08/25/2021, 10.13
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Bartholomew in Kiev for the feast of independence

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Patriarch of Constantinople in Ukraine on the 30th anniversary of separation from the Soviet Union. Protests by pro-Russian faithful over recognition of Kiev's autocephaly in 2018. "I feel at home in this place and with this people who are inseparable from our canonical territory".



Kiev (AsiaNews) - The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (Archontonis) has honoured Ukraine with an official visit to mark the August 24 national holiday for the independence. Bartholomew recognised Ukraine's ecclesiastical autocephaly in 2018. The Patriarch met Metropolitan Epifanyj (Dumenko), President Volodymyr Zelenskyj and members of the Rada, Ukraine's parliament.

Hundreds of people, faithful to the Orthodox Church of Moscow obedience, protested against the "schismatic" Patriarch and intoned prayers of reparation, accompanied by the pro-Russian Metropolitan of Kiev, Onufryj (Berezovskij). Other crowds, however, wanted to cheer him on in the name of the ecclesiastical autonomy, but Bartholomew avoided public demonstrations that could further exacerbate tensions. 

The Patriarch did not take part in the Ukrainian independence ceremony held in the afternoon in St Sophia Cathedral and presided over by Metropolitan Onufryj, who had made Bartholomew's absence a pre-condition. In addition, President Zelensky, at Bartholomew's suggestion, established the "feast of the statehood of Ukraine", separate from that of independence. It will be held on 28 July, the day of the Baptism of the Rus' of Kiev, thus identified as the beginning of the history of the "Ukrainian State".

According to Andrej Melnikov, deputy editor of the Nezavisimaja Gazeta, the ecumenical patriarch is in some way "replacing NATO, the European Union and the UN" in recognising the dignity of the Ukrainian people, after years of conflict with Russia, which considers the land on the Dnieper part of its history, as Vladimir Putin himself has stressed in some recent speeches.

Thirty years ago, Ukraine's Supreme Soviet authority approved the declaration of independence from the USSR, which was the beginning of its dissolution and the autonomous existence of a Ukrainian state, for centuries divided between Poland and Russia. The ecclesiastical diatribe flared up shortly after the events of 1991, with the first requests for autocephaly and the unilateral proclamation of the Kiev patriarchate by Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko), now in his nineties but still active in the various disputes between Moscow and Kiev.

In the history of nations with an Orthodox tradition, ecclesiastical jurisdiction is a fundamental element of identity, closely linked to political events. Russia itself gave a supreme example of this, with the proclamation of the patriarchate of Moscow in 1589, obtained from Constantinople not without force, to exalt "the one true Orthodox kingdom". Today Bartholomew is in Kiev, for the first time since the signing of the Tomos of autocephaly, to bring all the Churches back to the tradition of the first millennium, in which - in his words - "Constantinople has always had one great privilege: that of sacrifice, for the good of the universal Church".

In his greeting to the Ukrainian authorities and people, the Ecumenical Patriarch thanked "the Most Holy Trinity for allowing me to visit the long-suffering land of Ukraine, the baptismal font of Rus', the glorious Kiev where the holy Prince Vladimir laid an unshakable foundation for faith in Christ, received from the great Church of the New Rome".

Bartholomew added that he "feels at home in this place and with these people. Not because I have already been there or my glorious predecessors have been there, but because the Kiev metropolia, despite the trumpets to the contrary that resound, was from the beginning an inseparable part of our own canonical territory, even if some historical circumstances and human violence separated it from us, but not forever".

The patriarch of Constantinople then reiterated from Kiev that he was the "first see" also for all the other Orthodox Churches of "Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Albania, Czechia and Slovakia, in a word, of all the new Churches formed from our body". Closing any discussion of Orthodox primacy, Bartholomew assured that "we do not remember the disappointments and humiliations, the offences and sufferings, but we always go forward on the path of forgiveness, virtue and healing for all our children without exclusion". Politics, he says, must stay out of ecclesiastical life, which is difficult to achieve in the traditions of the Orthodox symphony between the throne and the altar.

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