Orthodox Christian Patriarchs Celebrate Baptism of Russia

Orthodox Churches have long been involved in ecumenical projects, such as the World Council of Churches, and affirm the Lord’s mandate “that they all may be one” (John 17:21). Yet, I can’t help thinking at times that the Orthodox Churches might work a little harder at unity in their own house.

For that reason, it was encouraging to follow the progress of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios’ recent visit to the Moscow Patriarchate and see Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I side by side with Patriarch Alexy II for the celebration of the baptism of Russia. The Greeks and the Russians have had some contentious moments of late, such as the controversy over who shall have jurisdiction for Orthodox Christians in Estonia.

Good background here in an AP story on the tensions between the Ukrainians and Russians:

Ukrainian officials are determined to use the events to lobby for autonomy for the local church from Russia, while the dominant Moscow Patriarchate will fight to retain influence over this mostly Orthodox country of 46 million.

For Ukrainian leaders, recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox church as Moscow’s equal would mark a significant step in their drive to assert independence and shed centuries-long Russian influence. That effort gained strength after the 2004 Orange Revolution, which moved Ukraine away from Moscow and closer to the West.

“Ukraine is an independent state like Bulgaria or Georgia, and it is normal for it to have its own church,” said Anatoliy Kolodny, head of the religion studies department at the National Academy of Sciences. “There is nothing strange in that.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the world’s top Orthodox spiritual leader based in Istanbul, Turkey, will attend the ceremonies and could support the autonomy of the Ukrainian church, despite Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II’s efforts to thwart the move.

But any sudden decision by Bartholomew could create a major split among the world’s 250 million Orthodox believers and set off fierce battles over parishes and valuable church property inside Ukraine, with some priests siding with Moscow and others with Kiev.

“Were this decision to be made today, it would lead to another schism in the church,” said Andrei Zolotov, chief editor of the Russia Profile magazine and an expert on Orthodox church affairs.

The video above from Russia Today talks about efforts “to united a divided land.” There’s a ways to go.

The Moscow Times said that police blocked “hundreds of Orthodox believers from attending a service led by Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II at a monument to St. Vladimir on the banks of the Dnepr River in Kiev on Sunday.”

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