Ukrainian Orthodox priests are holding a historic synod in Kyiv’s Saint Sophia’s Cathedral to establish a new national church, one that does not have ties to Russia.
The clergy gathering Saturday follows a landmark decision by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodoxy, to remove the Ukrainian Orthodox church from under the Moscow Patriarchate, which has overseen the Ukrainian branch for hundreds of years.
The decision infuriated the Russian church, prompting it to cut all ties with Constantinople.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia have been strained since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, following a pro-Western uprising in Kiev.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to attend Saturday’s meeting between representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The Moscow-loyal branch of the church says it will not attend the synod and denies being a tool of the Kremlin.
Before the meeting, Russian Patriarch Kirill asked Pope Francis, the United Nations and religious and world leaders to protect the faithful and the clergy from “persecution.”