It was a very joyful and spiritual time in Kiev in 988 when Prince Vladimir -- later to become St. Vladimir -- embraced Byzantine Orthodoxy and ordered the baptism of his population. By the 14th century, the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia was residing in Moscow.
Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church was stripped of its legal rights and practically suppressed between 1917 and 1991 when communism prevailed in Soviet Russia. However, a great resurgence of the Orthodox Church occurred in Russia -- and in much of Eastern Europe -- in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After receiving their political independence from Russia in 1991, many Ukrainians decided they also wanted their religious independence from Russia. Consequently, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church became divided in 1992 with a Kiev Patriarchate as well as a Moscow Patriarchate.
On his visit to Ukraine this week, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All of Russia called on the Kiev Patriarchate to repent and return to the Moscow Patriarchate.
On the other hand, the Kiev Patriarchate Synod met this week -- after Patriarch Kirill's expressed desire -- and said that the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate are trying to destroy the Kiev Patriarchate. They also made it perfectly clear that they have no intention of returning to the Moscow Patriarchate, and that the only way to overcome church division in Ukraine is by recognizing the autocephaly (independence) of the Kiev Patriarchate.
This bickering between the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates must stop immediately. It is un-Christian -- especially for Christian leaders -- to resort to such fighting over autonomy. If some Ukrainians want to have their own autonomous church, so be it. Actually, Patriarch Kirill should be pleased that an estimated 42 percent of Orthodox Ukrainians are under the Moscow Patriarchate, while only 27 percent are under the Kiev Patriarchate.
Indeed, Patriarch Kirill has spent enough of his valuable time on this endeavor. The fact is that Ukrainians who are independent of the Moscow Patriarchate are adamant about remaining independent -- even to the extent of ignoring Patriarch Kirill's pleas.
Patriarch Kirill has accomplished an incredible number of achievements that have enhanced the Orthodox Church during his brief tenure as Moscow Patriarch. For example, he has been responsible for the construction of many Orthodox Churches in foreign countries, as well as in Russia. He has also established new Orthodox Seminaries in foreign countries, including predominantly-Catholic France. His friendly communication with Pope Benedict XVI has resulted in a heretofore unseen Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox rapprochement, which may well serve as the harbinger of Christian unity.
In the final analysis, it would behoove Patriarch Kirill to focus even more on this kind of Christian love, spirituality, and unity, and to forget about trying to persuade all Ukrainian Orthodox Christians to come under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.