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Moscow rages as Ukrainian Church's independence recognised

AFP  |  Istanbul 

The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate on Thursday said it had agreed to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in a move welcomed with jubilation by but condemned as "catastrophic" in

had warned against allowing the Church to sever its ties with Moscow, with the of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, travelling to earlier this year in a bid to dissuade the patriarchate.

The issue is set to play a key role in Ukraine's March 2019 presidential elections, with incumbent making independence from the -- known as -- a key issue as he plans a re-election bid.

Poroshenko quickly hailed the decision of the Patriarchate, which is based in its historic home of Istanbul, the former Constantinople and once the capital of the Byzantine Empire before the Ottoman Muslim conquest of 1453.

"This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness," Poroshenko said in televised remarks, adding that has been waiting for this "historic event" for more than 330 years.

But the said that the Patriarchate had taken "catastrophic" decisions both for itself and global Orthodoxy. "The Patriarchate of Constantinople has crossed a red line," a for Russian

Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, Alexander Volkov, said in televised remarks.

The Patriarchate of Moscow, which is strongly backed by the Kremlin, argues it technically oversees most of Ukraine's Orthodox parishes and has warned that independence would provoke a rift in global Orthodoxy.

The Ukrainian Church is currently split into three bodies, one technically overseen by the Patriarch of Moscow, a fact the government considers unacceptable given its ongoing war with Russia-backed rebels in the east.

An synod meeting chaired by Patriarch Bartholomew, seen as the first among equals of Orthodox Church leaders, "decreed to proceed to the granting of to the Church of Ukraine," said an official statement read in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.

In another key move, the synod also agreed to reinstate the of the Patriarch and Metropolitan Makariy to their canonical ranks following their excommunication in the dispute with

"Thus, the above-mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank," said the statement after a meeting that began on Tuesday.

Ukraine's Orthodox church split from in the 1990s, with the charismatic a foremost proponent of a new independent

In his first reaction, said Thursday's decision would allow his country to finally establish a united church in and vowed to soon convene a meeting to address the issue of unification and elect a new patriarch.

"We want the to be united not only in appearance but also in spirit so that it could serve the Ukrainian people," Filaret told reporters outside in Kiev.

The Moscow Patriarchate has already downgraded its ties with Bartholomew I over the affair, which it considers an unjust encroachment on its spiritual territory.

On Wednesday, an influential Moscow Patriarch went so far as to warn that parishioners will not hand over churches to a new Orthodox institution willingly. "Of course, people will take to streets and protect their sacred sites," Hilarion, a in charge of diplomacy at the patriarchate, was quoted by Russian agencies as saying at a religious congress in

Bartholomew I, a Turkish citizen of Greek origin who commands huge international respect for promoting inter-faith dialogue, will also not want to antagonise the Turkish authorities who are pressing a policy of a strong alliance with

Ukraine and have been at loggerheads since 2014 when Kiev street protests urging Ukrainian integration with prompted the ousting of

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of later that year and backed rebels who carved out two unrecognised breakaway regions in Ukraine's mineral-rich east in a conflict that continues to this day.

Ukrainian authorities and many worshippers are wary of the influence of Kirill, a strong ally of who has supported the annexation of from Ukraine and the separatists in the east of the country.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, October 12 2018. 01:15 IST