Ukraine Splits from Russian Church

February 5, 2019

Ukrainian Orthodox Christians have officially split from the Russian Church to which they were tied for over four centuries. The spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide formalized the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in a ceremony in Istanbul on January 6, 2019.

Ukraine’s action resulted in the granting of legitimacy, thus bestowing recognition for tens of millions of Ukrainian followers and ending Moscow’s jurisdiction over the church since 1686. In December 2018, Ukraine’s Parliament had voted to force the remaining Moscow-affiliated church to change its name to “the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine” so as to brand it as a tool of Russian aggression (Higgins 2018; Gall. 2019).

There has long been a church-state bond in Russia. For example, in 1998 an icon of the last czar, Nicholas II, began to “weep” myrrh during a campaign to rehabilitate Nicholas, who had been assassinated with his entire family during the Russian revolution in 1917. The weeping icon seemed part of the effort to show divine approval, and Nicholas and family were eventually canonized.

Meanwhile, when I arrived in Moscow in 2001 as part of a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry delegation to speak before the Russian Academy of Sciences, I visited the onion-domed church to investigate the suspicious circumstances of the icon which, incidentally, had since stopped “weeping” (Nickell 2004, 327–329).

In the current schism, Vladimir Putin—who has promoted the church as part of Russia’s historic greatness and who had warned against Ukraine’s new Orthodox Church leaving Moscow’s fold—says the separation and any consequent redistribution of property “could turn into a heavy dispute, if not bloodshed.”

This is another salvo against Ukraine by Putin, who backed separatists in seizing chunks of the eastern portion of the country in 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea. And it paralleled Russia’s recent seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels in violation of treaties and international agreements—Putin continuing to play Svengali to a mesmerized U. S. President Trump.


Gall, Carlotta. 2019. Ukrainian Orthodox Christians Formally Break From Russia, New York Timers, January 6.

Higgins, Andrew. 2018. As  Ukraine and Russia Battle Over Orthodoxy, schism Looms. New York Times, December 31.

Nickell, Joe. 2004. The Mystery Chronicles. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.