Kiev (AFP) - An envoy of Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, told Ukraine's leader Monday that his country's church would soon be declared independent of Russia, a move set to infuriate Moscow.
Istanbul-based Bartholomew I is expected to rule in the coming months on a Ukrainian appeal to sever spiritual bonds with Moscow amid a simmering military conflict in the east of the former Soviet country.
An incensed Russian Orthodox Church last week cut ties with Bartholomew I, regarded as "first among equals" of the world's estimated 300 million Orthodox Christian believers, after he sent two representatives to Ukraine ahead of the independence decision.
One of those envoys told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during a meeting that granting his country's church independence was essentially a done deal.
"We have come with an extraordinary mission," said Archbishop Daniel. "The process of granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autocephaly has begun," he added.
"We are on the finish line," said Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon, a representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the US.
Poroshenko for his part thanked Bartholomew I for his "courage and wisdom" and said Ukrainians had prayed for "hundreds of years" to have an independent church.
"It's nice that God has answered our prayers," Poroshenko said.
The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is split between a branch whose clerics pledge loyalty to Moscow and one that is overseen by the unrecognised Kiev-based Patriarch Filaret.
The fracture has deepened following the Russian annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of a separatist uprising in Ukraine's east in 2014, a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms across the border, but Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.
Outraged by what it called meddling in its affairs, the Russian Orthodox Church last Friday cut "diplomatic ties" with Bartholomew I, known as Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.
This means Russia's Patriarch Kirill will stop mentioning Bartholomew I in his prayers, among other decisions.
The Russian Church has warned that if the Istanbul-based rival's "anti-canonical activities" continue, the bonds will be severed completely.
While Constantinople is the oldest Orthodox Church, Moscow is currently the most powerful with the largest number of worshippers.