Church Leader Urges Kiev, Moscow To Avoid Conflict

CHERSONESE, Ukraine -- The Russian Orthodox patriarch yesterday urged Russia and Ukraine to avoid any kind of military conflict, as he held an open air mass on the latest stage of a trip that has angered Ukrainian nationalists.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (L), conducts a religious service at the site of the Byzantine city of Chersonese, near the port of Sevastopol at the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine, Sunday, Aug 2, 2009.

Patriarch Kirill made the comments in the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea, home to a majority of Orthodox Russian-speakers and also the Russian Black Sea fleet.

He lamented that the fact there were now two fleets in Crimea - from the Russian and Ukrainian navies - rather one single force was due “to tragic events about which we all know.”

“My impassioned prayer today is that never should brothers look at each other through the crosshairs, that never should the hand of one brother rise up against another,” he said after holding the mass in the port of Sevastopol.

“Nothing divides brothers like the spilling of blood,” he added, the Interfax news agency reported.

Thousands had earlier attended an open-air mass led by Kirill, who also described as “devilish” attempts to unify peoples by the making-up of false enemies.

Crimea was originally taken over by Russia in the 18th century and then formally handed over to Soviet Ukraine in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

At that time internal Soviet borders hardly mattered but now many Crimeans yearn for a union with Russia and a key part of the Russian navy is in a foreign country.

Kirill’s visit has been hugely sensitive since Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians are split between parishes loyal to his Moscow Patriarchate and an autonomous Ukrainian church that broke off from Moscow in the 1990s.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has voiced support for having an single independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and clashed publicly with Kirill on the issue.

The visit has been marked by protests from religious nationalists telling the patriarch to go home and calling for a unified Ukrainian church. After Sevastopol, Kirill had been scheduled to visit Rivne in Ukraine’s nationalist and anti-Russian west, but the trip was canceled at the request of Yushchenko’s office, the chief diplomat of the Russian church said.

The presidency “informed us that we had to change itinerary for security reasons,” the chief diplomat, Illarion, was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have steadily deteriorated under the pro-Western Yushchenko, who wants his country to join the European Union and Nato much to Moscow’s irritation.

Source: Gulf Times