#36 - JRL 2009-141 - JRL Home
Moscow Times
July 28, 2009
Kirill Calls for Church Unity in Kiev
By Nabi Abdullaev / The Moscow Times

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, went Monday on a 10-day trip to Ukraine to demonstrate unity between its leaders in Moscow and Kiev and to shore up support against a rival church.

“We will pray … for our unbreakable spiritual and church unity,” Kirill said during a service in Kiev at the monument to St. Vladimir on the banks of the Dnepr River.

Kirill and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met behind closed doors to discuss “the unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” according to a statement from Yushchenko’s press office. The president said the division of Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine is a serious problem that cannot be solved without the Russian Orthodox Church.

There were no reports regarding Kirill’s reaction to this during the meeting.

Some Orthodox leaders in Ukraine began pushing to establish an independent church almost immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the process intensified under the pro-Western Yushchenko, who had made resisting Russian influence his primary foreign policy goal.

Yushchenko has repeatedly called on Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the formal leader of all Orthodox believers, to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which would be independent from the Moscow Patriarchate.

Bartholomew ­ who visited Kiev last summer along with then-Patriarch Alexy II to celebrate the 1,020th anniversary of the conversion of Kievan Rus to Christianity ­ has not supported the idea.

Observers believe that the chances for such recognition decreased further after Kirill went to Turkey last month to meet Bartholomew, who promised the Moscow Patriarchate support in serving the Orthodox Christians in the largely Muslim country.

The independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church currently controls about one-third of all Orthodox parishes in the country, but no other Orthodox church has recognized it. The Moscow Patriarchate, which controls about two-thirds of Ukraine’s Orthodox ­parishes, ­excommunicated the breakaway church’s leader, Filaret, in 1997.

Filaret called on Kirill to refrain from politics and stick only to religious matters.

“Along with the church affairs, the Russian patriarch will strive to settle political issues. He carries responsibility for the use of the Moscow Patriarchate’s structure in Ukraine as a tool of the Russian state’s politics,” Filaret said in a statement carried by the Ukrainian news agencies Monday.

Kirill, who was visiting Ukraine for the first time as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, told reporters that he was not going to meet with representatives of the independent church, despite having received requests from them.

Several hundred protesters held a rally in downtown Kiev demanding recognition of the independent Ukrainian church, the country’s UNIAN news agency reported.

About 50 Ukrainian nationalists scuffled with a group of Cossacks who gathered near the St. Vladimir monument before Kirill’s service, Itar-Tass said. Police separated them and cordoned off the site.

Kirill also held a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

“By doing this, Kirill wants to demonstrate to Ukrainians that the Moscow Patriarchate doesn’t treat their country as some kind of church colony but as an integral part of this church,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, who studies relations between the church and the state at Sova, a Moscow-based think tank.

In an interview with the Ukrainian media on the eve of the visit, Kirill said the journey to Kiev was like any trip to one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s dioceses.

The Moscow Patriarchate has denied any political motivations behind the visit, saying it was exclusively a pilgrimage.

Verkhovsky said that strengthening the Russian Orthodox Church’s grip over worshippers in Ukraine would be to the benefit of the Kremlin, which is also striving to boost its influence there ­ especially as presidential elections are approaching later this year.

Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the Party of the Regions and Moscow’s favorite in the 2004 presidential elections, met Kirill at Kiev’s Borispol airport. The patriarch also held closed-door talks with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

In what should have emphasized the spiritual unity between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox worshippers, Kirill and Yushchenko together commemorated the victims of World War II and the Holodomor, a deadly famine that is believed to have killed millions in Ukraine in the 1930s.

Modern, pro-Western Ukrainian politicians, including Yushchenko, often describe the Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainians, ordered by Josef Stalin. Moscow rejects the claim.

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter