Brexit is direly controversial. Still more so must be the raging maritime conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov. Which majorly explains why Europe ~ a week after the Russian seizure of three Ukranian naval ships ~ is still floundering in search of a suitable response to the joust in the sea.

While the British Parliament fiddles over Brexit, Europe is expected to douse the flames in the choppy waters ~ a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. Into this oceanic crisis over the Kremlin’s expansionist designs has emerged a historic religious rift.

The Ukrainian Orthodox church has been granted independence, and last Friday’s development is indubitably a significant blow to Moscow. A great power has suffered a setback in the hands of a “little one”, indeed a former Soviet satellite not the least because the Ukrainian church has been under the authority of the Russian Orthodox church for centuries.

The long-running conflict is being played out in the pews and the Russian domination of the Church is over. This signifies a new chapter in the history of religion in a former Communist swathe of the world. Ukraine’s church now belongs to Ukraine, and it shall not be remote-controlled by the Kremlin any longer.

The religious independence has defied the geostrategic calculations of Putin. History offers few instances of such robust religious assertiveness in the midst of a brewing conflict, which many fear might lead to war. It thus comes about that the Ecumenical Patriarchate, led by Bartholomew I of Constantinople, issued a brief communique at the end of its assembly.

The religious rift was flagged when the synod had drafted a constitutional charter for the Ukrainian church after an earlier decision by the patriarch to grant it independence, or what they call “autocephaly”.

The Russian Orthodox church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, is closely allied to President Putin has announced that it will sever relations with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, splitting the world’s largest Eastern Orthodox denomination. The Ukrainian church has been under the authority of the Russian Orthodox church for centuries, and the independence is as much a blow to Moscow as a boost to the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.

“Autocephaly is part of our pro- European and pro-Ukrainian state strategy,” is Poroshenko’s justification of religious independence. He has described Moscow’s loss of control over the Ukrainian Orthodox church as “the fall of the third Rome, the most ancient conceptual claim of Moscow for the global domination”. Small wonder that independence for the Ukrainian church has been viewed as a proxy for political tensions between Moscow and Kiev over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support extended to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine (2014).