The “Unified Orthodox Ukrainian Church” Has Been Legalized in Ukraine

January 21, 2019
Patriarch Bartholomew and Ukranian President Petro Porochenko, January 5, 2019

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I legalized the independence of the “Unified Orthodox Ukrainian Church” on January 5, 2019, thus making it officially independent of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

On the next day, Christmas Day for the Orthodox, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, submitted the tomos, the official decree confirming the creation of a Ukrainian Church independent of the Patriarchate of Moscow, to the Ukrainian president Petro Porochenko. The procedure was formally confirmed in the Orthodox church of St. George in Istanbul, in a ceremony broadcasted live on Ukrainian television.

Moscow Denounces the Risk of a “Bloody Conflict”

Moscow once again denounced a “schism” and immediately cut all ties with Constantinople. “Constantinople’s actions are astonishing even according to common sense. How could Constantinople declare Patriarch Dionysius’s Letter of 1686 null and void?” declared Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. He deplored these events that he believes are “extremely dangerous for the integrity of the Ukrainian people”, referring to the decision by the Ukrainian Parliament to require the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (in communion with Moscow) to change its denomination.

These changes will be followed by repressions, and it is completely obvious that an ultimatum has been presented: if the Church does not change its name, its registration will be cancelled. And if the Church changes its name, then, naturally, an enormous pressure will be exerted on the Ukrainian people, on the public. There is no doubt that acts of violence will be committed to take away church buildings. (…) 

This fear is shared by Vladimir Putin, who declared that the decision from the Ukrainian Parliament could lead to a “bloody” redistribution of church goods between the canonical Orthodox Church in communion with the Patriarchate of Moscow, that possess more parishes, and the new unified Ukrainian Church. On December 20, 2018, during a press conference at the Kremlin, the Russian Head of State denounced “the electoral motives” behind a “staged” schism and accused Washington of “interference”. In the upcoming presidential elections, outgoing president Petro Porochenko, with the support of the United States, will run for a second term. He has been calling for the independence of the Ukrainian Church for several months and made this one of his campaign pitches.

The Holy See Has Not Yet Spoken

The Apostolic Nunciature of Kiev has denied the claims by the spokesman of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine that the Vatican had recognized it. “If the Holy See wishes to publish its official position on these events, it will use the appropriate means and methods,” read the statement.

As for the Roman Catholic (Latin) bishops of Ukraine, they nonetheless presented their official congratulations to the Metropolitan Epifaniy for his election as head of the local Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Bishop Bronitslav Bernatsky, president of the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in Ukraine, said he “hopes for fruitful and friendly cooperation of our Churches for the good of God's affairs among our compatriots and the State.”  

The Latin Catholic Church in Ukraine is mostly concentrated in the west and center of the country, in the regions that were once Polish. It counts for about 1% of the Ukrainian population.

The Greek Catholic Church counts for about 8.2% of the Ukrainians.