Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he has decided to award the 'Hero of Ukraine' title, the highest national title that can be conferred upon an individual citizen by the President of Ukraine, to Emeritus Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Filaret.
"The measure that can be used to measure the contribution of Patriarch Filaret to the fight for the local church has not yet been invented. He was, is and remains the spiritual leader of the Ukrainian church, the spiritual leader of the Ukrainian people. That is why I've decided to award him the 'Hero of Ukraine' title," Poroshenko wrote on Facebook on January 8.
The presidential press service says that the 'Hero of Ukraine' title is being awarded to Filaret for his outstanding historical role in the establishment of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, activities aimed at reviving the spirituality of the Ukrainian people, strengthening the authority of Orthodoxy, promoting ideals of compassion and interreligious harmony.
As UNIAN reported earlier, the Unification Council of members of the Ukrainian Orthodox churches in Kyiv on December 15 elected Metropolitan of Pereyaslavsky and Bila Tserkva from the then Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate Epifaniy (also known as Epiphanius I) as head of the new local Orthodox church in Ukraine.
On January 6, Epifaniy, as Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, received the tomos of autocephaly (independence) of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul, Turkey.
The then Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate under Patriarch Filaret was leading a drive to establish a national church independent of the Russian Orthodox Church in the face of strong opposition from Moscow. The Ukrainian church split from its Russian parent following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, but Filaret stepped up his drive for an independent national church since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of a war in Donbas, eastern Ukraine.
The row in Orthodox Christianity deepened with the Russian Church saying it would no longer take part in structures chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the global spiritual leadership of Orthodox Christians.
The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian denomination worldwide with more than 250 million members. But unlike the Roman Catholic Church it has no supreme leader comparable to the Pope but instead is composed mainly of de facto national churches, each led by a patriarch.