Orthodox Church to move forward with Ukrainian independence

ISTANBUL (AP) — The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate says it will move forward with its decision to grant Ukrainian clerics independence from the Russian Orthodox Church.

The decision was announced Thursday following a regular holy synod meeting.

Ukraine has asked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, seen by many as the first among equals of Eastern Orthodox leaders, to make the Ukrainian church autocephalous.

The church has been tied to the Moscow Patriarchate for hundreds of years, although many parishes have split off over the past two decades to form a schismatic church. Calls for independence have increased since Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

The Russian Orthodox Church has warned that it will sever ties with Bartholomew if he grants Ukraine's church autonomy.