The Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with church leaders in Constantinople over a dispute with Ukraine. Photo by UPI | License Photo
Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The Russian Orthodox Church will sever all ties with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to protest the church leadership's endorsement of an independent Ukrainian church.
Russian Cleric Metropolitan Ilarion said the Russians had no choice because the Patriarchate in Istanbul continues to meddle in their affairs by recognizing Ukraine's independence.
Church leaders in Moscow rule over Ukraine's Orthodox church, a holdover from the Soviet Union era. But Ukrainian leaders don't want Russian interference and say the church supports separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders are supporting the Kiev Patriarchate.
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said this is an "historic event" and a "victory of good over evil."
"This is a collapse of Moscow's centuries-old claims for global domination as the Third Rome," Poroshenko said. "The independence of our church is part of our pro-European and pro-Ukrainian policies that we've been consistently pursuing over the last four years."
Moscow church leaders say they aren't a security threat and promote peace in Ukraine.
"A decision was taken to completely sever ties," Ilarion said after a meeting in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. "No other decision could have been taken by our Holy Synod because the logic of all the action taken recently by the Constantinople Patriarchate led to this."
Illarion said the decision to back the Ukrainian Orthodox church was illegal and should be disregarded, comparing it to the Great Schism of 1054 that split western and eastern Christianity.
"We are hoping common sense will prevail and that the Constantinople Patriarchate will change its relations to existing church reality," he said.
The Holy Synod made an official declaration saying Ukraine's break from the church "is tantamount to renouncing its historical roots and commitments."
Moscow church leaders also urged other Orthodox Churches to evaluate Constantinople's decision and to "search for ways out of the gravest crisis that is tearing apart the body of church."