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Ukrainian Orthodox Church separated from Russia

By Danielle Haynes
Ukrainian Orthodox Church separated from Russia
Patriarch Bartholomew attends a signing ceremony of the tomos decree of autocephaly for Ukrainian church at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday. Photo by Mykola Lazarenko/EPA-EFE

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople granted independence to the Orthodox church in Ukraine on Saturday, formally separating it from Moscow for the first time since the 17th century.

Experts believe the split could further deteriorate relations between Ukraine and Russia because it could cause the Russian Orthodox Church to lose one-fifth of its members, The Guardian reported.

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The Ukrainian church has been under the control of Russia since 1686. Many Russians oppose the split, an opinion that hardened after fighting in 2014 when Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

"The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries," Patriarch Bartholomew said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and newly elected Metropolitan Epifaniy, head of the Ukrainian church, traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for the "tomos," or independence, ceremony. It took place at the Patriarchal Church of St. George.

Poroshenko said the split will create a "new era in Orthodox history."

"We pray for peace and unity," he said.

The tomos come one day before the celebration of Orthodox Christmas.

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