Recently, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanych) of the Russian Orthodox Church’s branch in Ukraine, speaking at the Church and Society TV show, said the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine was “against the Ukraine visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.” Anthony says the arrival of His Holiness “will not serve peace in Ukraine, but rather become another impetus to confrontation at a more global scale.” Also, the metropolitan poured criticism on the Ukrainian president for inviting the top clerical figure, suggesting that “before inviting Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine, he [Volodymyr Zelensky] should have considered how the public would treat the move.”
It must be noted, however, that the general public in Ukraine has always welcomed Bartholomew’s visits. When the Patriarch arrived in Kyiv in 2008 to celebrate the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, thousands of believers from all over Ukraine gathered at Kyiv’s Sofia Square to greet the leader of Mother Church. It’s worth mentioning a peculiar fact that testifies to God’s blessing that came upon the site Bartholomew delivered a service in St. Sophia. Everyone watching the prayer directly or on television observed a unique rainbow in the sky above the St. Sophia Cathedral’s dome. For many, this miracle was a sign and grace of God, accompanying the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Nothing of this kind could be noted about the visits of the Russian Patriarch. The chief of the Moscow Patriarchate visited Ukraine more often than the Ecumenical Patriarch. However, such visits would always face large-scale rallies where protesters would chant “Away from the Moscow priest.”
Back in 1991, when Russia’s Patriarch Alexy first visited Ukraine, a huge crowd came to the square in front of St. Sophia Cathedral, where the cleric was heading to worship and hand over a certificate of independence, to protest his arrival. The rally was so massive that the patriarch was forced to use a side entrance to get to the Cathedral, which delivered a heavy blow to the Russian patriarch’s authority. After all, as per the “Russian version of history”, Moscow patriarchs consider themselves heirs of Kyiv metropolitans and therefore see St. Sophia as their main cathedral.
Since then, visits by the Moscow Patriarch have become very rare, as it was impossible to ensure proper security measures. Patriarch Alexy II, throughout his cadence that lasted for almost 20 years, came to Ukraine just a few times. He last visited Ukraine in July 2008 – exactly when the Ecumenical Patriarch was also in Kyiv. Alexy was actually not supposed to travel anywhere at the time, according to a medical advice. However, fearing the emergence of a Unified Local Church in Ukraine, Alexy did come to Kyiv to hinder the setup of such Unified Church.
Due to various circumstances, Ukraine didn’t succeed back then in creating such a unified church, which undoubtedly frustrated believers across the country. Patriarch Alexy, in turn, saw this as own success, of which he later boasted in multiple interviews.
After Alexy’s passing in December 2008, ROC talking heads claimed the patriarch died including as a result of his summer trip to Ukraine, which doctors had tried to talk him out of. In this way, Russian propaganda tried to mold for Alexy the image of a “fighter for the purity of Orthodoxy” and the unity of the ROC, who sacrificed his life for this sake. However, due to the policy of his successor, Moscow Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev), this made-up “feat” was soon forgotten altogether.
Unlike his predecessor, Kirill visited Ukraine much more often. He first came as Patriarch in July 2009, almost six months into taking helm. And just as in the case of his predecessor, he was confronted by massive crowds of protesters. As Kirill was delivering a service in Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a crowd rallied outside in defiance of the Russian top cleric’s visit, chanting the same slogans as before: “Down with the Moscow priest.” The crowd was so loud that the chants even overpowered the church choir, and thus even made to a TV report covering the event.
After the service in the monastery, Kirill took off for the city of Rivne, where he visited the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, which the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine still shares with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In Rivne, Kirill met with even greater opposition on the part of Ukrainians. People could see and hear from a video report covering that trip how the crowd rallied against Gundyaev, chanting “Shame!” and, again, “Down with the Moscow priest.” Protesters never ceased their chanting as Kirill was delivering his address. Kirill was even forced to speak up a notch to make himself heard over the street noise. It is also worth noting that there were much fewer supporters of Kirill’s visit than those who protested it.
Kirill was confronted with pretty much the same kind of opposition wherever he traveled across Ukraine. That’s including in the Pochayiv Lavra, where the same “Down with the Moscow priest” slogans were heard, which since the first visit of Patriarch Alexy in 1991 has become an integral part of Moscow patriarchs’ visits.
Such protests slightly subsided only during the rule of now-fugitive and disgraced ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, who openly identified as part of the ROC in Ukraine and supporter of Kirill (Gundyaev). After Yanuovych fled, Kirill’s visits also became a thing of the past. Given the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, it may well be that Kirill may never again visit Ukraine in his lifetime.
Anthony (Pakanych’s) words about the Ukrainian public allegedly rejecting the upcoming visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew are thus an outright lie and manipulation. It is likely that the ROC in Ukraine will resort to provocation efforts and staged rallies against the visit, as they did recently just outside St. Sophia. Such rallies, however, will once again be paid acts, while their immediate participants generally have nothing to do with the Church.
Such an irking reaction to Bartholomew’s visit on the part of Anthony and his team is naturally quite expected. The visit is yet another painful blow to the Moscow Patriarchate’s reputation and influence in Ukraine. It will forever bury the ROCU’s chances to achieve any kind of revanche in Ukraine. Besides, it could spark a new wave of parishes and believers converting toward the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. After all, now many will see how OCU hierarchs do joint services with the representatives of other Local Churches, while ROCU clerics stand aside.
Moreover, the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be timed with the anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. It is likely that the leader of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will take part in festivities and official events alongside government leaders and OCU representatives. In this light, it’s quite natural that no ROCU clerics will attend these events, while ignoring the anniversary of independence would constitute a political suicide.
This will show exactly which Church represents the Ukrainian people. It will show, which church is truly Ukrainian – not only by name, but also by Spirit. Therefore, it’s logical now that the ROCU is making such statements and staging paid rallies to disrupt Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit. However, the ROCU is unlikely to succeed in their petty endeavor.