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.