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Kyiv Ceremonies Embrace Orthodox Christianity

The patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (left), and Aleksy II of Russia (right) in Kyiv on July 27

Top Orthodox leaders in Kyiv are marking 1,020 years of Orthodox Christianity, as some in Ukraine are calling for the creation of a church independent from Russia.

The patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Aleksy II of Russia participated on July 27 in a joint liturgy at Kyiv's monument to St. Vladimir.

Vladimir the Great, the leader of the Kievan Rus, in 988 chose to make Orthodox Christianity the religion of the land.

The July 27 celebrations came a day after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko asked the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to bless the creation of a Ukrainian Church independent of Russia.

An independent Orthodox Church was formed in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but it remains unrecognized by the worldwide Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church remains its sole representative.

Yushchenko told Bartholomew I in front of thousands of people outside the St. Sofia cathedral that he was "confident" that an "autonomous national Church" will see the light in Ukraine as a "historical truth."

The Ukrainian president has long called for a single, independent, and fully recognized Ukrainian Church as a key part of forming the country's national identity.

But Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world's 225 million Orthodox Christians, said the unity of the Church was more important than politics.

He said that working to "protect and restore the unity of our Church represents a duty that transcends any political or religious objective."

In comments on his arrival, Aleksy II, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, called on Russians and Ukrainians to "maintain unity among the brotherly Slavic peoples."

Russian clerics dismiss the independent Ukrainian church as "schismatic," and Russian authorities have accused Ukrainian leaders of interfering in Church affairs.

The Orthodox Church gives national churches vast autonomy and the patriarch of Constantinople has little beyond moral authority to impose solutions on them.

with agency reports