The head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill has finished his visit to Ukraine.
In Ukraine’s capital Kiev, he took part in the Day of Christianization celebrations on July 28. On this day, the Orthodox Church commemorates Prince Vladimir, who Christianized Russia in the year 988.
Ending his visit, the Patriarch called on Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians – three Slavic nations, very close in language and culture – to preserve the Orthodox Christian faith. This is the best, if not the only way for the three nations to be spiritually united, His Holiness said.
This is the third time when Patriarch Kirill celebrates Christianization Day in Kiev, the city from where Christianization of ancient Russia began in 988. However, while his two previous visits lasted for 10 days each, this one was shorter – from July 26 till 28, – but still full of events. His Holiness performed religious services near the monument to Prince Vladimir and in the ancient Pechersk monastery in Kiev. He took part in the work of the Holy Synod (supreme body) of the Ukrainian Church. The Patriarch also met with members of the Union of Orthodox Women, with principals of several Ukrainian universities and with rank-and-file Ukrainian believers.
However, the culmination of the Russian Patriarch’s visit to Ukraine was his meeting with the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Catholicos-Patriarch Elias II, who also took part in the Kiev celebrations.
At present, the political relations between Russia and Georgia are often rather tense. Still, the Russian and the Georgian Patriarchs are ready to maintain friendship between their churches. This may help political stability in the Caucasus, His Holiness Elias believes.
“We must do all we can to keep friendly relations between our peoples and our churches,” the Georgian Patriarch said, addressing his Russian counterpart. – “I’ve known you for many years. You are a wise man. Now, you have a chance to be remembered as a man who brought peace between our two nations.”
In his speeches in Ukraine, the Russian Patriarch often returned to the theme of unity.
“The religious unity of Orthodox peoples of the former Soviet Union is the only thing that holds us together,” His Holiness said. “If we lose this unity, we’ll lose something more than our historic roots. We’ll lose the very basis of our morals.”
“If a schism takes place in the Church, it can mean only one thing – that people are losing love to one another. The unity of the Church is not kept by the Church’s administration, however important this factor may be. It is kept by the love that the Church’s members have for each other.”
The Patriarch’s words are very timely. Since the 1990s, there are as many as three religious organizations in Ukraine, each of which claims to be the only right Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, the world’s most influential Orthodox organizations recognize only one of them – the one that is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchy. Besides, the denomination known as Greek Catholics, or Uniates (in their services, they combine Catholic and Orthodox elements), backed by the Roman Catholic Church, also intend to establish their own Patriarchy in Ukraine.
This time, when the Russian Patriarch came to Ukraine, he was not met by demonstrations of those who don’t want to unite with the Russian Church, like he was during his previous visits. However, it is still a bit too early to say that the schism in Ukraine is now totally a thing of the past.
The Russian Church is doing much to help its Ukrainian brethren overcome the schism. At the meeting of the Ukrainian Synod, which took place in the Pechersk monastery, the participants decided to form a special commission which would help establish harmonious relations between Russian and Ukrainian believers.
The Kiev Synod has taken another important decision – to work out texts of special prayers for those whose relatives have committed suicide. For a long time, there were no canons for such prayers in the Orthodox Church, though, unfortunately, many people have to pray for their relatives who have killed themselves.