion that hardened after fighting in 2014 when Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

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The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, signed the "Tomos" in Istanbul in front of clerics and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, forming the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Ukraine marked a historic split from Russian Federation in December when it chose the head of a new national Orthodox church. Metropolitan Epiphanius was elected the primate of the new church.

It came after Bartholomew I revoked a 1686 ruling that placed Ukraine under the patriarchate in Moscow in October.

Meanwhile, Putin said: "I think Bartholomew's main incentive and motive is to subdue this territory and then start profiting from it". In April 2018, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko wrote a personal letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople asking for autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.

The SBU has denounced the Moscow patriarchate as a tool of the Kremlin and has questioned priests loyal to Moscow.

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