KYIV, Feb 3 - The leader of the new independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was enthroned in a ceremony in Kyiv on Sunday, formalizing a break with the Russian Orthodox Church that has enraged Moscow, AFP reported.
During the three-hour event in the gold-decked 11th-century St. Sophia Cathedral, Metropolitan Yepifaniy became head of the Church, having been elected by bishops last year.
The 40-year-old is a critic of Moscow's religious influence in Ukraine and has helped organize humanitarian aid for Kyiv's army in its struggle against Russian-backed separatist movements.
President Petro Poroshenko, who had promised an independent church ahead of this year's presidential election, attended the ceremony along with other top officials.
Last week, he finally confirmed he was running for re-election in the March 31 poll.
Poroshenko described Sunday's ceremony as the "completion" of the process to create the Church, in comments carried by Ukrainian TV channels as part of a live broadcast.
The new church would be independent of the state, he said.
For more than 300 years, the Patriarch of Moscow controlled part of the Ukrainian Church.
Kyiv now considers this influence unacceptable given its ongoing war with Russia-backed rebels in the east that has already killed around 13,000 people.
The Russian-controlled branch of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has denounced the establishment of a unified church, breaking ties with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople over the issue.
The Constantinople Patriarch's decision to recognize the Ukrainian Church's independence from Russia was a huge blow to Moscow's spiritual authority in the Orthodox world.
The rupture in inter-church relations mirrors the collapse of political relations between Moscow and Kyiv following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
St Sophia Cathedral was built by the son of Prince Volodymyr, whose baptism in 988 led to the spread of Christianity across what are now Ukraine and Russia.
Russians trace the origins of their own nation to the Kyivan state of that era. (afp/ez)