KYIV – Ukraine’s parliament has approved a bill that would force the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) to change its name.
A total of 240 lawmakers voted for the legislation on December 20, as hundreds of people opposed to the bill held a mass prayer next to the parliament’s building.
After the vote, the UOC-MP urged President Petro Poroshenko to veto the text, calling it unconstitutional.
The proposed law would require a religious organization whose governing center is based in a country waging war against Ukraine or occupying Ukrainian territory to change its name to reflect its affiliation.
The bill would force the UOC-MP, which remains subordinate to Russia, to add "Russian" to its name.
Moscow forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and supports separatists battling Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine in a conflict there has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
"There is no question that the church that blesses weapons, the killers of Ukrainians, should not bear the name of Ukraine," Ukrainian parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy told lawmakers.
Oleksandr Bryhynets of the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko faction in parliament said the church “may choose any option for itself. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church in Kharkiv, the Russian Orthodox Church in Kyiv. It is their right. They can choose [their name] during registration."
The move comes after Ukrainian Orthodox leaders last week agreed on the creation of a new national Ukrainian Orthodox Church and elected the 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifaniy to head it.
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 further raise tensions with Moscow, which has opposed Kyiv’s efforts to secure an independent church.