1,025 years of Christianity: Ukraine hosts Orthodox celebrations while questioning its future

28/7/13

The Orthodox Church is celebrating the 1025th anniversary of introduction of Christianity into medieval Russia. Clerical delegations and the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are joining the festivities in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

The culmination of the celebrations will be a liturgy in Kiev’s  central cathedral Kiev Pechersk Laura (Kiev Monastery of the  Caves) and a sacred procession carrying the St. Andrew’s cross, a  symbolic relic that once united the nations on the territory of  modern Belarus, Ukraine and European part of Russian Federation  over a millennium ago, when Kiev was the main center of the  Eastern Slavic world.

Saint Andrew, the first Apostle of Jesus Christ, is believed to  be the one who brought Christianity to Eastern Europe. Legends  insist he sailed across the Black Sea and landed in the Greek  colony of Chersonesus Taurica in Crimea, modern Ukraine. Then he  traveled north along the Dnieper River, passing the place where  the City of Kiev was founded in the 5th century and allegedly  reaching the area not far from the Baltic Sea, where the Russian  city of Veliky Novgorod was founded in the 9th century. On his  legendary journey, mentioned in the Russian Primary Chronicle,  Saint Andrew baptized thousands to new faith.

Nine centuries later, in 988 AD, Prince Vladimir, who ruled in  Kiev, one of major cities in the Eastern Slavs’ land of Rus,  introduced Christianity in his lands,  and was baptized  together with his troops and subjects. Rus over centuries grew  into the Russian Empire, the USSR and after its collapse the  cradle of Orthodox Christianity now lies outside geographical  Russia.

Together with clerical delegations, many political leaders are  paying visits to the celebrations.

One of the issues dominating the agenda is the choice Ukraine is  still to make between integrating with the EU or joining the  Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to form a  Eurasian Union in the near future.

“This day marks the unity of our peoples,” Russian  President Vladimir Putin told Ukrainian President Viktor  Yanukovich. “We have several common questions we will be able  to discuss during these days of celebrations. There will be  another meeting tomorrow… where we will talk security.”

Relations between Moscow and Kiev since the fall of the Soviet  Union have witnessed many changes. Over the last 20 years,  Ukraine has endured an Orange Revolution and several gas  conflicts with Russia, yet strong economic and historical ties  seem to be prevailing over the divide.

Many also fear that Ukraine – if choosing to part with Russia in  search for a better future with the EU – might lose not only its  independence to Brussels, but also its national identity.

“Ukraine is destined to strive for favorable relations with  Russia for thousands of reasons,” Mikhail Pogrebinsky from  the Center for Political and Conflict Studies in Kiev told RT.

Over half of the Ukrainian population considers Russian to be  their native language and would like to see their country  maintain good relations with the neighbor. Moreover, Orthodox  Christianity remains a cementing force that kept Russians and  Ukrainians inhabiting the territory between Baltic and Black seas  together for over 1,000 years.

“It is enough to say that every third Ukrainian has close  relatives within Russia,” says Pogrebinsky.

But Ukraine’s elite is moving in the opposite direction to  associate Ukraine with the EU, pretending they do not hear the  voices of the citizens protesting against solely European  orientation, Pogrebinsky said.

Moscow wants to see its neighbor playing a more active role in  the regional cooperation, becoming an integral player of the  Customs Union. The Ukrainian economy remains highly dependent on  Russia, the major market for Ukrainian goods, and also because  over 700,000 Ukrainians are working in Russian Federation,  according to official statistics.

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