KYIV -- President Petro Poroshenko says 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.
Speaking on December 5, Poroshenko said that the "unity gathering" will be held at St. Sophia's Cathedral and attended by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
The meeting could be crucial step in years of efforts to create a church in Ukraine that is independent of Moscow and has the imprimatur of Bartholomew, the "first among equals" in the global Eastern Orthodox faith.
Announcing an event he said was "long-awaited" and "important for the whole country," Poroshenko said those gathered would determine the status of "our new church" and elect a leader.
It is also expected to adopt a charter.
According to Poroshenko, Bartholomew will present the church with a tomos, a decree granting it independence -- known in church parlance as autocephaly.
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.
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.
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.
Ukrainian police searched churches of the Moscow Patriarchate and the homes of affiliated priests in several cities earlier this week, saying the measures were related to a criminal investigation on suspicion of inciting hatred and violence.
Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate will not attend the December 15 gathering, a spokesman said.
"Our stance has not changed," said Archbishop Kliment, asserting that "the creation of the Ukrainian autocephalous church does not meet canonical norms."
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is based in Istanbul, the former Constantinople -- once the capital of the Byzantine Empire before the Ottoman Muslim conquest of 1453.