Orthodox Ukrainians celebrate first Christmas independent of Russian church

Orthodox Ukrainians celebrated Christmas on January 7, their first as part of an independent church.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, the de-facto head of the global Orthodox church, signed a document on January 5 which formally granted the church autocephaly – the Orthodox word for independence – having first announced his intention to do so back in October.

“The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries,” – said Bartholomew after signing the Tomos, the decree of autocephaly. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church had until now been subservient to the Russian Orthodox Church.

“I want to thank the millions of Ukrainians around the world who responded to my appeal to pray for this church to be established,” said the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “I want to thank the generations of Ukrainians who dreamed. Finally, God has sent us the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”

Both the Russian church and government is unhappy with the decision, which will have a major impact on Moscow’s influence in Ukraine. It has at a stoke lost around one-fifth of its members. A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin claimed that the Tomos is merely a piece of paper, the result of political and personal ambitions, which does not have any real power. Additionally, Mr Putin warned of “a heavy dispute, if not bloodshed” if any attempt is made to reassign ownership of church property.