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Death of Orthodox leader could raise new questions about Russian influence in Ukraine

Catholic World News - July 07, 2014

Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church allied with the Moscow patriarchate, died on July 5 at the age of 78.

The death of Metropolitan Vladimir, who had been battling cancer, could create new uncertainty in the Ukrainian Orthodox community. The Orthodox group, the largest in Ukraine, he led had remained loyal to Moscow after another group, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church- Kiev patriarchate—had split with the Russian Orthodox leadership. However, Metropolitan Vladimir had distanced himself from the Moscow patriarchate’s strongly pro-Russian perspective on the recent political turmoil in Ukraine.

Tensions between Kiev and Moscow have prompted a Ukrainian government minister to announce that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow would not be welcome to visit Kiev, as he has done each year, for the feast of St. Vladimir. The Russian Orthodox Church announced that the Patriarch would not travel to Kiev for the funeral of Metropolitan Vladimir; Metropolitan Hilarion, the chief ecumenical spokesman for the Moscow patriarchate, will attend instead.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church represents a substantial proportion of the faithful claimed by the Moscow patriarchate, and the Moscow patriarchate traces its origins to the Baptism of the Rus’ in Kiev. So the continued loyalty of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church- Moscow patriarchate is of crucial importance to the Russian Orthodox.

Archbishop Svlatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church, expressed his “great sadness” upon learning of the death of Metropolitan Vladimir, describing him as “a man of deep prayer and true religious asceticism.” He said that the Orthodox prelate had “understood the importance and urgency of fraternal unity and seeking ways to the unity of churches of St. Vladimir’s baptism.”

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