Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have signed an agreement on cooperation and interaction between Kiev and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, paving the way for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian church, a plan which has angered Moscow.

According to Radio Free Europe, the agreement was signed on November 3, after a meeting between Bartholomew and Poroshenko in Istanbul.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is based in Istanbul — the former Constantinople — which used to be the capital of the Byzantine Empire before the Ottoman Muslim conquest of 1453.

The meeting came after a synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate chaired by Patriarch Bartholomew I, who now claims to be the leader of the worldwide Orthodox community, decreed on October 11 to “proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine.” Bartholomew claimed to remove the Ukrainian Church from Russian Orthodox Church authority, and he joined himself to a schismatic church group that engages in sacrilegious activities. Thus the churches in Constantinople and Moscow are now in schism with one another.

Ukraine currently has three groups claiming to be Orthodox: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which remained loyal to the Russian Church after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and two breakaway entities that were historically not recognized as legitimate by any Orthodox churches in the world — the Church of the Kiev Patriarchate led by Philaret, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church led by Metropolitan Makariy. According to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Makariy is now only recognized as a priest, not as a bishop or metropolitan.

The agreement signed with Bartholomew lays out conditions for “the granting of the tomos” — a formal decree on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from the Russian Orthodox Church — “to proceed absolutely in strict accordance with the canons of the Orthodox church,” Ukrainian President Poroshenko told reporters after the meeting.

He called the day historic and thanked the patriarch for the warm “meeting filled with wisdom.”

“I am sure the autocephaly decision will lead to the unity and unification of all Orthodox believers in Ukraine,” Patriarch Bartholomew said after signing the agreement.

In response to this “unity”, many Orthodox Christians are rejecting the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch. Examples include Fr. Mark Tyson, an American priest who abandoned the Patriarch of Constantinople, and an entire parish of over 100 members who likewise turned their backs on Patriarch Bartholomew. After rejecting Constantinople, they formally joined the Russian Orthodox Church.

Many churches in Ukraine are also pledging their loyalty to the Russian Orthodox Church, due to their belief that Bartholomew has no authority in Ukraine.

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