The Ukrainian parliament has passed a law requiring the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to rename itself to reflect the fact that it is based in Russia.

During the Dec. 20 parliamentary session, 240 lawmakers voted in favor of the draft law. Provided the bill is signed by President Petro Poroshenko, the church will now likely be known as the “Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”

According to the new law, any Ukrainian branch of a religious organization with a center in a state legally recognized by Ukrainian law as an aggressor must indicate its origins in its name.

The name change appears to come at the request of non-Moscow Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox clergy. In November, Filaret — then the patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate — announced that his organization would ask the Verkhovna Rada to pass a law renaming the rival church the “Russian Orthodox Church,” the Ukrainska Pravda news site reported.


On Dec. 15, during a unification council in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and several bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate moved to form a new united church. The bishops elected Epiphanius (Serhii Dumenko), Metropolitan of Pereyaslav and Bila Tserkva, to serve as primate of the church.

The new Ukrainian Orthodox Church is now waiting to receive a decree — or tomos — of Autocephaly, a document conferring canonical independence, from the Constantinople Patriarchate. On Jan. 6 — Christmas Eve according to the Ukrainian Orthodox calendar — Epiphanius will receive that document from Archbishop Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, at St. George’s Cathedral in Istanbul, Ukrainian Archbishop Yevstratiy Zorya told journalists on Dec. 13.

After the Dec. 20 vote on renaming the Moscow Patriarchate, members of the pro-Russia Opposition Bloc party block demanded that the Verkhovna Rada hold another vote on the issue. However, Rada Speaker Andriy Parubiy did not allow it, Ukrainska Pravda reported.


According to the UNIAN news agency, after the vote, several lawmakers from the 41-member Opposition Bloc, including Vadym Novynsky — a Russian-born metallurgy oligarch known for his support of the Moscow Patriarchate church — and Nestor Shufrych, approached the rostrum to demand that the parliamentary session be briefly adjourned.

Then, Shufrych tore down a poster criticizing Viktor Medvedchuk — a businessman and politician involved in Opposition Platform-Za Zhittya, a Russia-friendly party formed in November — that had been affixed to the rostrum by the 82-member People’s Front party.

In response, People’s Front deputies rushed to the rostrum and a fight erupted. Other lawmakers quickly separated the participants, and Parubiy then announced a break at the request of both parties.

A video of the clash circulated by the Chesno civil society movement on Facebook shows lawmakers punching and shoving one another and struggling over the anti-Medvedchuk poster for roughly 20 seconds.

Orthodoxy wasn’t only the subject of the hour in the Rada. Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out against the new unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church during his annual televised press conference in Moscow.


The Russian president termed the new religious organization a “splinter church of the Constantinople parish” and implied that Turkey and the United States were involved in its formation.

“This is direct state interference in church religious life,” Putin said, answering a question from a journalist. “That has never happened since the times of the Soviet Union.”

“And now look how dependent it will be on Turkey…” he added. “I think that was (Patriarch) Bartholomew’s driving motivation: to subordinate this territory and make money on it. I think that was the most important driving motivation — besides, of course, the hint from Washington.”

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