Ukraine's leader orders Orthodox Church to change its name

Church leaders have protested against the bill, calling it an attempt by the government to meddle in the religious sphere

epaselect epa07242232 Ukrainian believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate kiss hands of a priest during their praying in front of the parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine, 20 December 2018. Believers protest against changing of name their church. Ukrainian Parliament voted on 20 December the draft law according to which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate should change the name and indicate its affiliation with Russia. Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Metropolitan of Pereiaslav and Bila Tserkva Epifaniy (Serhiy Dumenko) has been elected head of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine at the unification council of the Ukrainian Orthodox churches on 15 December 2018. The Holy Synod announced its decision that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would proceed to grant autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine on 11 October 2018.  EPA/STEPAN FRANKO
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Ukraine's president on Saturday signed a bill that orders the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change its name to reflect its ties to Moscow.

The Ukrainian church has been part of the Russian Orthodox Church for centuries, but some Ukrainian orthodox clerics, with government support, have moved to set up a separate independent Orthodox church in Ukraine. The move comes amid Ukraine's disputes with Moscow after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Saturday signed the bill ordering the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to explicitly indicate its link to the Moscow Patriarchate in its name.

He said that would make it easier for Orthodox believers to choose between the new independent church or an Orthodox church that is still tied to Moscow.

"It is easier to make a choice when all things are called by their names," Mr Poroshenko said.

He insisted that the law doesn't infringe on the religious freedom. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, however, has strongly protested the bill, denouncing it as an unconstitutional attempt by the government to meddle in the religious sphere.

When the Ukrainian parliament passed the bill Thursday, over 1,000 priests and parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church rallied outside the parliament building in Kiev to protest the move.

The Moscow Patriarchate also strongly condemned the creation of the new Ukrainian church, warning that it could trigger sectarian violence.

Metropolitan Hilarion at the Moscow Patriarchate said in televised comments on Saturday that the Ukrainian authorities' actions would encourage Ukrainian ultranationalists to try to grab the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's assets.

"They incite nationalist forces to continue their attempts to seize churches," Mr Hilarion said.


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