The spiritual head of Orthodox Christians worldwide formally granted independence to the Ukrainian church on Saturday, marking an historic split from Russian Federation which Ukrainian leaders see as vital to the country's security.
The patriarch also entreated that the new church "strive for unity and peace" with clergy who remain under Moscow's orbit and help reconciliation to "help them understand that Ukraine deserves a united church body".
The Orthodox clergy, wearing gold and jeweled vestments in the Patriarchal Church of St. George, led hundreds in prayer and hymns for Holy Mass.
Bartholomew, who is "first among equals" of Orthodox patriarchs, criticised Moscow's intention to break off relations as "a form of pressure and coercion in order to make others agree with one's opinions is unacceptable" in a homily last month.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attended the two-day ceremony.
What Kiev is doing is "very unsafe because if, let's just say, a number of autocephalous churches do not accept the Ukrainian new church, then we will have a schism, a break", Fr Mark Tyson, an American Orthodox priest and rector of a West Virginia-based church, explained to RT.
Ukraine last month chose 39-year-old Epifaniy to head the new church, in a move which Poroshenko compared to Ukraine's referendum for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. On January 7, Christmas Day, a celebration and rally will take place in Kiev. He has backed autocephaly as part of a pushback against Russian influence in Ukraine. "It was signed in breach of canonicity and this is why it has no power", Vladimir Legoida, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Synodal Department for Church-Society and Media Relations, posted in Telegram messenger.
Ukrainian leaders see an independent church as a crucial bulwark against Russian interference, but Russia strongly opposes the split, comparing it to the Great Schism of 1054 that divided Christianity into the Eastern Orthodox churches, with leadership based in present-day Istanbul, and the Catholic Church, with its seat in Rome.
Russia subsequently annexed Crimea and has supported Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine's east in a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.
The move has dealt a huge blow to Moscow's spiritual authority in the Orthodox world, prompting it to cut all ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate in protest.