The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will hand over a Tomos -- a decree granting independence, or autocephaly -- to the future head of the local Orthodox Church in Ukraine on January 6, Archbishop Yevstratiy, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate said on December 13.
Senior figures from Orthodox Christian communities in Ukraine will meet on December 15 in a bid to form a new, unified, independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and elect a leader, known as a Primate.
The December 15 "unity gathering" will be held at St. Sophia's Cathedral in Kyiv and will be attended by Bartholomew.
"The Tomos of the Ecumenical Patriarch should be handed over to the [future] Primate on January 6 [on Christmas Eve]," Ukrainian and Russian media quoted Yevstratiy as saying.
Most Christian Orthodox believers will celebrate Christmas on January 7.
Yevstratiy added that the Tomos will be granted in Istanbul -- the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch -- after a joint liturgy of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the head of the new Ukrainian church.
The December 15 meeting could be a crucial step in years of efforts to create a church in Ukraine that is independent of Moscow and has the approval of Bartholomew, the "first among equals" in the global Eastern Orthodox faith. It is also expected to adopt a charter.
Ukraine currently has three main Orthodox denominations: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which remained subordinate to Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and two breakaway entities -- the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, led by Filaret, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, led by Metropolitan Makariy.
Bartholomew announced the decision to recognize Ukraine's request for an autocephalous church in October.
The announcement by Bartholomew, who is considered the leader of the 300-million-strong worldwide Orthodox community, came amid deepening tension over efforts by Ukrainian Orthodox churches to formally break away from Russia’s orbit.
It also prompted the Russian Orthodox Church to announce days later that it was ending its relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in protest.
The developments have added to tensions between Kyiv and Moscow, already high since Russia's 2014 seizure of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists.
The Moscow Patriarchate has announced that its representatives will not attend the December 15 gathering.