A religious schism dividing three Christian churches is the focus of a weekend of celebrations in Ukraine for the Orthodox movement. The leader of the world’s 200-million Orthodox believers, Bartholomew I, arrived in Kiev appealing for unity, after seeing divisions erupt between his church, the Russian Orthodox branch and a putative independent church in Ukraine.
Kiev believes its own branch of the Orthodox faith is vital for a Ukrainian national identity. The Russian patriarch, Alexei II, agreed to attend this weekend’s festivities only after winning guarantees that the Kiev-based church would stay away.
Ukrainian Bishop Yestratiy protested: “Ukraine has the right to its own church. But Moscow wants to deny this right in the same way that it opposes the very notion of Ukraine as an independent state.”
President Viktor Yushchenko is an ardent Orthodox believer, and sees an independent Ukrainian church as one of his life’s ambitions. This weekend’s celebrations mark the 1020th anniversary of the christianisation of the original Kiev Rus state, which predated today’s Russia and Ukraine.