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What did the leadership not take into account? Or it did?

Anatolii KOLODNY: “By intending to jointly celebrate the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus’, our officials, who never consult with religion experts or historians, help the Russian World to strengthen”
04 February, 18:37

Ukrainehas approved the program of celebrating the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus’ at the end of July 2013. It is interesting that, although Russia and Belarus adopted Christianity at a different time, they will also join the celebrations. The objective of a triune celebration, quite in the spirit of an undying myth about unity of the three Slavic peoples, is to strengthen humanitarian and person-to-person relations between Ukraine and the neighboring states.

As part of the celebrations, the Ukrainian side undertook to issue jubilee coins, publish a multivolume Ukrainian Orthodox Encyclopedia, hold a festival of Christian religious music, and make feature and documentary films on the proliferation of Christianity in Ukraine. In addition, it is planned to begin in summer the construction of a large Orthodox complex in honor of Prince Volodymyr on the Dnipro bank, not far from the monument to the founders of Kyiv.

The Day decided to discuss the necessity of this scale of celebrations and the overall context with Anatolii KOLODNY, head of the Religion Studies Department at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences, Deputy Director of the Hryhorii Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy.

There is a long list of things to be done by Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus as part of celebrations to mark the 1,025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, such as minting coins, making documentary and feature films on the spread of Christianity in Rus’, etc. What does this mean?

“This means betraying the principle of the separation of church and state. It is, above all, a religious date, and it is churches that are supposed to mark it on a broad and high level. Moreover, the anniversary is being celebrated without taking account of the split in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. One should also bear in mind that, in addition to churches of the Kyiv tradition of Volodymyr’s baptism, there also are the Greek Catholics.

“On the whole, I view the intention to mark this date in the abovementioned format as a hidden attempt to pull through the idea of historical Rus’, or the ‘Russian World’ of three – Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian – peoples, which Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is bringing to us. By doing so, our officials, who never consult with religion experts or historians, are promoting the idea of the three people’s unity, rapprochement with Russia, and recognition of the fact that Kirill is the patriarch of not only Moscow, but also Ukraine.

“I must say, in general, that we must speak about the baptism of Kyiv, not of the entire Rus’. There was no Muscovy at the time. Russia and Belarus adopted Christianity 300-400 years after Volodymyr’s baptism. So it is incorrect, from the historical viewpoint, to mark this date together.”

Why do you think the Ukrainian political leadership accepts this?

“The current leaders do not care about the really Ukrainian things that form our identity, which results in failure to understand the content and significance of certain historical events. I do not know who suggested marking this date – Viktor Yanukovych even left Davos and came to attend the meeting.”

You say the Volodymyr baptism concerns Kyiv only, but Patriarch Filaret announced the other day that the Kyiv Patriarchate had not yet chosen the format of participating in the anniversary celebrations.

“Naturally, the Patriarch of Moscow will not bear the Patriarch of Kyiv and heads of the Autocephalous or Greek Catholic churches standing next to him. Nor were the Protestants invited, even though they also recognize the Kyiv baptism. The celebrations will be conducted in a pro-Moscow vein under the aegis of one church.

“Ideally, the state should have allowed each of the churches to mark the event the way they deem it necessary.”

As is known, when the 1,020th anniversary was celebrated during the presidency of Yushchenko, the key figure was Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Now the Patriarch of Moscow is going to be this figure. Is this a change of attitude?

“To see the root cause, look at the very beginning of Yanukovych’s presidency. Patriarch Kirill arrived in Kyiv to bless the new head of state. The message was that we were part of Moscow’s Orthodox Church empire. Celebrating this feast at the governmental level in the presence of Patriarch Kirill is tantamount to approving a colonialist policy towards Ukraine.”

Patriarch Kirill has been visiting Ukraine rather often lately. Do his calls exert any influence on the faithful?

“This activity is now on the decline in a way. The Moscow Patriarch’s earlier visits were aimed at removing Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and All Ukraine due to his ailment. Another goal was to impose the idea of establishing metropolitan sees in the Russian manner. But this initiative did not succeed. If it did, this would essentially reduce the clout of the Kyiv metropolitan see and the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s head.

“We can make a conclusion that the abovementioned actions are aimed at abolishing the existing autonomy of the Ukrainian church. The Moscow Patriarch’s visits are supposed to make it clear that Kirill is the true head of the Church, while Metropolitan Volodymyr is a lower-level figure.”

And what about direct influence on the faithful? We know even some instances of political propaganda.

“The problem is that the Moscow Patriarchate-controlled elements work more actively than those of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church. Various brotherhoods of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) organize cross processions almost every week in and outside Kyiv. Using these indirect links, they influence the faithful in a warped and un-Ukrainian spirit: they hand out all kinds of propagandistic booklets and leaflets which people, unfortunately, believe. They view Kirill as the only patriarch and Filaret as an apostate.”

Russian journalists write that the day the anniversary is celebrated will also mark the end of the six months that Russia gave Ukraine to make a final decision on whether or not to join the Customs Union. A double celebration for Russia?

“Naturally, these things are interconnected. Add to this the recent visit of Zhirinovsky who says that Ukraine is in itself good for nothing, a mass-scale campaign for the Customs Union, and an undisguised propaganda of imperial ideology: some demonstrators in Kyiv carry the portraits of Tsar Nicholas II and Russian flags, you can also see from time to time billboards that read: ‘Forgive us, tsar and father!’ This should have drawn the attention of the Security Service long ago.

“Russia has long been making all-out efforts to divert Ukraine from Europe and attract it to itself. In particular, there are attempts to spiritually subjugate us to Moscow. Many believe that this practice does not work, but a pro-Moscow mood is being formed among the masses of believers.”

Where should we seek an alternative and the forces to resist this onslaught?

“I see the alternative in the activation of the Ukrainian Churches themselves, particularly the Greek Catholic and the Autocephalous. They should openly defend the right to be called Volodymyr-tradition churches. The Kyiv Patriarchate has already resolved at a synodal session to summon its clergy to Kyiv in order to organize a mass-scale procession on the Baptism anniversary day. But there measures are also needed. For example, public outreach groups might be more active. We should all make an effort and emphasize the fact that it was Volodymyr’s baptism of Kyiv and Kyivites rather than the baptism of the entire Rus’. Besides, it was not the first baptism. Before that, Prince Askold and Princess Olha had converted to Christianity. Volodymyr did this later. The baptism of Volhynia also occurred in the early period. A number of campaigns could be held to this end.

“In secular terms, we will, of course, hold a scholarly conference, and it is up to churches to choose a reaction. We have no right to exert pressure on them.”

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