Kiev (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill arrived in Kiev today for a long pastoral visit to Ukraine until August 5. It is Kirill’s first visit to Ukraine as patriarch and his second trip abroad, after his July visit to Constantinople. As was the case in his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, this journey too has very sensitive aspects to it, in view of the complex links between the various Orthodox Churches.
The successor to Alexei II arrives, in fact, in a country marked by serious divisions within the local Orthodox community. Since the 90s, there are three different churches: the Ukraine-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), the Ukraine-Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous (UAOC). They are in stark contrast with one another, staunchly oppose to the rebirth of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and only the UOC-MP is recognised by Moscow and in full canonical communion with the Patriarchate.
Kirill's visit was preceded by contrasting comments. For some, the trip is a political one wi9th the aim of helping calm the waters between the Government of Russia and Ukraine. Supporters of this theory emphasise today’s meeting with the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yuscenko, the visit the monument to the Unknown Soldier and to the victims of Holodomor, the Stalinist era famine in the 1930s that killed millions of Ukrainians.
But the program for the 10 day journey will also see Kirill visit many cities throughout Ukraine. After Kiev, the patriarch will visit Donetsk, Horlivka, Simferopol and Sevastopol, in the west of the country, and from August 2, he will travel to the center of Ukraine stopping in Rivne, Korets, Horodok, Lutsk, Volodymyr-Volynsky and Pochayiv.
For some commentators the fact that Kirill is not limiting his travel to the capital, but has decided to visit various locations in the country, is proof of the Patriarch’s intention to both reiterate the importance of Moscow and re-launch relations with the unrecognised Orthodox Churches. In this regard, the session of the Holy Synod, to be held today in Kiev has heightened expectations. This is the first time in the modern history of Ukraine that the city has hosted the meeting of the highest hierarchies of Russian Orthodoxy and Kirill has repeatedly stressed the symbolic value of the event that reaffirms Kiev as “the Southern capital of the Russian Orthodox faith. "
Despite fear of demonstrations protesting against Kirill by the faithful of the UOC-KP and UAOC, Metropolitan Mefodi, head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, has expressed the hope that the visit of Patriarch of Moscow can be “a starting point for a new primacy of the Russian Church that - freed from ideological stereotypes – will develop a new awareness within the Moscow Patriarchate towards the problems of the Ukrainian church”. For Mefodi however, "the only real way to overcome the divisions [between the churches] is a full and inter-jurisdictional dialogue to create a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church”.