Poland's Orthodox leader fears 'chaos' from new Ukrainian church

Warsaw (AFP) –


Ukraine's newly-created independent Orthodox Church, which has broken with Moscow, could sow "chaos" in neighbouring Poland, the head of the Orthodox Church in Warsaw warned Monday.

Poland hosts about a million Ukrainian workers, and the leader of the Ukrainian Church, Metropolitan Yepifaniy, "could organise his own parishes in Poland for groups of faithful" among them, said Poland's Metropolitan Sawa.

The Orthodox Church of Poland has some 600,000 followers, and like the new Ukrainian church, is independent of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Orthodox believers are a tiny minority in Poland, a predominantly Catholic EU country of 38 million people. In Ukraine, orthodoxy is the predominant religion.

"I recently heard that Pravyi Sektor (a Ukrainian paramilitary nationalist group) is already preparing the ground for Yepifaniy to visit Poland, chaos lies ahead," Sawa told Poland's Polityka weekly.

The nationalist organisation had backed the creation of an independent Ukrainian Church.

"Ukrainian authorities should first unify the country, put an end to the war and only then deal with issues like the Church," Sawa added, referring to the armed conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, the highest Orthodox authority, on Sunday presented a formal decree confirming the creation of an independent Ukrainian church to its leader, Yepifaniy, finalising a historic break with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Moscow, in response, cut ties with the patriarchate in Istanbul.

The decree opened the way for Ukraine's Orthodox Church to be recognised by other branches of orthodoxy and other churches.

Sawa on Monday also questioned Yepifaniy's legitimacy, calling the 39-year-old a "layman" who was elected "illegally".

Yepifaniy was ordained by the Kiev Patriarch Filaret, excommunicated by Moscow for creating a dissident church in Ukraine in 1992 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Filaret was later recognised by the Istanbul-based Orthodox patriarch.

Ukraine's newly created independent Orthodox Church held its first Christmas service in Kiev Monday. Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas according to the Julian Calendar.

For more than 300 years, the Ukrainian Church was split into three, with one branch overseen by the Patriarch of Moscow.

The Kiev government considered this unacceptable given Ukraine's ongoing war with Moscow-backed rebels in the country's east, which has already killed more than 10,000 people.