Eastern Orthodox experts and Protestant neighbors explain the impact of Constantinople setting Kiev free from Moscow.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has been born again.
On January 6, it received the tomos of autocephaly—the documentation of its independence among Eastern church bodies—from one Orthodox heavyweight, the Patriarch of Constantinople, despite the vociferous opposition of another heavyweight, the Patriarch of Moscow.
To understand the significance of the biggest Christian schism since the Protestant Reformation, unfolding since last fall and formalized this weekend as Eastern churches celebrated Christmas Eve, a brief history is in order.
Founded in Kiev in 988 A.D., Vladimir the Great accepted Christianity on behalf of the Rus peoples, who would eventually constitute the nations of Russia, Belorussia, and Ukraine.
Tradition holds that the formerly pagan Vladimir wished to give a religion to his realm, and queried representatives of Judaism, Islam, and the different rites of Christianity.
Astounded by the majesty of the Byzantine mass, Vladimir chose Constantinople. In 1054, the Great Schism split Christianity—and the Rus remained in the Eastern Orthodox world.
Geopolitical winds shifted, however, and in 1686 the Patriarch of Constantinople—considered within Orthodox leadership to be the first among equals—placed the patriarchate of Kiev under the ascendant patriarchal church of Moscow.
In the modern era, geopolitical and religious winds continued to blow. In 1991, Ukraine became an independent nation. The following year, a breakaway bishop (or metropolitan, in Orthodox parlance) established an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church based again in Kiev, joining a smaller Orthodox schism from 1990 in staunch opposition to the canonical Moscow-affiliated church. Neither group was recognized by the patriarchs …