KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian Orthodox leaders on Saturday approved the creation of a unified church independent of the Moscow Patriarchate and elected a leader to head that new church – a move that could exponentially raise tensions with neighboring Russia.

The vote, held at a closed-door synod in Kiev’s St. Sophia Cathedral, is the latest in a series of confrontations between Ukraine and authorities in Russia, including President Vladimir Putin’s government. Ahead of the vote, the Russian Orthodox Church called on the United Nations, the leaders of Germany and France, the pope and other spiritual leaders to protect Orthodox believers in Ukraine.

A new head of independent Ukrainian church Metropolitan of Kiev Epiphanius greets people gathered to support independent Ukrainian church near the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, on Saturday.

The leader of the new autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be Metropolitan Epiphanius, a 39-year-old bishop from the Kiev Patriarchate.

“God heard our appeals and gave us this anticipated unity,” Epiphanius told a crowd of thousands who had gathered outside the cathedral on Saturday to hear the news. He stressed that the new church’s doors would be open to all, and encouraged Ukrainians to rally behind it.

Still, spiritual leaders attending Saturday’s synod couched their efforts to create an independent church in patriotic rhetoric. Father Sergei Dmitriev said that, given Ukraine’s ongoing conflicts with Russia, “we should have our own church, not an agent of the Kremlin in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has made the creation of a new church a key campaign issue, attended the synod Saturday as a non-voting observer.

“Ukraine was not, is not, and will not be the canonical territory of the Russian church,” Poroshenko told the gathering, adding that creating an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was now a matter of national security.

“This is a question of Ukrainian statehood,” Poroshenko said. “We are seizing spiritual independence, which can be likened to political independence. We are breaking the chains that tie us to the (Russian) empire.”

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.