KIEV – The leader of the new independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was enthroned in a ceremony in Kiev on Sunday, formalizing a break with the Russian Orthodox Church that has enraged Moscow.
During the three-hour event in the gold-decked 11th-century St. Sophia Cathedral, Metropolitan Epifaniy became head of the church, having been elected by bishops last year.
The 40-year-old is a critic of Moscow’s religious influence in Ukraine and has helped organize humanitarian aid for the Ukraine Army in its struggle against Russian-backed separatist movements.
President Petro Poroshenko, who had promised an independent church ahead of this year’s presidential election, attended the ceremony along with other top officials.
Last week, he finally confirmed he was running for re-election in the March 31 poll.
Poroshenko described Sunday’s ceremony as the “completion” of the process to create the church, in comments carried by Ukrainian TV channels as part of a live broadcast.
The new church will be independent of the state, he said.
For more than 300 years, the patriarch of Moscow controlled part of the Ukrainian church.
Kiev now considers this influence unacceptable given its ongoing war with Russia-backed rebels in the east that has already killed around 13,000 people.
The Russian-controlled branch of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has denounced the establishment of a unified church, breaking ties with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople over the issue.
The Constantinople patriarch’s decision to recognize the Ukrainian church’s independence from Russia was a huge blow to Moscow’s spiritual authority in the Orthodox world.