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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Patriarch Kirill laments Church disunity

Patriarch Kirill I, on the second day of his first visit to Ukraine as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, condemned divisions that have shaken the church there since the collapse of the Soviet Union. "How hypocritical, how terrible it is when divisions for the sake of some allegedly supreme purposes take place in the Church," Kirill said on 28 July at the celebration of the feast of St. Vladimir, the prince who brought Orthodoxy to Kievan Rus' from Byzantium.

Further, Associated Press Writer, Maria Danilova, writing from Kiev on 27 July 2009, reports:

"The head of the Russian Orthodox Church rejected calls from Ukraine's president to create a local Orthodox church that would be independent from Moscow, saying he firmly supports the status quo.

"Patriarch Kirill arrived in Ukraine for a prolonged visit, which observers say is aimed at reasserting Moscow's religious and political influence over this predominantly Orthodox nation of 46 million, which is trying to integrate with the West.

"The Ukrainian 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. But wounds have formed in this church and these wounds must be healed," he said.

"The two leaders made the statements after laying flowers at a memorial commemorating the victims of a 1932-33 famine that killed millions which was engineered by Soviet authorities to abolish private land ownership. Yushchenko is also leading a campaign to win recognition of the famine as an act of genocide; Moscow counters that the campaign was not aimed specifically at Ukrainians. Kirill said that he mourns the tragedy and prays for all those who perished, but stressed that other ethnic groups, including Russians, also suffered.

"The Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the Kremlin, worry about losing dominance in Ukraine. The mainstream, Moscow-aligned church claims about 28 million believers, while the separatist Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) claims about 14 million followers. Opinion polls show the splinter church's popularity is growing.

"Earlier Monday, Kirill led a service on St. Volodymyr Hill in central Kiev near the statue of Prince Volodymyr, who launched the Slavic world's conversion to Christianity in 988. Kirill called for friendship, brotherhood and unity.

"Yushchenko, who has sought to break free from Russia's centuries-old political dominance and integrate with the European Union and NATO, has appealed to the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox believers, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, to recognize the separatist church. Bartholomew, who visited Kiev last summer, has not given a clear response.

"Kirill is to visit a number of Ukrainian cities during a prolonged visit that his office says is devoted strictly to pilgrimage. But observers note that his trips to such strongholds of pro-Russian support as the eastern coal-mining city of Donetsk and the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula have clear political undertones.

"Before Kirill led the prayers, a group of nationalist activists shouting "Moscow priest get out!" briefly scuffled with his supporters near the St. Volodymyr Hill. The scuffle was broken up by police."

On the other hand Interfax, a news agency in Ukraine, reports, 30 June 2009:

"Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has thanked all residents of Ukraine who preserved their belief in the Moscow Patriarchate during the years of a religious split.

" "I'm addressing you and those who, through the strength of their belief, preserved the unity of the church here, on Ukrainian land. The whole Russian Orthodox Church bows to you and expresses the patriarch's gratitude to you for your brave stand for your beliefs, and for your loyalty to God and the Savior!" he said on Thursday after conducting a divine liturgy in Sviatohirsk Monastery in Donetsk region.

"The sermon by the patriarch was interrupted for several minutes by thousands of people who gathered near the monastery shouting "Our Patriarch is Kirill." "

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