KYIV – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople traveled to Ukraine to participate in the country’s 30th Independence Day celebrations despite opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Along with Metropolitan Epifaniy, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew served a divine liturgy in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kiev on August 21. The next day, the two men celebrated a solemn divine liturgy near St. Sophia Cathedral. According to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, more than 15,000 worshipers and clergy took part in the service.
Two years ago, Bartholomew I, who is considered the first among his peers in the Orthodox Patriarchate, presented a decree of independence to the head of the nascent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, severing his centuries-old ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. The establishment of an independent Ukrainian Church has become a historical event and has been 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.
âFirst of all, I want to thank you for this visit,â Zelenskyy said. âFor me, for Ukraine, for all of us, it is a great honor that you join us on such important days as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our independence. It is very important for us â, declared the president.
Patriarch Bartholomew said he was happy to be on the beautiful and hospitable Ukrainian land, especially as Ukraine is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence.
âIt is a great honor for us to celebrate with you this important date for Ukraine,â said Patriarch Bartholomew.
He has already visited Ukraine twice, his last trip to the country being in 2008 on the occasion of the 1,020th anniversary of Kyivan Rus’ baptism. Ukraine’s 30th anniversary coincides with the 30th anniversary of Bartholomew’s election as Ecumenical Patriarch. Mr. Zelenskyy visited the Ecumenical Patriarch twice during his tenure.
During his conversation with Patriarch Bartholomew, Mr. Zelenskyy noted that Ukraine is an example of a country in which many religious denominations peacefully coexist.
The two men discussed the issue of a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbass, 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 Russia uses against Ukraine as a hybrid weapon is religion.
Mr. Zelenskyy thanked the Ecumenical Patriarch for the care 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 in 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, âZelenskyy said.
The first day of Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to Ukraine began with a tribute to those 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 has opposed Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to Ukraine, arguing the trip could spark a possible confrontation between the two churches. The Church of Moscow, which regards Ukraine as its canonical territory, unlike the canons of the Church, does not recognize the decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarch. He severed ties with hierarchs or churches that recognized the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Moscow Patriarchate is concerned that after Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to Ukraine, the churches under the authority of Moscow will come under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Following Bartholomew I’s decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church severed its ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has said it will stay away from events Bartholomew I attended, and dozens of its worshipers have gathered in Kiev to protest his visit.
The Moscow Church claimed that Patriarch Bartholomew destroyed all Orthodox unity in an attempt to obtain what they said was unprecedented authority.
âBefore 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,â said Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) of 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 securing autocephaly from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
“Bringing Ukrainian Orthodoxy back to its historical roots, this momentous event marked the ultimate independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and fulfilled the aspirations of many generations of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and in the Diaspora,” said UWC said in a statement.
The UWC worked with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church 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 faiths, as well as Muslims and Jews, and after many years of anti-religious persecution, a unique interfaith atmosphere has developed in Ukraine .
The council has been in existence for 25 years and works to promote peace and mutual understanding in Ukraine. As a result, representatives of different religious communities can collaborate on the basis of mutual respect and equal rights, overcoming contradictions and finding consensus despite differences of opinion.
“Leaving aside the issues on which we have different points of view, the members of the Council concentrate on the things on which we have the same position, common or close,” said Metropolitan Epifaniy.
According to the press service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew is known to the world as âthe one who builds bridgesâ largely because of his many years of experience in inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue. He stressed the role of the Church in resolving contradictions in society, as she can “use the oil of faith to heal 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 becomes an increasingly important tool for building bridges. and be reconciled, âsaid Patriarch Bartholomew.