Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Magnum Baptismi Donum

by Pope Saint John Paul II


This is the message of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, Magnum Baptismi Donum, given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 14 February, the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, in the year 1988 to the Ukrainian Catholics on the occasion of the Millennium of the Baptism of Kievan Rus'.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano


6 - 7

Publisher & Date

Vatican, 25 April 1988

To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky Major Archbishop of Lvov of the Ukrainians, my Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, and all the Ukrainian Catholic Priests, Religious and Faithful

1. The great gift of Baptism received in Kiev one thousand years ago was the beginning of faith and Christian life among the peoples of Rus'. With good reason, therefore, on this historic anniversary the Church of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and the whole Catholic Church sing a hymn of gratitude and glory to the Most Holy Trinity for this inestimable gift; and they express their great joy that the Baptism received at that time began the evangelization of the peoples of the eastern part of the European Continent and even beyond the Urals. The Ukrainian, Russian and Byelorussian peoples find in that event not only their Christian identity, but also their cultural identity and, in consequence, their history. The Successor of Peter shares the happiness of this Millennium, and, just as he sent an Apostolic Letter to all the Catholic faithful in order to ensure an adequate spiritual preparation for the occasion, so he also desires, through this present Message, to address in particular the Ukrainian Catholic faithful, in order to celebrate with them the marvellous works wrought by God during this long period of time.

One thousand years ago, Almighty God, the Ruler of the Universe and Lord of the history of all peoples, embraced with his infinite love the people of Kievan Rus', and led them to the light of the Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. After almost ten centuries, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the work of salvation reached from the banks of the River Jordan to the region watered by the River Dnieper, where the Lord chose as his servants Olga and Vladimir, in order to give to their people the grace of holy Baptism. From that time, down the centuries, the Churches, which arose from that, Baptism in Kiev, have sung a hymn of gratitude in honour of the Most Holy Trinity. Today, with the same gratitude the Ukrainian Catholic community, which has sprung from the thousand-year old inheritance of Saint Vladimir, gives thanks for that gift.

2. This feeling of emotion is deeply rooted in the mystery of holy Baptism through which man, "immersed" in the redemptive death of the Saviour of the world, is at the same time brought into the "new life" which was fully revealed in Christ's Resurrection. Through Baptism man becomes a "new creature and a child of God", and is made part of Christ's Paschal Mystery: " If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17). On the banks of the Dnieper, the Father began the work, which the Son fulfilled and the Holy Spirit crowned. In that one place there came to pass the regeneration, "by water and the Spirit" (Jn 3:5), of an entire people. The Holy Spirit conferred supernatural power on baptismal water, making it into a bearer of grace. So we may say of the Dnieper what Saint Cyril of Jerusalem said of the Jordan: "The Spirit of God hovered over the waters. At the beginning of the world there is water; at the beginning of the Gospels, the Jordan". 1

For the peoples of Rus', the Baptism in 988 was the historical event which incorporated them into the crucified and glorified Christ, bringing them rebirth to the very life of God: "You were buried with him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col 2:12; cf. Rom 6:4). Baptism "constitutes a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it". It "is oriented towards a complete profession of faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation, such as Christ himself willed it to be, and finally, towards a complete participation in Eucharistic communion". 2

3. Among those called to share in this new life in union with the crucified and risen Christ were your ancestors in Kievan Rus'. With them the sacred fire of the Gospel was kindled in this region, and there began to be proclaimed among them "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11). The Ukrainian people are geographically and historically linked to the city of Kiev, and thus they have special reason to rejoice at the thousandth anniversary. At the same time, they have the joy of belonging to the great family of the Christian peoples of Europe and of all the world.

The entry of Kievan Rus' into the ranks of the Christian peoples was preceded by the entry of other Slav peoples. One thinks of the Christianization of the Southern Slavs, among whom missionaries were already at work towards the year 650. In this regard I recall that occasion in Saint Peter's Basilica when I thanked the Croatian people for the thirteen hundred years of their fidelity to the Apostolic See. 3

Subsequently, as I emphasized in my Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli, other Slav peoples entered the Christian family of Europe thanks to the missionary activity and ecumenical vocation of the holy Brothers from Thessalonica, Cyril and Methodius, who were rightly proclaimed, together with Saint Benedict, Patrons of Europe. On the ground, which they prepared "did Christianity definitively enter the history of the Slavs during the following century". 4

A result of this divinely inspired work was the fact that for Vladimir and the inhabitants of Kievan Rus', to whom the Gospel was proclaimed mainly by missionaries from Constantinople, the Byzantine heritage was immediately accessible and could be assimilated more easily. Its transmission was aided from the very beginning by the existence of Sacred Scripture and of liturgical books in Old Slavonic, since the holy Brothers and their disciples "were. . . not afraid to use the Slavonic language in the liturgy and to make it into an effective instrument for bringing the divine truths to those who spoke it". 5

Thus, at the time when there was still full communion between the Church of Rome and that of Constantinople, the Church of Kiev sprang up in a context of spiritual communion with those Churches and with the neighbouring Churches of Europe, forming with them the one Church of Christ. Vladimir made Kiev part of the rich architecture of the Universal Church, preserving the tradition of the East and his own people's sense of identity.

With the evangelization of Rus' there developed in those lands a process of "inculturation" of the faith, which was to mark their history profoundly. As I have said, "all cultures of the Slav nations owe their 'beginning' or development to the work of the Brothers from Thessalonica". 6 Indeed, their courageous work, and that of their disciples, "conferred a capacity and cultural dignity upon the Old Slavonic liturgical language, which became for many hundreds of years not only the ecclesiastical but also the official and literary language, and even the common language of the more educated classes of the greater part of the Slav nations, and in particular of all the Slavs of the Eastern Rite". 7

This language, used right up to the present time in the liturgy of different peoples, also had a fundamental influence upon the literary language of your Ukrainian people, upon the development of their rich culture and upon the formation of their identity.;

4. The formation of the new Church in Kiev took place, as has been said, at the time when Christendom was not yet torn by the painful division. Only later did the sad disagreements and the deepening of the differences between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople also lead the Church in Kiev towards separation from ecclesial communion with the See of Peter.

For a long time, however, the Church in Kiev remained in contact with the neighbouring Catholic brethren and with the Apostolic See, and even when a situation of practical separation was established, there were not lacking, on both sides, sincere attempts to restore full communion.

Your Church grew, in her Oriental character, upon the heritage of the Baptism of Saint Vladimir. Down the centuries she developed her own character, enriching herself with a culture of her own, with places of worship, and with multitudes of faithful who, together with their pastors, were sensitive to the need both for internal unity and for communion with the other Churches, and in particular with Rome.

All this found full expression in the act of the Union of Brest (1596), when some of the bishops of the Metropolitan See of Kiev renewed the bonds of communion with the Apostolic See. In this attempt to revive full communio between East and West by visibly reconstituting it, we may discern the fundamental motivation for the Union of Brest, as it was expressed in the ecclesial awareness of the time. This Union, as has been noted, was preceded by other attempts, promoted by men animated by a profound sense of the Church. Among these I am pleased to recall here in particular the Metropolitan of Kiev Isidore, who took part in the Council of Florence (1439). He was an outstanding theologian and a convinced advocate of dialogue with the Church of Rome, which, for her part, honoured him by elevating him to the dignity of cardinal and afterwards received his remains in the ancient Basilica of Saint Peter. 8

The Union of Brest, as it was conceived by those who worked for it in the face of misunderstandings and opposition of every kind, was not directed against anyone. Its supporters sometimes bore witness to their deep and unshakeable conviction to the point of shedding their blood, as Saint Josephat did. The Union was meant to build up a Church, which in both the East and West would enjoy that full and visible unity which has its root in one faith and one baptism.

5. It is in this spirit that we ought to judge the other attempts that were made through the centuries, in different historical situations, to re-establish full communion. These attempts were not always properly understood and approved; at times they had the unforeseen and undesired result of inflicting fresh wounds within the Christian community. Today, on the basis of a renewed and more profound theological reflection, and on the basis of a resumption of the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, we are seeking new paths leading to the desired goal. Nevertheless, the communities of faithful born of these attempts, who for centuries have maintained their communion, with the See of Rome, in obedience to an impulse from the depth of their consciences, clearly have a right to the solidarity of the Catholic community and especially of the Bishop of Rome.

6. In our own century, the Church and all of Christendom feel in a new way, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the ardent desire for this unity which Christ prayed for on the eve of his Passion and sacrifice on the Cross. This ecumenical prospect was expressed by the Second Vatican Council, which had been convoked by Pope John XXIII and brought to completion by Pope Paul VI, and in which many delegates took part as observers, representing our other Christian brethren.

The Decrees which the Council promulgated "on the Eastern Catholic Churches" (Orientalium Ecclesiarum) and "on Ecumenism" (Unitatis Redintegratio) are recognized as a true gift of divine grace to our times — times which though marked by divisions are also characterized by the ever more eager desire for the unity of all Christians. Every division between Christians in fact "openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the Good News to every creature". 9

The Second Vatican Council exhorts all those "who plan to devote themselves to the work of restoring the full communion that is desired between the Eastern Churches and the Catholic Church, to give due consideration to these special aspects of the origin and growth of the Churches of the East, and to the character of the relations which obtained between them and the Roman See before the separation, and to form for themselves a correct evaluation of these facts". 10 The same Council emphasized the great values of the liturgical, spiritual, disciplinary and theological traditions found in these Churches, as well as their right and duty to live these traditions, which pertain to the full catholicity and apostolicity of the Church. In addition, the Council Fathers give thanks to God because the Oriental Catholic Churches "are preserving this heritage and wish to express it more faithfully and completely in their lives". 11 Consequently, they do not see in these Churches an obstacle to full communion with our Orthodox brethren; on the contrary, to the extent to which there shines forth in them in all its profundity the original intuition which begot them, these Churches can understand with particular clarity the new ecumenical perspective suggested at the Council by the Holy Spirit for the whole Church. These Churches are therefore called upon, more than ever before, to exercise in this spirit their role for the building up of the visible unity of the Church, for there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4:5).

7. It is at this moment in the history of salvation, a moment so rich in hopes, that it is granted to us to celebrate the Millennium with the Ukrainian Catholic community, which has taken the place assigned to it by Providence in the universal Church side by side with so many particular Churches of both East and West.

I greet the whole Ukrainian Catholic community, which sees the roots of its own existence in the baptism of the people of Kiev, and which today lives in full communion of faith and of sacramental life with the Bishop of Rome.

I greet you, brothers in the episcopate, under the leadership of Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, Major Archbishop of Lvov of the Ukrainians; I greet you, the priests, religious and faithful who are celebrating the thousandth anniversary of the birth of your people to the life of grace in the Baptism of Kievan Rus'. I greet you all with the fraternal kiss of peace, as your Brother and as the first Pope of Slav origin in the history of the Church.

In the hour of your great Jubilee I feel spiritually united with you, and from the heart of the Church I wish to hold you in a fraternal embrace in the sight of all believers in Christ. In the name of the Most Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — the Church of Rome bows with singular understanding and love before all the spiritual sons and daughters of Saint Vladimir, especially those who pray and suffer for unity with the universal Church.

At this extraordinary moment in history for your Church, which has been tried by such great adversity in recent decades, I wish to confirm once again that her Catholic dimension, as well as her particular features, merit every respect. This is demanded by fraternal love; it is demanded by the ecumenical vocation of the holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius who, by their example, remind us of the right of every member of the faithful to be respected in his or her tradition and rite and in the identity of the people to which he or she belongs.

With all our heart, we express the hope that in the future you will be granted the joy of seeing misunderstandings and mutual distrust overcome, and that recognition will be given to the full right of every person to his or her own identity and profession of faith. No one ought to consider membership in the Catholic Church as incompatible with the good of the homeland and with the heritage of Saint Vladimir. May your great numbers of faithful enjoy true freedom of conscience and respect for their religious right to give public worship to God according to many different traditions, in their own rite and with their own pastors.

8. The Apostolic See feels a singular affection for your Church, for throughout history she has given so many proofs of her attachment to Rome, not excluding the supreme test of martyrdom. For this reason the principal celebration of the Millennium of your Church in the diaspora will take place in Rome. Gathered at the tomb of Saint Peter, near which there rest the remains of your own dear Saint Josaphat, we shall give thanks together for all the fruits that come from participation in the divine mysteries in the communion of the same faith and in the bond of the same love.

Your Church cannot fail to be present, in the concert of the entire Catholic Church, at the celebration of this special anniversary; nor, at the solemn celebration of the Millennium, can the Bishop of Rome be, absent, he who so ardently desires to sing in your language, in the Basilica of Saint Peter, together with all the bishops and faithful, the Te Deum of thanksgiving.

I entrust to the One and Triune God the thousandth anniversary event that belongs to your Church and to your people. With confidence I place in the hands of the Lord of history the celebration of the Millennium. I desire to begin it together with all the Ukrainian Catholic bishops, priests, religious and faithful throughout the world, and then to continue it together with them under the watchful eyes of holy Mary, whose presence pervades the whole history of your Church.

To Mary we owe the birth of Christ. She was present also at the birth of the Church of Kievan Rus'. Therefore I go in spiritual pilgrimage to the feet of Our Lady of Vladimir, who "continually accompanied the pilgrimage of faith of the peoples of ancient Rus'". 12 I go to the Cathedral of Saint Sophia, to the feet of the Praying Virgin, of the "Indestructible Wall", to whom 950 years ago Prince Yaroslav the Wise entrusted the city of Kiev and the whole of Rus'.

9. I prostrate myself before you, O dearest Mother, and to you I entrust the whole history of the Ukrainian Catholic community.

O Mother of Christian unity, show us the sure paths towards that goal. Grant that on the way of this great work we may ever more frequently meet our brothers and sisters in the faith and rediscover together the divine features of that unity for which Christ himself prayed.

O Mother of Consolation, I place in your hands all the centuries of pain and suffering, the prayers and living witness of so many of your children; to you I entrust the hopes and expectations of the heirs of the Baptism of Rus', who through your intercession hope that the ancient Christian stock will know the splendour of a new flowering.

Draw to your breast, O Mother, the people who suffer at the memory of what they have lost, but who do not cease to hope for the coming of better times. Help these faithful followers of yours so that, together with their pastors and in spiritual communion with the Successor of Peter, they may celebrate with joy the Millennium and sing with fervent soul the hymn of thanksgiving to God and to you, the Most Holy Mother of the Redeemer, to you, Theotokos!

10. Invoking the intercession of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, of the Apostles of the Slavs Saints Cyril and Methodius, of Saint Olga and Saint Vladimir, Saint Josaphat and all the saints, I entrust you to the protection of the Most Holy Trinity: brothers in the episcopate with your head the Major Archbishop of Lvov of the Ukrainians, as well as the priests, religious and faithful, and I cordially impart to each and every one my Apostolic Blessing in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 14 February, the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, in the year 1988, the tenth of my Pontificate.


1 Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis III, De baptismo. 5: PG 33, 434 A.

2 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 22.

3 Discourse of 30 April 1979: Insegnamenti, I, 1 (1979), pp. 1024-1027.

4 Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli, 25: AAS 77 (1985), p. 806.

5 Ibid. 12: AAS 77 (1985), p. 793.

6 Ibid., 21: AAS 77 (1985), p. 803.

7 Ibid., 21: AAS 77 (1985), p. 803.

8 Cf. T. Alpharani, De Basilicae Vaticanae antiquissima et nova structura, ed. M. Cerrati, Roma 1914, pp. 71 and 189.

9 Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 1.

10 Ibid., 14.

11 Ibid., 17; cf. Nos. 14-16.

12 Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Mater, 33: AAS 79 (1987), p. 405.

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