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You're reading: Volodymyr’s Baptism of Kyivan Rus: Ukraine’s European choice then and now

President Viktor Yanukovych will likely underscore Ukraine’s desire to integrate into modern-day Europe by highlighting that Volodymyr’s choice in the 10th century determined the European spiritual and civilizational orientation of the Ukrainian people. By joining the ranks of European Christian nations, Kyiv became the center of Christianity in the eastern lands; it produced a vibrant spiritual and material culture, including in the areas of architecture, iconography, music and song, literature, and education. Kyiv later spread the light of Christianity to all of the lands of Kyivan Rus, including present-day Russia and Belarus. Indeed, at the time of the Baptism of Kyiv, Moscow didn’t exist and wouldn’t become a settlement for another 150 years, when it adopted Christianity from the Metropolitan See of Kyiv, its Mother Church.  

Patriarch Kirill, on the other hand, will hail the 1025th celebration as a demonstration of the unity of the Moscow Patriarchate, of its success following the collapse of the USSR in holding its faithful together, especially in Ukraine. The present celebration is an attempt to cement the Moscow Patriarchate as the Mother Church of Ukraine and, through propagation of its recently-minted ideology of “Russkiy Mir,” (Russian World), to legitimize its claim over the historical lands of the ancient Rus empire – Ukraine, western Russia and Belarus – the jurisdiction it seized from the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1586, an annexation that has never been recognized by the latter. 

Russkiy Mir is more of a political than an ecclesiastical ideology: it emphasizes the leading role of the Moscow Patriarchate in the region, collective responsibility over individual human rights, the guiding role of political institutions loyal to Moscow, rejection of “Western” values, and is ripe with anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic rhetoric. In general, it represents a chauvinistic, xenophobic, intolerant, and anti-modern expression of Russian Orthodox messianic exceptionalism. 

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