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Project March 25, 2019

Fight the Patriarchy: Ukraine's Church Exits Moscow's Shadow

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This local Ukrainian parish is deciding whether or not to continue recognizing the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. Image by Simon Ostrovsky. Ukraine, 2019.
This local Ukrainian parish is deciding whether or not to continue recognizing the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. Image by Simon Ostrovsky. Ukraine, 2019.

On Orthodox Christmas eve in early January the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople finally granted—over protestations from Moscow—what has for months been a campaign promise of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko: independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. With the paperwork out of the way, now begins the hard part. Turning what amounts to the greatest split in eastern Christianity since the Great Schism into a reality on the ground. Moscow has blamed the US for intervening in Orthodox affairs but in reality each individual community decides who it's loyal to with dozens of parishes in central and western Ukraine already going over to the Ukrainian side. Russia has warned ominously of intervening on the behalf of the orthodox faithful.

Amidst these tensions, NewsHour Weekend attends a service in a house of worship that is preparing to abandon the Moscow Patriarchate to find out what is motivating its flock to leave. But the process is fraught with controversy as crowds of supporters of the changes pressure reluctant priests to switch sides in rowdy scenes playing out across the nation. We gain access to one of the pressure groups in central Ukraine that is trying to push the changes through. But a bigger fight over ancient relics housed in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery—considered the cradle of both the Russian Orthodox Church and Ukraine's independent church—looms large.

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