Source: Associated Press
By YURAS KARMANAU and EFREM LUKATSKY
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — 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.
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.