“Stresses on the Procession”: great results of the celebration of the 1033th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus

On July 27-28, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church celebrated the 1033rd anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. This year, the celebrations caused a special resonance, both inside Ukraine and abroad. The highlight of the holiday was the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession, organized by the canonical Church, which looked especially impressive against the background of last year’s “covid” restrictions.

Without exaggeration, it was the All-Ukrainian Religious Procession of 2021 that became the central event of the church and secular media, both domestic and foreign. Moreover, representatives of secular and religious organizations drew attention to the celebration of the Baptism of Rus by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, expressing their opinions on this matter. The positions, naturally, differ depending on the attitude of the speakers to the Church in general and to the UOC in particular. We tried to bring together all the most important, summing up the results of the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession in 2021.

The total picture: organization, process and outcome

Despite individual statements, which we will definitely mention later, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church approached the organization of the procession with all seriousness. At the same time, many factors were taken into account, the most important of which are logistics, supply of pilgrims along the entire route and the organization of an overnight stay for those wishing to continue on the second day of the celebration.

Despite the limited area for parking near the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the transport with people arriving from the regions of Ukraine was placed as compactly as possible within the radius of the monastery. It was necessary to take into account the fact that Kyiv (excluding the route of the Cross Procession) cannot stay blocked for a long time. Therefore, even before the arrival of the transport, the organizing committee warned those responsible for the regions about the places where bus parking is recommended. Thus, the capital was practically not limited by the ongoing event, with the exception of one street along which the procession was moving. And then, it was finally blocked for transport only for 2-3 hours before the start of the procession.

As for the supply issues, everything was prepared as well as possible. It is worth noting that the participants in the procession were warned in advance about the need to have drinking water with them. However, even if someone did not stock up on drink, there was plenty of water along the route. Bottles were handed out for free both in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and on the Vladimir Hill. As for the drinking water provided to the pilgrims by law enforcement officers (as reported in the media), there really was such a point along the route of the procession.

In general, it is worth mentioning separately the provision of the event by law enforcement agencies, because this time everything happened as according to the instructions. In each of the buses traveling to Kyiv from the regions, there was a policeman who accompanied the pilgrims from point “A” to point “B” and back. In the capital, the entire route of the Cross Procession was also controlled by law enforcement officers. To their credit, for the entire time of the event, not a single case of provocation by right-wing radicals and other destructive forces was recorded, as it happened before. Doctors and the Ministry of Emergency Situations did the same.

As for food, in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a minimum dry ration was handed out to everyone. That is, those who felt hungry could deal with it calmly and free of charge, although the regional organizers were warned about this in advance. By the way, for those wishing to stay on the second day of the celebrations, a dinner and a full overnight stay were organized. People were both in the Lavra and in the capital’s parishes.

Considering the very well-thought-out organization and logistics, we can say that these factors definitely influenced the success that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was able to achieve this year, because the number of pilgrims who came to Kyiv on July 27-28 amounted to more than 350 thousand people. This number is equal to the population of one of the regional centers of Ukraine, and the result itself exceeded the indicators of the previous Cross Procession, which took place in 2019. Continuing the analogy, we can say that this time an average regional center with a population of 50 thousand was added to the event.

Separately, it should be noted that the official delegations of the Antioch, Czech lands and Slovakia and the Serbian Churches took part in the celebrations timed to coincide with the 1033th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. Believers from the Georgian Church attended separately. In addition, the Primate of the UOC received many congratulatory letters from the heads of the Local Churches. This fact indicates that the attempt to isolate the UOC in world Orthodoxy, which the Patriarchate of Constantinople inspired through the OCU and its influence on other Churches, has completely failed.

The reaction of the authorities and politicians

The first thing worth paying attention to is the reaction of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of the head of state was similar to the one we heard from him after the Prayer Stand under the Verkhovna Rada and the President’s Office on June 15. Then, we know, more than 20 thousand believers of the UOC gathered to defend the legal rights of their Church, the most important of which is to be called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Zelensky disparagingly called this action in support of the canonical Church “grandmothers in caps,” absolutely groundlessly linking her with an opposition political party.

This time, the President of Ukraine criticized the organizers of the Cross Procession for the fact that the pilgrims were allegedly deprived of even water, and quarantine measures were not observed at all. Also, Volodymyr Zelensky repeated the official police statistics on the number of participants in the event, calling the figure 55 thousand, although there were obviously much more people. As for drinking water, this presidential stuffing was immediately refuted by the organizing committee of the Procession. But “quarantine measures” require a separate analysis.

Zelensky’s problem is that, firstly, at the beginning of the summer, all of Ukraine was transferred to the so-called green zone, which suggests the possibility of holding mass events with the weakening of quarantine measures. Secondly, the summer of 2021 in Ukraine is accompanied by an unprecedented surge of various concerts and social events, in which a huge number of people take part, of course – without masks.

A vivid example is the concert of one of the popular music performers (Max Korzh), which took place in Odessa on July 24. According to the organizers, about 45 thousand people came to listen to the singer. Of course, the guests of the concert did not observe the mask mode, and it would be simply impossible to keep the distance in such conditions. However, a lot of eloquent videos on this topic are circulating on the net.

Thus, it is not the first time that the president of Ukraine has observed a selective approach towards the UOC. As one political observer correctly noted, if it were not a religious procession, but a torchlight procession in honor of Stepan Bandera’s birthday, Zelensky’s reaction would be completely different. The president’s superficial reaction to questions of state-church relations could be assessed positively if it were equidistant. But, alas, we cannot boast that the head of state reacted to the events of the UOC in the same way as, for example, to mass meetings in the OCU or the UGCC, which took place ten days earlier in Manyava and Zarvanytsya. A clear impression is created that Zelensky tolerates the canonical Church, reluctantly reckons with It, and from time to time makes caustic comments to Her address, so that, as it seems to him, he does not cease to like a certain group of the population, which he relies on in his political activities.

Representatives of the party of ex-President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko did not hide their attitude to what was happening. Former adviser to the ex-president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and one of his close associates Yuri Biryukov called the procession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in honor of the Day of the Baptism of Rus “a Sabbath with bells” and spoke about his desire to arrange a “chainsaw massacre”. Biryukov wrote about this on his Facebook page. Another – Boris Kushniruk, who is a frequent guest on the channel of ex-President Petro Poroshenko “Pryamyi” and even participated in its primaries in 2019, offered to distribute polonium and “Novichok” to the participants of the procession in Kyiv.

Political experts turned out to be more restrained while commenting this Procession. Many of them agreed that the event itself had an impressive scale, while some of them generally began to declare seditious things, as for that environment. For example, Oleksiy Garan, a professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, expressed the opinion that in 2.5 years since the receipt of the Tomos in 2019, discord in Orthodoxy has not disappeared anywhere. Moreover, not hiding his negative attitude towards the UOC, the political scientist came to the conclusion that “some of the believers will still relate to the Moscow Patriarchate. We must take it calmly and maintain a normal dialogue and normal communication with them.

Reaction of the OCU and satellites in the Orthodox world

The OCU chose not to react at all to the procession of the UOC. Realizing that they had nothing to oppose to the event organized by the canonical Church, the schismatics referred to a pandemic. In fact, the situation very clearly demonstrated the entire inconsistency of the fake sociology with which the media were overwhelmed a few weeks earlier. Contract sociological services frantically tried to prove that the OCU and Dumenko are supported by almost half of the population of Ukraine. In their research, they have already reached the point that half of the UOC believers are looking forward to the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine. And now the procession takes place, which in one day sweeps away all the information stuffing, showing which particular confession the Ukrainian people consider themselves to be the most.

In fact, all attempts by the OCU to appear larger and more powerful were cancelled out in one day. Interestingly, on July 28, the OCU had the opportunity to show the real number of its supporters during their rally on Volodymyr Hill. However, the schismatics managed to bring only about 8 thousand people to the streets. By the way, they shot themselves in the leg, because, since they had already referred to the pandemic, they had to adhere to such a convenient version until the very end. And it turned out that their event on Volodymyr Hill was also numerous in its own way. After all, 8 thousand people gathered in one place is a potentially dangerous group from the point of view of the spread of infections. Moreover, as you can see from the photo on the OCU website, most of the participants in their action were also without masks, but this time President Zelensky did not react.

The reaction to the procession of the UOC by the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople became much more interesting. At the Phanar, it was as if something had broken through, and insults and threats rained down from the Greeks. So, for example, the Metropolitan Apostolos of Derkoi (Daniilidis), in response to the appeal of the monastics of the UOC, rudely advised the canonical Church in Ukraine to “shut your mouth” and “put your hands down” from Patriarch Bartholomew – “the successor of those who gave… grace to you,” and also “brought culture”. In addition, one of the close to the Phanar pages reported that, allegedly, Patriarch Elijah, despite receiving an invitation on behalf of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, refused to send a representative of the Georgian Church to celebrate the Day of the Baptism of Rus in Kyiv.

It seems that the Greeks will not calm down for another week or two. Nevertheless, such a reaction of the phanariots is very indicative and shows that the Procession of the UOC very painfully hits their attempts to prove to other Local Churches that the OCU has taken place as an equal unit with the latter. Naturally, it will be very difficult to convince the representatives of the Local Churches that the Greeks do not get one defeat after another in the Ukrainian direction. You could talk as much as you like about the fact that they healed the split in Ukraine, but you can’t fool the eyes, and everyone who has them was able to make sure that the information of the Phanar is far from the truth.

Reaction of the Local Orthodox Churches

As we wrote above, the Greeks failed to implement the plan to isolate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the world. The sane representatives of the Local Churches appreciated the celebrations in Kyiv at their true worth.

Moreover, the participation in the events of three official delegations from the Antioch, the Czech lands and Slovakia and the Serbian Churches indicates that the priorities are set precisely in favor of the UOC. And even the presence of high-ranking representatives of the Phanar and the delegations of the Cypriot and Alexandrian Churches at the celebrations of the OCU did not bother them. Interestingly, while the Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus Chrysostomos sent congratulations to the head of the OCU, the representative of the same Church, Metropolitan Athanasius of Limassol, spoke rather flatteringly about the UOC, mercilessly criticizing the Tomos and other adventures of the Phanar.

In general, there is a strong impression that the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession, organized by the UOC, will inspire many in the Orthodox world. This is especially true of those Churches whose heads have severely limited the rights of their believers, motivating this with a pandemic. Moreover, if we hypothetically assume that “Amman-2” will take place in the near future, then the participants in the meeting would have been much bolder in their statements and assessments, especially about Constantinople. It would be nice to take advantage of this moment, while the memories of the Kyiv celebrations are still fresh in my memory.

Serhiy Nazarchuk

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