Hundreds of Orthodox churches in Ukraine reject Moscow Patriarchate for Kyiv, church leader says


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About 150 churches in Ukraine have either rejected the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Moscow and embraced the Kyiv-based Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) or are in the process of doing so, according to OCU head Metropolitan Epiphanius.

“In recent days, we are seeing the beginning of a wave of transitions from the ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] to the OCU,” Bishop Epiphanius, the head of the Kyiv-based OCU, said in a national telethon, Ukrinform reported. “And in almost a few days we have already made more than 50 transitions. Now we say that about 100 communities have already decided, they are already in the process of transition.”

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“That is, gradually Ukrainians who have been in spiritual delusion so far are beginning to see,” Epiphanius added. “Community after community, throughout Ukraine, in every region, not only in the West, but also in the Center, in the East and in the South.”

Metropolitan Epiphanius, newly elected head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, conducts a service during his enthronement in the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019.

Metropolitan Epiphanius, newly elected head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, conducts a service during his enthronement in the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019.
(Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo)

Every day, the OCU reports that one or another community has decided to reject the Moscow-based church hierarchy, Epiphanius said. This change roughly amounts to switching church denominations – it would be analogous to a conservative congregation rejecting the liberal Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Communion.

“And according to the law, every community has the right to change its jurisdiction,” the Kyiv metropolitan said. “Therefore, I urge the communities of the Moscow Patriarchate to make appropriate decisions in the future, not to remain silent, but to join the recognized Orthodox Church.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has attempted to silence non-state media.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin has attempted to silence non-state media.  
(Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)

The Kyiv-based OCU broke away from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). While the OCU started in 1995, it gained official recognition at an Oct. 2018 synod in Constantinople. The Metropolitan Epiphanius I was elected in Dec. 2018.

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Morning fog surrounds the thousand-year-old Monastery of the Caves, also known as Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, one of the holiest sites of Eastern Orthodox Christians, in Kyiv, Ukraine on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.

Morning fog surrounds the thousand-year-old Monastery of the Caves, also known as Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, one of the holiest sites of Eastern Orthodox Christians, in Kyiv, Ukraine on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.
(AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)

A large majority of Ukraine’s population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian, while a significant minority of Ukrainian Catholics worship with a Byzantine liturgy similar to the Orthodox but are loyal to the pope, surveys show. 

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A 2018 survey found that about 67.3% of Ukraine’s population identifies as one or another strand of Orthodox Christianity, with 28.7% part of the Kyiv-based OCU, 23.4% simply “Orthodox,” and 12.8% UOC-MP. Another 7.7% of the population identifies as broadly Christian, while Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholics make up 9.4%, Protestants make up 2.2%, Latin Rite Catholics make up 0.8%, Muslims make up 2.5%, and Judaism makes up 0.4%. Another 11% declared themselves non-religious or unaffiliated.

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