CWN - The heads of the nine of the world’s 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches are traveling to Kiev, Ukraine’s largest city, to commemorate the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus’, the medieval Slavic state that helped give birth to modern Russia and Ukraine.
Interfax, a Russian news agency, reported that the other six Orthodox churches are sending official delegations as well.
“The past 1025 years have seen both glorious and tragic events,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church said in a message for the occasion. “Faith in Christ was inculcated in our forefathers and brought forth abundant fruit, yet it happened in the most difficult of circumstances. Many have tried to deflect the peoples of Rus away from Orthodoxy. This was the goal of those who wanted to enslave us, coming from the West and the East. This was the wish of those wanting to build the 'ideal' society without God, going against his eternal law.”
As the anniversary celebrations began, thousands of believers in Moscow queued up to venerate the Cross of St. Andrew, which is on exhibit at the city's Orthodox cathedral. The cross-- which had previously been venerated in St. Petersburg, and will later be shown in Kiev and Minsk-- is on loan from the Greek city of Patras, where the apostle St. Andrew was martyred.
“The hearts and souls of many of our compatriots have been sanctified by Christ’s truth,” the message continued. “It is our duty and spiritual imperative to preserve this truth and build our private and public lives upon its foundations.”
Blessed John Paul II referred to the baptism of Kievan Rus’ several times during his pontificate, perhaps at greatest length in a letter to Cardinal Joseph Slipyj. The baptism “took place when the Church in the West and the East was preserving its unity, although it drew abundantly from the two different traditions and belonged to two different human cultures: from this flowed the remarkable richness of the universal Church,” the Pontiff noted. “It was only in the eleventh century that the division came which brought great sorrow and anguish both to the Christians of that time and to the followers of Christ in the succeeding centuries even down to our own day.”