KYIV -- In his first liturgy as leader of the new Ukrainian national Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epifaniy has urged Ukrainians to unite and pray for peace in the country.
"We must complete the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy...pray for an end to the war [in eastern Ukraine], and for a just peace in Ukraine," Epifaniy said as he led a Sunday Mass at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv on December 16.
Ukrainian Orthodox leaders on December 15 agreed on the creation of a new national Orthodox Church and elected the 39-year-old Epifaniy to head that church.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is expected to hand over a "tomos" -- a decree granting autocephaly, or independence -- to Epifaniy on January 6.
Ukraine's leaders said the move was vital to the country's security and independence, but it could raise tensions further with Moscow, which has opposed Kyiv's efforts to secure an independent church.
After leading the Sunday Mass at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, Metropolitan Epifaniy told RFE/RL that the Ukrainian church needed to "complete full-fledged unification."
"That is, when we receive the tomos, we will establish all the responsible managing institutions of this church," he said.
In the future, the cleric added, the church will implement reforms "in a calm, wise, and balanced way, because it is needed to work in a way that unites rather than divides."
Epifaniy also voiced confidence that the clerics who have not joined the Ukrainian national Orthodox Church will "gradually reach the understanding that there is no other outcome than being part of this united Ukrainian church and building our future together."
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have deteriorated dramatically since Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in March 2014 and its subsequent support for separatists battling Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. The conflict there has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
"We have the occupied Crimea. We need to get it back. There [also] is the partially occupied Donbas. We believe that the Lord will hear our prayers and will send us that long-awaited peace, a just peace in a united Ukrainian state in which we will have our united Ukrainian Orthodox Church," Epifaniy told RFE/RL.