On August, 19 Moscow daily newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta published the following analytic article on Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Ukraine by well-known Russian journalist Andrey Zolotov.
Spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill has declared his recent high-profile visit to reach out to Ukraine’s Orthodox believers as a success.
Despite inevitable controversy surrounding the 10-day trip, the Russian Orthodox bishop’s approach could herald a new era in relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian church.
By preaching reconciliation and making a point of his respect for all states and cultures, Kirill sought to position himself as a strictly spiritual guide.
Ukraine is the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy that today finds itself separated from Northern Rus by state and cultural boundaries, as it did centuries ago.
Now it is hoped that Kirill’s visit will further a fresh unity between the countries’ churches.
The bells at the majestic Pochayev Monastery in western Ukraine rang a farewell to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus.
“I am leaving this blessed land and I am leaving part of my heart here… because I see myself as a successor to the metropolitans of Kiev and All Rus, who were the custodians of their people’s faith in times of hardship,” the patriarch said in one of his last speeches in Pochayev.
He prayed together with tens of thousands of pilgrims for unity inside Ukraine and for the unity of all the peoples of the historical “Holy Rus”.
Behind him were thousands of miles traveled by aircraft and car, 14 stops of varying duration at cities and monasteries, a dozen services, meetings, sermons and the joint mass prayer.
Kirill was also given a long interview on the main Ukrainian TV channel that broke all audience ratings.
Witnesses said they saw tears in the eyes of clergy and laity when meeting their primate, but there were also reports of shouting from a small group of protesters.
The task is now beginning to discuss the longer-term consequences of the visit both for Ukraine and for the whole Russian Orthodox Church.
The idea of the “Holy Rus” or “the great Eastern-Slavic civilisation” as a spiritual and historical entity rather than a political one, which would happily coexist with secular society, was a theme throughout all of the patriarch’s speeches.
In particular, Kirill positioned himself as a supranational spiritual leader, not as “the Russian patriarch” but as the head of a patriarchate whose spiritual power has straddled many state borders.
In his last sermon at the Pochayev Lavra, Kirill addressed first the Ukraine then the countries of “Holy Rus” including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, and then the rest of Europe.
He warned of the dangers of building a life without God, as the Soviet Union had attempted.
Vladimir Legoyda, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s information department, told RIA Novosti: “Undoubtedly this was a pastoral visit and a pilgrimage, but it was also a world-view visit.”
The “borderless” view of the church, declaring respect for the cultures of all states, represents a shift of emphasis in the policy of the Patriarchate – one that is firmly connected with Kirill, who was elected patriarch in January.
In effect, he opposes both the identification of Orthodoxy as the “Russian faith” and the fostering of Russian patriotism, as well as the principle of an “independent church to an independent state” that has been advocated by the Ukrainian autocephalist (independent) movement.
Vladimir Burega, a historian at the Kiev Theological Academy, said: “Here in Ukraine, as soon as they hear a universalist programme, the non-church circles prick up their ears because they see the danger of the leveling of local features, restriction of sovereignty and so on.”
Kirill’s visit is expected to prompt the Moscow Patriarchate to work out a new approach to its negotiations with the breakaway Ukrainian movement and to the future status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which enjoys broad autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate.
For 18 years the situation in Ukraine, while remaining something of a thorn in the side of Russian Orthodoxy, was not of great importance to the Moscow church, being seen as more of a problem for religious Kiev.
Patriarch Kirill’s tour, however, may mark the end of this period and he is emerging as an important factor in Ukraine’s church affairs.
This is something with which opponents of the Moscow Patriarchate among both the Ukrainian public and church will have to come to terms.
Archpriest Georgy Kovalenko, head of information for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, said: “We expect careful and well-considered actions on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate. After all, a way was found to unite with the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia. So, given goodwill and commitment, we can do the same.”