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The independence decree will force Ukrainian clerics to pick sides between the Moscow-backed Ukrainian churches and the new church as fighting persists in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Russian Federation.

Last month, Poroshenko and scores of bishops chose Metropolitan Epiphanus as the head of the new Ukrainian Orthodox church in a ceremony at St Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev.

The tomos says that the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognizes a canonical, autocephalous, self-governing Orthodox Church within the limits of the politically formed territory of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was created following the results of the December 15 All-Ukrainian Orthodox Unity Council, where Epiphanius, the metropolitan of Pereiaslav and Bila Tserkva, was elected primate of the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

"The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries", Bartholomew I said in his address at the Patriarchal Church of St. George.

Bartholomew said at the January 5 signing ceremony that Ukrainians could now enjoy "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence, and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention".

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attended Saturday's signing, which many in his country see as one more step toward independence from Moscow, as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

Istanbul remained the centre of the Orthodox Church after the Muslim Ottoman Turks occupied the city, then known as Constantinople, in the 15th Century.

The patriarch first endorsed Ukraine's entreaties for an independent church in October. It "is just a paper, the result of restless political and personal ambitions". Poroshenko said as he thanked the Orthodox patriarch.

An independent Ukrainian Orthodox church was created at a signing ceremony in Turkey on Saturday, formalising a split with the Russian church which it has been tied to since 1686. "It was signed in breach of canonicity and this is why it has no power", he said in a Telegram message, according to Reuters news agency.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia devolved into hostilities in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and violent conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government. He has backed autocephaly as part of a pushback against Russian influence in Ukraine.

The move has dealt a huge blow to Moscow's spiritual authority in the Orthodox world, prompting it to cut all ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate in protest.


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