Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have signed an agreement on cooperation and interaction between Kyiv and the Patriarchate of Constantinople that paves the way for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian church, a plan which has angered Moscow.
The agreement was signed after a meeting between Bartholomew and Poroshenko in Istanbul on November 3.
The meeting came after a synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate chaired by Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is considered the leader of the 300-million-strong worldwide Orthodox community, decreed on October 11 to "proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine."
Ukraine currently has three 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 agreement signed with Bartholomew lays out conditions for “the granting of the [autocephaly] tomos" -- a formal decree on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's independence from the Russian Orthodox Church -- "to proceed absolutely in strict accordance with the canons of the Orthodox church,” Poroshenko told reporters after the meeting.
He called the day historic and thanked the patriarch for the warm “meeting filled with wisdom.”
“I am sure the autocephaly decision will lead to the unity and unification of all Orthodox believers in Ukraine,” Patriarch Bartholomew said after signing the agreement.
Poroshenko is on a visit to Istanbul during which he will also hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is based in Istanbul, the former Constantinople -- once the capital of the Byzantine Empire before the Ottoman Muslim conquest of 1453.