Former patriarch threatens future of new Ukraine church

Kiev (AFP) –


The former head of Ukraine's breakaway independent church held a rare conference of clerics Thursday with the aim of restoring his religious leadership, threatening the future of Ukraine's new unified Orthodox Church.

Archbishop Filaret, 90, brought together some 100 clerics in Kiev's Saint Vladimir Cathedral, in a bid to annul a decision that merged the Kiev patriarchy that he previously led with another Orthodox church.

The joining of the churches paved the way for the creation of a new unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow created last year -- a historic decision after Moscow controlled the Ukrainian church for more than 300 years.

Despite the meeting threatening the unity of the new church, Filaret on Thursday said "there will nevertheless be an independent Church".

The newly unified church said the meeting had no official character and that it had no legal or ecclesiastical value.

In a statement, it called on Filaret and his supporters to "stop undermining the unity of the Church and of the Ukrainian people".

The charismatic Filaret had been widely tipped to become the head of the united church but a Metropolitan, Yepifaniy, 40, was chosen to the post last December.

- 'Agreement' to co-run church -

Last month Filaret accused the young head of the church of governing single-handedly despite earlier agreements.

"There was an agreement that I continue to govern the church in Ukraine together with Yepifaniy while he will represent the church abroad," he told reporters.

He claimed that Ukraine's former president Petro Poroshenko was part of the agreement.

Filaret, a former bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, was excommunicated by Moscow for starting a dissident church in Ukraine in 1992 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. He was rehabilitated by the Constantinople Patriarchate last year.

Early this year the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, a leader in Orthodox Christianity, allowed for the creation of the unified Ukrainian Church by recognising Kiev's religious independence.

The decision was taken after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed separatists who carved out two unrecognised breakaway regions in Ukraine's east in a conflict that has claimed some 13,000 lives.

An archbishop of the new church, Yevrastiy Zorya, told the media that Filaret's actions would not make the Constantinople patriarchy reverse its decision.