07/05/2008, 00.00
TURKEY - RUSSIA - UKRAINE
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Bartholomew I at celebrations for the 1020 years of Christianity in Kiev

by NAT da Polis
The decision has an ecumenical flavour. It is intended to create an occasion for dialogue among the three communities: Greek Catholic, Ukrainian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox. But there is murmuring against Constantinople in Moscow.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I will lead the delegation to Constantinople for the celebrations of the 1020 years of the Christianisation of the Russians of Kiev. The decision satisfies both the invitation of the patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II, to send a delegation from the ecumenical patriarchate, and that of Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko, who asked Bartholomew I to provide over the festivities.

A statement from Constantinople recalls that "the Mother Church [Constantinople] . . . led the Ukrainian people toward baptism in Christ, [and] has decided to send its own delegation under the leadership of the ecumenical patriarch, to the celebrations that will take place from July 23rd to the 25th ".

With this gesture, Constantinople intends to seize the occasion to offer its own contribution to smoothing over the tensions within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, divided between Russians and Ukrainians. Because of authoritarianism and the impact of national contrasts, Ukraine sees its own Christian world divided into three churches.

There is a "uniate" church of the Greek-Byzantine rite. In 1695, tired of the overweening Polish Church and afraid of the tsarist Russian Church [1], since Constantinople had been weakened under Ottoman rule, it placed itself under the protection of the patriarch of the West, the pope of Rome. It is worth noting that the region had no concept of the schism between West and East.

After the fall of the Soviet empire, in 1991 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church proclaimed its autonomy from Moscow, and under the guidance of Filaret it sought its own recognition in the Orthodox world.

Finally, there is the flock of Orthodox faithful of Russian origin, who have remained faithful to Moscow.

Constantinople has always tried to oppose the nationalist tendencies of these churches, and to moderate the tensions within the Orthodox world, struck - according to an expression of Bartholomew I - "by the modern heresy of nationalism". For this reason, the ecumenical patriarch favours meeting and talking with everyone, even with the "uniates", often considered an obstacle to ecumenism.

Bartholomew I himself, in a highly significant symbolic gesture, gave a chalice to the new Greek Catholic bishop of Athens, Bishop Salachas. "The chalice of our shared communion", he commented, "must be our point of reference".

An Orthodox wise man once said: "In the Christian world, the spirit of the scribes prevails over that of Christ toward the Samaritan woman . . . because we have given more importance to defining ourselves as Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, instead of being Christians before all else".

Bartholomew's decision to preside over the celebrations is highly criticised in Orthodox circles in Moscow. The agency Interfax launched a few days ago a series of articles highly critical of Constantinople. According to some Orthodox priests, no invitation was issued to Bartholomew I by Alexy II; according to some historians, Bartholomew's decision is even "a hostile act against Russia".

[1] The Russian Church was elevated to the status of patriarchate in the 16th century, by Constantinople.

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