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Ukraine votes to hand landmark Kiev church to Constantinople

© AFP/File | The Orthodox church in Ukraine is split between three branches, one which is loyal to MOscow, one which is loyal to Kiev and a third smaller autocephalous church

KIEV (AFP) - 

Ukraine's parliament on Thursday voted to hand over a landmark Kiev church to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate after it agreed to recognise the independence of Ukraine's Orthodox Church.

The move is seen as a step towards the Constantinople Patriarchate granting independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church despite protests from Russia.

Ukraine's parliament voted 237 votes to 30 to allow the Ecumenical Patriarchate to use Kiev's landmark Saint Andrew's Church "for worship, religious rites (and) ceremonies."

Built in the 18th century on a picturesque hill in the centre of the Ukrainian capital, the church will be transferred to Constantinople for its permanent use free of charge, but will still be the property of Ukraine.

The church operates as a museum and has not been used for services since 2015. It was previously rented by one of the branches of Ukraine's split Orthodox Church.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was the author of the bill, hailed the parliament's decision as bringing the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church closer.

"Saint Andrew?s Church is transferred to the Throne of Constantinople to use as a representative mission," Poroshenko wrote on Facebook, using the old name of Istanbul.

Last week, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whose Patriarch Bartholomew is seen as the first among equals of Orthodox Church leaders, agreed to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The decision was a huge blow to Moscow's spiritual authority in the Orthodox world.

The Russian Orthodox Church condemned the move and on Monday announced it is breaking ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate in protest.

The Orthodox church in Ukraine is split between three branches, one whose clerics pledge loyalty to Moscow, one loyal to Kiev that is overseen by Patriarch Filaret and the smaller Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church.

The Russian annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin-backed separatist uprising in Ukraine's east in 2014 triggered an increase in the number of believers in Ukraine loyal to Kiev Patriarch Filaret's church and seeking the establishment of an independent Ukrainian church.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who is seen as a strong ally of Putin, fought hard to prevent pro-Western Ukraine from getting an independent church.

© 2018 AFP