Ukraine President Makes Alliance with Bartholomew

No, not me – Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constaninople, who is in Kiev to celebrate 1020 years since the Christianization of Kievan Russ, the old Russian state in Ukraine. In 988 Duke Vladimir, ruler of Kiev, accepted Greek Christianity after weighing up the alternatives, and his people were “encouraged” to present themselves for baptism in the river Dnieper. The Russian Primary Chronicle explains:

…Vladimir sent heralds throughout the whole city to proclaim that if any inhabitant, rich or poor, did not betake himself to the river, he would risk the prince’s displeasure. When the people heard these words, they wept for joy, and exclaimed in their enthusiasm, “If this were not good, the prince and his boyars would not have accepted it.”

Alas for Vladimir’s successor, some of Kiev’s citizens of today are rather less keen to “exclaim in their enthusiasm”, if this Interfax report is accurate:

 The management of Kiev’s hospitals and clinics forced the staff to join festive events in the center of Kiev, conducted by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Interfax-Religion correspondent reported…Asked what the staff’s reaction was like, [a medical attendant] said, “Negative, of course,”

However, it should be remembered that Interfax is based in Russia, and it shares the Moscow Patriarchate’s antipathy to Ukraine President Yushchenko and Bartholomew, who are seen as supporting a “schismatic” Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In turn, Bartholomew is doubtless wary of Russian domination over Orthodoxy, and given the Russian Orthodox Church’s links with the Russian government Yushchenko would prefer a national church closer to Constantinople than to Moscow. Moscow Patriarch Alexei II has also been present at the anniversary celebrations, but Interfax complains that

Large posters showing Patriarch Bartholomew – alone or with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko – can be seen everywhere in Kiev. Pictures of the Russian Patriarch are a much rarer occurrence.

I blogged some of the long-standing tensions here.