KYIV, Ukraine – The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has arrived in Ukraine to attend the festivities marking the 30th anniversary of his declaration of independence.
On Saturday, Patriarch Batholome I and the head of the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphanes I, together led a liturgy in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kiev.
The Patriarch met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday evening, who invited him to Ukraine to attend the 30th anniversary of independence, which is celebrated on Tuesday. Ukraine declared its independence on August 24, 1991, a few days after the failure of a Soviet coup that precipitated the break-up of the USSR.
“For me personally, for Ukraine, for all of us, it is a great honor that you join us on such important days,” Zelenskyy told Batholomew I when they met.
In January 2019, Bartholomew I, considered the first among his peers in the Orthodox Patriarchate, presented a decree of independence to the head of the nascent Orthodox Church in Ukraine, severing his age-old ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.
This decision was greeted by many Ukrainians, who resented the status of the affiliated church in Moscow. The push for a full-fledged Ukrainian church was reinforced by fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed rebels. Conflict in the country’s industrial center erupted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and has claimed more than 14,000 lives since then.
The Russian Orthodox Church has denounced the decision of the Patriarch of Constantinople, which forced the clergy and believers to choose between belonging to the old Moscow affiliated church or the new Ukrainian church, as a political attack on religious freedoms.
Following Bartholomew I’s decision for independence from the Ukrainian Church, the Russian Orthodox Church severed its ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has said it will stay away from events in which Bartholomew I participated, and dozens of its followers have gathered in Kiev to protest his visit.