Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Kirill arrived in Ukraine for a ten-day pastoral visit. The first destination point was Kiev that once had been the capital of Russia. The Kiev Pechersk Lavra, one of the most important temples of the Russian Orthodox Church, is situated in Ukraine’s capital.
This visit proved to be a political one rather than a pastoral one. The reason for this is that the questions of religion and politics are strongly connected with each other. The government of the country actively supports Orthodox churches under the Kiev Patriarchate which are not recognized by the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Pro-Russian forces in Ukraine support the preservation of church unity with Russia symbolized by the Canonic Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. The majority of the Orthodox faithful of the country belong to this Church.
Thousands of people gathered for religious procession in the centre of the city. At the same time about 300 members of a local nationalist organization tried to interfere with the action, shouting provocative slogans. There was a scuffle with the Orthodox Cossacks, though it proved impossible to disrupt the procession.
The nationalists disliked the speech delivered by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church on the St. Volodymyr Hill. “Kiev is our common Jerusalem, and it is Kiev where the Russian Orthodox faith came from,” Patriarch Kirill said.
“We will pray for peace and prosperity in the country and the "unbreakable unity" of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples,” Kirill said. After that the Patriarch held a session of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko welcomed Patriarch Kirill. Taking into consideration the fact that the Ukrainian President repeatedly supported the idea to make the Ukrainian national church independent from the ROC, the conversation obviously proved uneasy.
The fact that Yushchenko welcomed the Patriarch is not so indicative as the fact that he did not come to meet Kirill at the airport. It is worthy of note that Yushchenko followed Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople everywhere a year before, seeking his recognition of Kiev’s self-appointed patriarchy, albeit unsuccessfully.
Prior to Kirill’s visit, the Ukrainian president made several provocative gestures. Firstly, Yushchenko called Filaret, the self-proclaimed leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the religious advisor of all Orthodox Ukrainians. Yushchenko also awarded a medal to Pavel Movchan, the leader of Ukraine’s nationalist movement, who released a number of statements attacking the Russian Orthodox Church.
As for Yulia Tymoshenko, she behaved ambiguously. On the one hand, she took no actions against the ROC and did not apply to Bartholomew for recognition of the separatist Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Kiev Patriarchate like Yushchenko.
On the other hand, Andrey Shkil, the former leader of Ukraine’s nationalist organization, is in her bloc. Besides, the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko includes a whole congregation of Protestants from the south-east of the country.
Viktor Yanukovich behaved as a genuine Orthodox Christian. He met Kirill at the airport and took part in the religious procession.
As for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its representatives disliked the visit of Patriarch Kirill: the church stands against the religious unity of Russia and Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Ukraine had a great value. For this country the visit is connected both with the choice of religion and the political future. The visit of Patriarch Kirill may lead to “orange counterrevolution”. The visit of the head of the ROC was a triumph. Thousands of people took part in the religious procession from the St. Volodymyr Hill to Kiev Pechersk Lavra. Kirill's visit is capable of changing a course of history in Ukraine.
This visit may have a beneficial effect. Kirill has laid foundation for missionary work which might bring both spiritual and political results.