KYIV – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople travelled to Ukraine to take part in the country’s 30th Independence Day celebrations despite opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Together with Metropolitan Epifaniy, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew served a divine liturgy in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kyiv on August 21. The following day, the two men celebrated a solemn Divine Liturgy near the 1,000-year-old St. Sophia Cathedral. According to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, more than 15,000 faithful and clergy took part in the service.
Two years ago, Bartholomew I, who is considered first among equals in Orthodox patriarchy, presented a decree of independence to the head of the nascent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, severing its centuries-long tie with the Russian Orthodox Church. The creation of an independent Ukrainian Church became a historic event and was celebrated by many Ukrainians around the world.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Patriarch Bartholomew on the first day of his visit on August 20.
“First of all, I want to thank you for this visit,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “For me, for Ukraine, for all of us, it is a great honor that you joined us on such important days as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our independence. This is very important for us,” the president said.
Patriarch Bartholomew said he was happy to be on the beautiful, hospitable Ukrainian land, especially as Ukraine celebrates the 30th anniversary of independence.
“It is a great honor for us to celebrate this important date for Ukraine together with you,” said Patriarch Bartholomew.
He has visited Ukraine twice before, with his last trip to the country taking place in 2008 on the occasion of the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus. The 30th anniversary of Ukraine coincides with the 30th anniversary of Bartholomew’s election as ecumenical patriarch. Mr. Zelenskyy has visited the ecumenical patriarch twice during his term.
During his conversation with Patriarch Bartholomew, Mr. Zelenskyy noted that Ukraine is an example of a country in which many different religious denominations coexist peacefuly.
The two men discussed the issue of a peaceful settlement to the conflict in the Donbas, the violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, in particular freedom of religion, in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Mr. Zelenskyy noted that one of the factors that Russia uses against Ukraine as a hybrid weapon is religion.
Mr. Zelenskyy thanked the ecumenical patriarch for the attention and support given to the children of Ukrainian soldiers who lost their parents as a result of Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.
“I know how warmly you met them at your residence in Fener [the neighborhood in Istanbul in which the ecumenical patriarchy is located] in 2018. I appreciate your willingness to meet them [again] during your visit,” Mr. Zelenskyy said.
The first day of Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to Ukraine began with a tribute to the individuals who died fighting for the freedom and independence of Ukraine, as well as to the victims of the Holodomor-Genocide of 1932-1933. On August 21, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Metropolitan Epifaniy, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, according to the press service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church opposed Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to Ukraine, arguing that the trip could cause a possible confrontation among the two churches. The Moscow Church, which considers Ukraine its canonical territory, contrary to church canons, does not recognize the decisions of the ecumenical patriarch. It has severed ties with those hierarchs or churches that have recognized the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Moscow Patriarchate fears that, after Patriarch Bartholomew visits Ukraine, the churches under Moscow’s authority will be placed under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Following Bartholomew I’s decision that granted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church its independence, the Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate declared it would stay out of events attended by Bartholomew I, and dozens of its followers rallied in Kyiv to protest his visit.
The Moscow Church claimed that Patriarch Bartholomew destroyed all Orthodox unity in an effort to gain what they said was unprecedented authority.
“Before our eyes, a completely different model of world Orthodoxy is being formed, in which the central place is prepared for the Eastern Pope with unprecedented powers and privileges,” said Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
“The adventure of Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukraine in its consequences goes far beyond the dispute over jurisdiction over a certain territory,” Metropolitan Anthony said.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) welcomed the visit to Ukraine of Patriarch Bartholomew, who played a crucial role in gaining the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy Church.
“By returning Ukrainian Orthodoxy to its historical roots, this momentous event marked the ultimate independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and realized the aspirations of many generations of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and the diaspora,” the UWC said in a statement.
The UWC has worked with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to lobby for its recognition as an independent church by other Autocephalous Orthodox churches.
On August 23, Patriarch Bartholomew met with members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.
Metropolitan Epifaniy told Patriarch Bartholomew that after years of coexistence of Christians of different denominations, as well as Muslims and Jews, and following many years of anti-religious persecution, a unique inter-religious atmosphere has developed in Ukraine.
The council has existed for 25 years and it works to foster peace and mutual understanding in Ukraine. As a result, representatives of different religious communities can collaborate based on mutual respect and equal rights, overcoming contradictions and finding consensus despite differences of opinion.
“Leaving aside issues on which we have different views, the members of the Council are focused on those things where we have the same, common or close position,” Metropolitan Epifaniy said.
According to the press service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew is known in the world as “the one who builds bridges” in large part because of his many years of experience in inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue. He emphasized the role of the Church in resolving contradictions in society, as it can “use the oil of faith to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to kindle new fires of hatred.”
“It is a sign of hope that despite the horrors of the 20th century, the most brutal era in human history, our understanding of dialogue is becoming an increasingly important tool for building bridges and reconciliation,” Patriarch Bartholomew said.