ROAR: Patriarch Kirill tries to unite Orthodox believers in Ukraine

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The media consider an attempt to put an end to the division of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine a very difficult task because of the politics involved.

Many newspapers stress that the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill, considers his 10-day tour of Ukraine that started on July 27 as a “pilgrimage” to the birthplace of Russian Orthodoxy.

Observers say it will not be easy for him to unite Orthodox believers, as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko supports unifying Ukrainian Orthodox churches under the Kiev Patriarchate.

Newspapers write that about two-thirds of Orthodox parishes answer to the Moscow Patriarchate. The rival churches are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kiev Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which operates mainly in the western Ukraine.

Reports claim that Patriarch Filaret, leader of the schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate has already accused Kirill of pursuing “a political project of integrating Ukraine into Russia, to promote unity under the Kremlin’s leadership.”

The Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated self-proclaimed Patriarch Filaret in mid 1990s.
Kirill said he had arrived in the Ukrainian capital “to touch the 1,000-year-old history of our Church,” and added that Kiev was like Jerusalem to Russia and Ukraine.

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church said he prayed for church unity. “Unity was a key word of today’s spiritual dialogue in Kiev,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily wrote.

The paper described protests in the streets of Kiev against Kirill’s visit as “echoes of the church and electoral struggle in Ukraine.”

The paper noted that on the eve of the visit, Yushchenko spoke in favor of creating a united national church. However, the authorities in Kiev want “to unite with anyone, only to get divorced from Moscow,” the daily added.

Kirill, in his turn, said on the eve of the visit that he considers it impossible to solve religious problems by political methods. He told Ukrainian journalists that the national church already exists in Ukraine and it is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote.

As for the representatives of unrecognized church structures, Kirill made it clear that they could join the canonical Church only after confession to the sin of schism, the paper said. He also refused to meet Filaret or representatives of other unrecognized church structures.

Last year’s celebration of 1020th anniversary of the conversion of Kievan Rus to Christianity, and the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, should have prompted the creation of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted.

Yushchenko did not manage to persuade Bartholomew then, the daily said. “What is more, the recent meeting [between Kirill and Bartholomew] in Istanbul, as the media wrote, has brought improvement in relations between the churches,” the paper added.

Bartholomew last summer said that Ukraine has the right to have its national church, but refrained from statements as to whether the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kiev Patriarchate should be recognized.
As for the meeting between Kirill and Yushchenko on July 27, it was “a diplomatic act which has not changed the situation in Ukrainian Orthodoxy,” Roman Lunkin, director of the Institute of Religion and Law, told Kommersant daily.

“The Patriarch has demonstrated that he would not agree to a change in the canonical status of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and President Yushchenko has shown that he would not abandon the idea of the independent church,” Lunkin said.

“Yushchenko’s optimism on the issue of creating of the independent church is considerably exaggerated,” Andrey Yurash, a Ukrainian religious analyst, told Kommersant.

“In spite of the fact that Moscow’s policy has become more flexible under Kirill, the stance will remain tough: the Orthodox in Ukraine and Russia have the united Orthodox civilization,” Yurash said.

“The meeting with Yushchenko was the only political issue in the program of the visit,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. However, Kirill also laid a wreath to the Monument to the Victims of Holodomor (the Stalin era famine).

The Moscow Patriarchate has stressed that the visit is devoted to religious matters rather than political issues, the paper noted. “Leaders of different Ukrainian religious organizations have called on believers not to take part in protests and provocations,” it added.

Filaret said his followers will not take part in any events during Kirill’s visit, Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote. “This means that those members of the public using slogans against Patriarch Kirill are merely certain political forces trying to attract electorate on the eve of the [presidential] election,” the paper said.

Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine, was quoted by the same paper as saying that there would be no numerous protests against Kirill’s visit in Ukraine. However, the media reported on a brawl between Cossacks and Ukrainian nationalists on the day of Kirill’s arrival.

There were two demonstrations greeting Kirill, one supporting him and the other against him, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. “Numerous followers of the Moscow Patriarchate held posters with inscriptions ‘Welcome, Your Holiness,’ and ‘Fraternal peoples – the united church. Ukraine has one Patriarch – Kirill,’” the paper said.

“The opponents wrote on their posters ‘Kirill is the ambassador of a religious war in Ukraine’ and ‘Get out, Moscow priest-colonialist,’” the daily added. According to NG, the Ukrainian authorities had almost 6,000 police and soldiers of internal troops to maintain order during Kirill’s visit.

For the first time, a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was held in Kiev. “A new thesis has appeared – Kiev is the ancient southern capital of Orthodoxy,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote. This stresses the importance of “an Orthodox Kiev as a dominating idea that unites believers,” the paper added.

Sergey Borisov, RT