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28 Jul, 2008 09:37

Russian Patriarch urges Church unity

Official ceremonies to mark the 1020th anniversary of Christianity in Russia are coming to a close in Kiev. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, has held a service in the Pechersk Lavra monastery in the Ukrainian capital.

The liturgy was dedicated to the memory of Prince Vladimir, who converted the population of Kievan Rus from paganism to Christianity 1,020 years ago.

Christian Orthodox leaders from around the world took part in the event, along with thousands of devout believers.
However, the festivities over the weekend were overshadowed by calls for separation. Some Ukrainian religious leaders want to break away from the Russian church. They are being supported by President Viktor Yushchenko, who used the occasion to campaign for the Ukrainian church to be independent of Moscow's Patriarchy.

Alexy II and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople have appealed for unity.

Controversially, one leader was excluded from the venue. Ukrainian church leader Denisenko, of the self-proclaimed Kiev Patriarchy was not allowed take part in the service because he is still struggling for independence from Moscow.

A religious expert, Ilya Arkhipov said: “The Kiev Patriarchy wasn’t present at the service because it simply couldn’t. The Ukrainian president and the government knew it well. It’s not recognized by other canonical orthodox churches. So if they’d tried to be there, it would have been a scandal. And this would mean no dialogue.”

While patriarchs are doing all in their power to heal the rift over Kiev, ordinary worshippers don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
“I don’t care if a church is Ukrainian or not. I come here to see the relics and the icons. I come to pray to God, here, in a Christian church,” one of the believers said.  

“There is only one Orthodox value and holy truth we believe in – the Holy Russia. It’s all that really matters,” another churchgoer said.