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Istanbul: Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko (centre left) and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (centre right) pose for a picture after their meeting at the Fener Greek Patriarchate on Saturday.—AFP
Istanbul: Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko (centre left) and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (centre right) pose for a picture after their meeting at the Fener Greek Patriarchate on Saturday.—AFP

ISTANBUL: Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and the Istanbul-based Orthodox patriarch on Saturday signed an accord that paves the way for the recognition of an independent Ukrainian church, a plan that has infuriated Moscow.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I had on October 11 agreed to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate, a move that was welcomed with jubilation by Kiev but condemned as “catastrophic” in Moscow.

The Ukrainian branch of Orthodoxy has been under Moscow’s control for the last 300 years but this month the leading authority in Orthodox Christianity granted it the right to independence. The decision by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople drew cheers from Kiev, fury from Moscow, and marked the culmination of more than two decades of work by Kiev’s Patriarch.

On a visit to Istanbul that will see him hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Poroshenko signed an agreement setting out the steps needed to formalise the recognition of the independence of the Ukrainian Church, known as Tomos.

“On behalf of the Ukrainian people, I am very grateful to His Holiness and to all the bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchy for the extremely important and wise decision to open the road to God for the Ukrainian nation and its church,” Poroshenko said.

“The agreement that we signed today sets the conditions so that the preparation to grant the Tomos will be done in absolute correspondence with the canonical rules of the Orthodox Church.” Poroshenko also tweeted: “Today is a historic day. We have reached an agreement on the cooperation between Ukraine and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which we just signed with His Holiness.” The issue is set to play a key role in Ukraine’s March 2019 presidential elections with Poroshenko making Tomos a key issue as he plans a re-election bid.

The Patriarchate is based in its historic home of Istanbul, the former Constantinople and once the capital of the Byzantine Empire before the Ottoman Muslim conquest of 1453.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2018

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