THE 900TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAPTISM OF RUS’ IN 1888
In 1888 tsarist Russia celebrated — for the first time on such a scale — the 900th anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus’ and honored the memory of Prince St. Volodymyr. Oddly enough, until that year The Day to honor the Rus’ enlightener — the Holy Equal to the Apostles Grand Prince Volodymyr — (July 15, according to the Julian calendar) had been marked rather modestly in the Russian Empire.
In 1888 this day was proclaimed one of the so-called middle feasts. This was illustrated by the fact that Kyiv, where the main celebrations were held, was visited by such hierarchs as the Holy Synod ober-procurator, some archpriests of the Russian Orthodox Church, the head of the Slavic Charitable Society, and delegations from various Russian cities, the largest of which was, for some reason, the one from Nizhny Novgorod.
The celebrations in 1888 were attended by only two primates of autocephalous Orthodox churches — the Serbian and Montenegrin — and by lower-ranking representatives from Bulgaria, Bohemia, Romania, Galicia, Abyssinia, and of the Japanese and Kurdish Christian communities. Especially conspicuous was the absence of the “father,” Tsar Alexander III.
One of the most important events during the 900th-anniversary celebrations was the unveiling in Kyiv of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky monument created by the St. Petersburg-based sculptor Mikhail Mikeshin. Mikeshin had intended to illustrate the idea of a “single and undivided” Russian Empire and to adorn the pedestal with both figures of the triumphant Slavs, whose countries were annexed to Russia, and of enemies trampled by the hetman’s horse: a Jesuit, a Polish nobleman, and a Jew.
In anticipation of interethnic conflicts, the wise Kyivan authorities rejected Mikeshin’s project, but it was nonetheless approved by Emperor Alexander III. Yet Kyiv managed to avoid unrest — there was not enough money for a monument depicting so many people and nationalities, and the project was limited to an equestrian statue of the hetman. (Until 1919 the sides of the pedestals bore the inscriptions, “To Bohdan Khmelnytsky from united and undivided Russia” and “We desire an Eastern Orthodox tsar.”)
In connection with the 900th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’ and St. Volodymyr Day, a cathedral named after the prince was founded in Kyiv, although for technical and financial reasons it took nearly 30 years to build it. An extraordinarily beautiful part of the cathedral is the unique paintings executed by Adrian Prakhov together with some Kyiv masters.
1988, THE 1000TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAPTISM OF RUS’
The celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’ coincided with the decline of the atheistic Soviet regime. The mounting social and economic crisis compelled the leaders of the USSR to try to enlist popular support, including from believers. On April 29, 1988, CPSU Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev had a meeting with Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and members of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod, during which he promised to repeal all anti-religious acts and laws.
Gorbachev also called the baptism of Rus’ in Kyiv 1,000 years ago as “a significant landmark on the centuries-long road of the development of national history, culture, and Russian statehood.” This meeting was a turning point in the church-state relations of the country (later, countries), which ushered in a new era in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The celebrations that had begun on June 5 in Moscow later moved to Kyiv. Among the many guests who arrived in Kyiv were the primates of the Jerusalem, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Cypriot autocephalous Orthodox churches. The celebrations in Kyiv began on June 14 with a ceremonial act at the Taras Shevchenko Opera and Ballet Theater. The then patriarch’s exarch in Ukraine, Metropolitan Filaret (Denysenko), delivered a speech on the jubilee and its importance in the history of church and state.
The next day’s celebrations began with a divine liturgy at St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, served by Diodoros, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, and assisted by bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church and representatives of other autonomous churches. On the last day of the celebrations, tens of thousands of people witnessed an historic event in the life of the entire Orthodox Church: a prayer was said at the Kyivan Cave Monastery (Lavra) for the first time in almost 30 years.
The Orthodox Church, which had been oppressed throughout the Soviet era, received this news with deep gratitude. “We see this as a gift from the Soviet government to the Russian Orthodox Church on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’. We see it as recognition of its distinguished merits in peacemaking for the benefit of our Fatherland,” said Filaret at the document transfer ceremony. This brought about radical changes in church-government relations. Even atheists began to look at the church differently after the official celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’ in Kyiv.
2008, OUR TIME
Today’s celebrations of the 1020th anniversary are special, even though the current anniversary is not a jubilee one. This is our feast, with our guests on our land, where the baptism took place. At the same time, there is no new monument in the capital or cathedral painted by Ukrainian artists or wide-scale acts of charity. Today’s jubilee is also distinguished by the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Ukraine, although some members of well-known political and church circles both in Ukraine and Russia did their level best to close the door to this country to the patriarch and leave Ukrainian churches in a ghetto, with the only road pointing eastward.
But it is absolutely clear that even the ecumenical patriarch is not free to adopt certain actions and that it is, after all, up to us to resolve our problems. Our first president is correct in saying, “I appreciate the contribution that the Constantinople archbishops are making in order to increase our knowledge of the historical religious process, emphasizing the role that the Kyiv metropoly once played. Thanks to the Ecumenical Patriarch and his milieu, our society has broken free of the way of interpreting historical events, which the Moscow Patriarchate imposed on us.” Indeed, Ukraine has long lacked a “third party” in church affairs for the sake of reuniting the now split Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
We believe that in the nearest future (at least by the time of the 1030th anniversary) our country will have one independent, educated, and very tolerant Autonomous Ukrainian Church. And should any other Orthodox and non-Orthodox believers live next to it, they will all be invited to the celebrations.