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Primate chosen for independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church

December 17, 2018

Meeting in Kiev on December 15, Ukrainian Orthodox bishops elected Metropolitan Epifanyj of Perejasalv-Khmel'nitsky to become the primate of an autocephalous (self-governing) Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The election of the new Ukrainian Orthodox leader, at a “Unification Council” convened under the aegis of the Patriarch of Constantinople, was welcomed by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, who had sought recognition for an autocephalous Ukrainian Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has long considered Ukraine part of its “canonical territory,” has adamantly opposed the move to independence, and most of the Ukrainian bishops affiliated with the Moscow patriarchate boycotted the December 15 meeting. However, two bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—Moscow Patriarchate broke with their colleagues to join in the vote, indicating that they would align themselves with the new united Orthodox body.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the chief external-affairs spokesman for the Moscow patriarchate, blasted the two bishops of that body who had participated in the Unification Council, comparing them to Judas. The Moscow patriarchate broke off ecumenical ties with Constantinople when the Ecumenical Patriarch announced his decision to recognize an autocephalous Ukrainian Church.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been split into competing factions since shortly after the country regained independence after years of Soviet rule. The Ukrainian primate once recognized by Moscow, Filaret, established the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate. Patriarch Filaret, who is now 89 years old, removed himself from consideration as leader of the new unified body, although he fully supported the Unification Council.

The Moscow patriarchate still claims that largest number of parishes in Ukraine, although support for the Kiev patriarchate has grown during the months of conflict between Ukraine and Russia. A third body, the Independent Orthodox Church, has a considerably smaller following.

It is unclear whether the majority of Ukrainian Orthodox believers will unite behind Metropolitan Epifanyj. But the new primate— who will take the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, but will apparently not be recognized as a patriarch while Filaret is still living— is only 39 years old, and could provide decades of leadership for the faithful in a country that boasts the world’s largest and most active Orthodox community.


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