A new head of independent Ukrainian church Metropolitan of Kyiv Epiphanius greets people gathered to support independent Ukrainian church near the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Dec. 15, 2018.
A new head of independent Ukrainian church Metropolitan of Kyiv Epiphanius greets people gathered to support independent Ukrainian church near the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Dec. 15, 2018.

MINSK, BELARUS - In his first liturgy as head of the newly christened Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphanius called for Ukrainians to unite under the new church and pray for peace in Ukraine.

Ukrainian bishops met Saturday and voted to approve a charter for the new church and elect a leader. Moscow has vigorously protested Ukraine's bid for spiritual independence, because since the late 1600s, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine had been a wing of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Epiphanius on Sunday says “we must complete the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy ... pray for an end to the war (in eastern Ukraine), and for a just peace in Ukraine.”

The creation of a new church is an attempt to unite Ukrainian Orthodox believers under one roof. But questions remain over the future of the branch in Ukraine loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.