Celebrations over the weekend in Kiev, Ukraine, marking the 1,020th anniversary of the Christianisation of the first Russian state in history, Rus, were marred by an ongoing schism within the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Commemorating the baptism of Prince Vladimir the Great of Rus in 988 in the ancient city of Chersonesos (on the outskirts of present-day Sevatopol, Crimea), President Viktor Yushchenko called on the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox believers, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, to consent to the creation of a national Orthodox church of Ukraine, which would be independent of the Russian Orthodox Church: “I believe that a national self-governing church will emerge in Ukraine, and I ask your holiness for your blessing for our dreams, for truth, for hope, for our country.”
Following the Ukrainian president’s appeal, Patriarch Alexy II of Russia, who met on Sunday with Bartholomew I in Kiev to celebrate the anniversary, argued against the formation of a single Orthodox church in Ukraine: “The Russian Orthodox unity cannot hinder a full-fledged life of the sovereign states that are successors to Kievan Rus. Our church respects their sovereignty and is interested in the strengthening and prosperity of their peoples. We need to treasure the great gift of unity which we have. We must cherish the unity within our Slavic brotherhood. We are here so that unity and peace can be among us."
President Yushchenko’s plan was rejected by Patriarch Bartholomew who argued that Orthodox unity was “more important than any political aims.”
Ukraine’s predominant religion is Orthodox Christianity. However, this is split into three churches: Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP), Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The UOC MP has the largest amount of followers in Ukraine, who mainly reside in the central, southern and eastern regions of the country.
Read it all here.