Christianity faces one of its biggest splits in centuries this weekend

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 / Updated  / Source: Reuters

By Yuliya Talmazan

One of Christianity’s biggest splits in centuries is expected to be formalized this weekend as Ukraine moves to create a new church independent from Russia’s influence.

It’s estimated that more than 70 percent of Ukrainians — or nearly 32 million people — identify as religious. The overwhelming majority of them are Orthodox Christian. But they don’t all pray in the same churches.

There are currently three separate branches of the Orthodox church in Ukraine, including one under the control of the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church.

But in the wake of Russian aggression along Ukraine’s eastern border and its annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Ukrainian government has been working to reduce Moscow’s role within the country.

On Saturday, officials from the three bodies are due to meet to agree on the new independent Orthodox church’s charter and elect its leader.

The gathering comes at a time of escalating military tensions between the two countries following Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been a proponent of the formation of the new church, accusing the Moscow-backed faction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of being a tool of the Kremlin to spread propaganda and foster Russian expansionism.

“The creation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church is a necessary attribute of nation-building,” Poroshenko told Ukrainian channel ICTV, adding that a chance at religious independence is an “opportunity that arises once in a millennium.”

Nov. 27, 201801:16

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has branded Poroshenko’s efforts a “gross interference of the government in the affairs of the church.”

Poroshenko addressed such sentiments in a Tweet earlier this month, saying that “believers will choose for themselves which churches they will go to.”

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov even suggested Russia would move to “protect the interests of the faithful” in Ukraine “just as Russia defends the interests of Russians and Russian speakers.”

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