In Istanbul, Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I will grant autocephaly, essentially independence, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Jan. 6, a move Russia has long campaigned against. Bartholomew I will hand over an official decree, called a "tomos," to the head of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
"The Tomos of the Ecumenical Patriarch should be handed over to [Ukrainian church leader] on Jan. 6 [Christmas Eve]," Archbishop Yevstratiy, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate said, as reported by Kiev Post.
Last month, the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate gathered in Istanbul in a bid to approve an official tomos, granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autocephaly. Under the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the patriarchate announced in October that it would grant autocephaly, or independence, to the Ukrainian Church. The decision ended more than 300 years of Moscow's control over Orthodox churches in Ukraine and affects millions of believers in Russia and Ukraine.
Ahead of the Unification Council at St. Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, aimed to form a new independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and elect a leader, known as a primate, the Russian Orthodox Church called on the United Nations, the leaders of Germany and France, the pope and other spiritual leaders to protect believers in Ukraine.
The Russian Church said on Friday that Moscow Patriarch Kirill has sent a letter to the U.N. secretary-general, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other spiritual leaders, urging them to help protect the clerics, believers and their faith in Ukraine. In the biggest split in modern Orthodox history, the Russian Orthodox Church in October decided to sever all relations with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate in protest over its endorsement of Ukraine's request for an independent church.
Under Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine has pushed to establish a national church and thereby sever centuries-old ties with the Russian clergy. Kiev authorities say the step is essential to tackle Russian meddling on its soil. The move came amid increasing tensions between Moscow and Kiev as the two countries continue trading blame for the worst crisis in years over the Kerch Strait.
Since Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the ensuing conflict with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, Kiev has been wary of the influence of Patriarch Kirill, who is an avid supporter of the Kremlin's policies. The issue has played a key role in Ukraine's March 2019 presidential elections, with incumbent President Petro Poroshenko making independence from the Russian Orthodox Church a key issue as he plans a re-election bid.