Patriarch Kirill in Ukraine

A lot of news, in the mainstream press and on Orthodox sites, about Patriarch Kirill’s current visit to Ukraine. The best analysis I’ve seen so far is from Andrei Zolotov Jr. of Russia Profile. Zolotov says that Kirill and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew “appear to have reached some agreement on Ukraine, which has not been revealed to the public.” From the article:

For an outsider who is not familiar with the intricacies of Ukrainian history, it is not easy to understand the complexity of the church situation in Ukraine. Over the centuries, the heirs to Prince Vladimir’s baptismal font have repeatedly found themselves in different states and different Churches, while the numerous wars that have rolled over this part of Europe inevitably turned out to be civil wars for the ancestors of those who make up the people of Ukraine today. It was only within the framework of the Soviet Union that Ukraine’s current borders were set. When the Soviet Union disintegrated and Ukraine became an independent state, a complicated and as of yet unfinished process of forming a united Ukrainian nation began. There are few other places in the world where the religion factor would play such an important role both in the day-to-day life of the people and in the identity of the nation. That is in Ukraine, the Church is an object of colossal political pressure, often directed at breaking the spiritual and historical ties. As a result, the Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are presently divided into at least three church groups and live next door to Greek Catholics, or Uniates, — Christians who abide by the Byzantine Rite while belonging to the jurisdiction of the Vatican.

Patriarch Kirill repeatedly emphasizes that he is coming to Ukraine with a pastoral visit, to worship on the holy sites of this land and pray for the unity of the Church, for the unity and well-being of the Ukrainian people, who are presently living through a difficult economic and political crisis, and for the unity of all nations tracing their history back to the Kievan Rus – and that is not only Ukrainians, but Russians and Belorussians as well. The Moscow Patriarchal See identifies itself as a successor to the ancient Kievan See. It is not a political visit, Church officials say. The Patriarch is coming to his flock.

However, there is another side to this statement. By coming to his Ukrainian flock and speaking to it not only in Russian or in our common Church Slavonic liturgical language, but also in Ukrainian, by emphasizing his respect for the Ukrainian statehood, Patriarch Kirill shows that he is not a patriarch of the Russian Federation and not just the head of the church of the Russian people, no matter how handy such an interpretation would be for both Russian and Ukrainian nationalists. He sees himself as the patriarch of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and all the Orthodox Christians throughout the world, who see in him as the earthly head of their Church.

From Maria Danilova of the Associated Press in a story headlined “Patriarch Kirill: No independent church in Ukraine”:

President Viktor Yushchenko has led a campaign to win recognition of a separatist church that broke away from the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1990s.

“The main aspiration of the Ukrainian people is to live in a united, self-governing Apostolic Orthodox church,” Yushchenko said in a speech, standing alongside Kirill.

Kirill was quick to stress that the dominant Orthodox church in Ukraine, which answers to Moscow, is the only legitimate church here.

“This church, Mr. President, already exists,” Kirill said. “If it didn’t exist today, Ukraine wouldn’t exist either.”

Another AP story, published in the Moscow Times:

Ukraine’s pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko is leading a campaign to win recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate, which broke away from the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1990s, as a legitimate church that would not answer to Moscow.

He has sought backing from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the word’s 250 million Orthodox, but has not gotten a clear response.

Patriarch Filaret, leader of the breakaway church, dismissed Kirill’s statement, saying Ukraine deserves its own church, the Unian news agency reported. “We in Ukraine need to have our own self-governing Orthodox Church,” he was quoted as saying.

“Everything that is built on nontruth will sooner or later be destroyed, because God only has so much patience.”

From RIA Novosti:

The patriarch led an open air service in the Kiev Laura, the birthplace of Russian Orthodoxy, with thousands of believers attending and flocking to the walls of the cathedral.

A group of Ukrainian nationalists outside the monastery cried out protests against the visit through loudspeakers, yelling “Out with the Moscow colonialist priest!”

Responding to the protests after the service, Kirill said “a quiet voice of truth is stronger than the voice of spite…even amplified through modern electronic devices.”

“Our unity is not political or imperial, our unity is in Christ the Savior,” Kirill said in the laura, pledging further efforts to pursue church unity to applause and blessings from those attending.

The leader of the schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church accused the Russian patriarch on Monday of pursuing a “political project” to deprive Ukraine of its sovereignty.

“He arrived to promote a political project of integrating Ukraine into Russia, to promote unity under the Kremlin leadership, from which Ukraine, by God’s blessing and on people’s will, got rid in 1991,” said self-proclaimed Patriarch Filaret said.

Ukrainian Orthodoxy has split in three with Ukraine’s Moscow Patriarchate becoming a self-governing but subservient part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate, formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union, is not recognized in Eastern Orthodoxy. The third church, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, originally formed in 1920s, and operates almost exclusively in the western part of the country.


  1. I think this article in the Kyiv Post provides the best analysis of the vist:
    Kyiv Post
    http://www.kyivpost .com/opinion/ op_ed/46190/ print
    Patriarch Kirill and political orthodoxy
    30 July, 20:03
    According to Zenon Wasyliw, Putin, Medvedev and Kirill are a powerful Russian troika engaged in joint political and religious manipulations.

    His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarch), addressed representatives of local Orthodox churches under the presidency and invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew last October.

    He cited the vibrancy, growth and strong structure of his church. He noted continued dialogues striving toward church unity with representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that are not canonically recognized. The three combined jurisdictions would number over 17,000 Ukrainian parish communities.

    Despite these impressive statistics and sincere efforts toward unity, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarch) is not officially recognized as a particular church. It is not accorded the same status as that of the world’s 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches. Metropolitan Volodymyr was only a guest speaker at the Phanar. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is officially a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    An article on Patriarch Kirill’s enthronement, published in the Orthodox Church of America’s official publication, The Orthodox Church, cites Metropolitan Vladimir (or Volodymyr) of Kyiv as one of the Russian Church’s two senior hierarchs. There is never any mention of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This status evolved politically under Russian tsarist expansive imperialism and Soviet control of and collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. We now live in post-colonial and post-Soviet times that call for an honest acceptance of autocephalous self-governance for Orthodox Christians in Ukraine.

    Patriarch Kirill opposes “political orthodoxy,” yet the Russian Orthodox Church closely collaborates with Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in spreading a Russian nationalist (some say proto-fascist) message in Russia and the “near abroad.”

    Putin, Medvedev and Kirill, a powerful Russian troika, engage in joint political and religious commemorations of the White General Anton Denikin, supporting and echoing Denikin’s denigration of Ukrainians, the political canonization into sainthood of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and five children, in support of a reactionary Russian imperial ideological foundation of Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Russian Nationality with its legacy of chauvinistic policies and pogroms.

    Many other examples bring to question whether Patriarch Kirill’s visit is a political mission to re-engage a reactionary past of a revived vision of Russian imperial control over Ukraine.

    The Russian Orthodox Church remains silent on many recent and current human rights abuses by the Russian state, such as the suspicious deaths of journalists critical of the government, the assault upon the human rights group Memorial, the censorship and political control of history, among many others.

    The Russian troika should accept that Ukrainians have their own identities and values in a post-colonial and post-Soviet space. Good relations between Ukraine and Russia are important and should be based on mutual respect and equality, not spheres of influence through ecclesiastical control. Only a self-governing, autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church can spiritually respond to Ukrainians’ unique and varied identities, developments and issues. The Russian Orthodox Church in Russia has its own issues and concerns it needs to attend.

    Serge Schmemann, son of the famous Orthodox theologian, notes in the April 2009 National Geographic the catastrophically low level of monthly church attendance in Russia, estimated at 10 percent to less than 1 percent. Ukraine, on the other hand has a far higher level of belief and liturgical participation. Metropolitan Volodymyr has stated that over 70 percent of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church membership is found in the nationally conscious and linguistically Ukrainian European oriented western half of Ukraine, in contrast to the Eurasian orientation of Russian Orthodoxy.

    The only true realizable path toward self-governance is the return of a Kyivan-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan in union with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as was the case prior to its political assimilation into the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686. Those of Russian nationalist orientations in Ukraine can be served by Russian patriarchal clergy, as is done in the United States. But it is evident that Patriarch Kirill, with the political influence of Putin and Medvedev, will not acknowledge this right.

    An Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with its primate in Kyiv and not Moscow, will best serve the spiritual needs of its faithful and the realities of daily life. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church would then join world Orthodoxy as an equal to the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and the four ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Autocephaly is not a myth reality.

    Zenon V. Wasyliw is a professor of history at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. He can be reached by email at wasyliw@ithaca. edu.

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