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KIEV, Ukraine (RNS) — The Rev. Andriy Lototskiy faced perhaps the toughest decision in his life: He had to choose between his faith and his flock.
In 2014, Lototskiy had been preaching for 14 years at the Church of St. Volodymyr in the small village of Strilche in western Ukraine. That summer, as pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine sought independence from the central government in Kiev, his parishioners turned against him and demanded he surrender the keys to his church.
Nothing - Preaching
There was nothing wrong with his preaching. It was what he represented.
Lototskiy was a priest in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the largest faith community in the former Soviet republic. The problem was that his church was affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church and pledged loyalty to its primate, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
Congregants - Wave - Believers - Orthodox - Church
His congregants had decided to join a wave of believers who had switched to an alternative, Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church after it was founded in 1992.
“I came to my church and heard them pray for Kirill,” recalled Maria Satayeva, a 36-year-old German language teacher, to explain why she also left her Russian-affiliated church in Kiev in 2014. “I couldn’t be there anymore.”
Ukraine - Percent - Population - Identifies - Eastern
In Ukraine, some 70 percent of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christians. Among believers, the rest mostly belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church or various Protestant churches.
The original Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been subordinate to Moscow since the 17th century, even before Ukraine was made part of the Russian Empire. The relationship continued after the country broke away from the Soviet Union.
Ties - Problems - Russia - Ukraine - Territory
But those ties started to cause problems in 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s territory in Crimea and instigated an ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Moscow’s meddling occurred after President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President...
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