MOSCOW, April 23. /TASS/. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has expressed the hope that Vladimir Zelensky’s presidency would make it possible to overcome religious strife in Ukraine.
"Please accept my congratulations on your election to your high and important position of Ukraine’s president. <…> I express my sincere hope that the dark period of harassment and discrimination against Ukraine’s citizens, who are members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, will be over," the patriarch said in his message of congratulations made public on Tuesday.
The primate of the Russian Orthodox Church stressed that Ukraine’s new president had a chance to go down in history as the one who unified the country. "The people of Ukraine who supported your candidacy are pinning high hopes on you related to a change for the better in their lives. You have a historic chance to cement the nation and make your personal contribution to solving economic and social problems in the country, to overcoming the existing disagreements and divisions," he wrote.
The patriarch wished Zelensky God’s help in good deeds, wisdom and strength for the benefit of Ukraine’s people.
Zelensky garnered 73.23% of the vote in the runoff election held on April 21, with 99.95% of the ballots processed, while incumbent President Pyotr Poroshenko secured 24.45%.
Church crisis in Ukraine
Since the February 2014 coup, Kiev has sought to create an independent church in Ukraine that would sever ties with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In April 2018, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko wrote a personal letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople asking for autocephaly for the Ukrainian church.
On December 15, 2018, Kiev hosted the so-called ‘unification’ council held under the supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and brokered by the Ukrainian authorities. The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church refused to take part in the event, stressing that both the ‘unification council’ and Poroshenko’s newly founded ecclesiastical establishment were illegitimate. Nevertheless, after the council, the Ukrainian president announced the establishment of a new church in the country, the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Tomos of Autocephaly (a clerical decree on establishing an independent church) was handed over to its head, Metropolitan Epiphany, on January 6.