|Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew greets Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia. The two hierarchs celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the hill of St. Vladimir of Kiev on July 27, 2008.
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew delivered the following sermon during the Divine Liturgy at the hill of St. Vladimir of Kiev, which commemorated the celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Kiev-Russia to the Orthodox Christian faith:
"Your Beatitudes, dear Brothers and Prelates of the local Holy Churches,
Your Excellency, the President of Ukraine,
Most Reverend Brothers,
Reverend Priests and Deacons,
Blessed sons and daughters of the Church,
Dear children of Ukraine!
"Archangelic trumpets sounded through heavens and by the prayers of St. Vladimir Equal-to-the-Apostles gathered in the shadow of his statue all of us, the reverend Prelates of the local Churches, the holy choir of Hierarchs, the representatives of the state, political, ecclesiastical and intellectual leadership of the God-protected Ukraine, the invited guests from every corner of the earth, the masses of pious Ukrainian faithful devoutly praying and us from Constantinople in order to celebrate together, in spirit and in truth, the one thousand twenty year anniversary since the baptism of a multitude of Kievites in 988.
"A thousand and twenty years ago Constantinople, the Queen City, sent Metropolitan Michael together with a solid number of Roman-that is, Byzantine-missionaries in order to guide this great people to Christ through the holy Baptism and the holy Catechism. After the baptism of the Grand Duke Vladimir in Cherson and his wedding with the Byzantine Princess Anna born-in-the-purple, the collective baptism of the truth-thirsting Ukrainian nation took place, guided by a miraculous omen, in the nearby river Potchayna. So did Potchayna become the new Jordan of the North, the flowing grace of regeneration! Today, this very same Constantinople sent here the Ecumenical Patriarch himself in order to offer dutifully, together with the rest of his venerable co-celebrants, a sacrifice of praise and a worship of gratitude to our Savior God, but also in order to bring in his own person to the children of the Church in Ukraine her love, her care, her maternal blessing and her wholehearted greetings. On behalf, then, of the venerable Mother of us all, namely the Most Holy Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, we greet each one of you, most dear Brethren and Children in Christ, addressing to you all the "Rejoice!" "Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 6:23).
|Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Alexy celebrate the Divine Liturgy with other heads of churches and hierarchy representing various Orthodox jurisdictions from around the world. (Photos by D. Panagos)
"Having gathered, then, by the grace of the Holy Spirit at this historic place we were able to unite our soul, heart and tongue to one common and fervent doxology of the most holy name of God for all the miraculous and salvific events that took place back then and to offer to Him, as it is our duty, the divine Eucharist. We confess the grace gratefully and we preach loudly the good work that the Lord has done for this great nation, emphasizing, together with Nestor of the venerable Kievite Lavra, who preserved for us the description of the collective baptism, that that holy day of the illumination of the Kievites "a great joy filled heavens and earth for such a multitude of souls were saved!" Glory be to God! Glory to the Father and to the Son and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages!
"That collective baptism of 988 was, my dear, the result of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's long effort to evangelize the Grand Duchy of Kiev. About a hundred and thirty years earlier (860), the Ecumenical Patriarch among the Saints Photius the Great assumed a similar initiative by catechizing and baptizing for the first time a good number of Kievan Rus' merchants at the suburb of St. Mamas in Constantinople. Later, he sent here a group of missionaries with a Bishop at its head who begun to catechesize and baptize. He wrote, indeed, that great Patriarch to the other Patriarchs of the East relating joyfully how "the zeal of faith has burnt them to such an extent that they received a Bishop and shepherd and they accepted Christian religion with great eagerness and care" (PG 102, 736-737). Circumstantial reasons did not allow that effort to bear fruits. It remained though in the memory of the Kievites as well as in the memory of those in Constantinople. When Princess Olga came to the Queen City some time later and received the Holy Baptism the door for the evangelization of Kiev and nearby Russian countries was opened again. In this way, we come to the year of our Lord 988, when the grandson of that very Olga was baptized in Christ at Cherson and after him his people who desired the light and salvation. That great event was methodically prepared and generously supported by the Church of Constantinople, by making available to the numerous missionaries under the command of Metropolitan Michael every necessary means, both material and spiritual, so that the light of the Gospel might travel faster, not only in the Grand Duchy of Kiev, but also from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. By the grace and blessing of God the fruits of that collective baptism were plentiful in every field of the public, spiritual and private sphere of the life of the baptized, for through their baptism they were grafted, not only in Orthodoxy's sacramental experience and spiritual life, but also in the whole of the Byzantine edifice, which constituted the utmost expression of the harmonious synthesis between the Christian spirituality with the highest cultural heritage, far from any discrimination, be it national, racial, linguistic or other.
"The Metropolis of Kiev that was immediately established by the Mother Church of Constantinople as well as the beautiful Church of St. Sophia in Kiev, which alluded clearly to that Church of the same name in the Queen City, the most treasured sanctuary of that Ecumenical Orthodoxy, became the administrative centers of the entire effort to re-born in Christ all the Slavic tribes in the region. The first native Metropolitan Hilarion was right to rejoice in 1051 saying that "the darkness of the demonic worship has vanished, and the sun of the Gospel has risen over our land. The temples of demons are destroyed and Churches built; the statutes crumbled down and the icons of our Saints appeared. The demons flew away, and the Cross sanctified our cities. The bishops have come like shepherds of logical sheep, priests and deacons are offering the immaculate sacrifice... The angel's trumpet and the Gospel's thunder has sounded to all our cities. Men and women, young and old have filled the holy Churches." Indeed, dear brethren and children, "this is the change of the Lord's right hand!"
"The plentiful fruits of that collective baptism proved not only the unselfish dedication of the Byzantine missionaries to their difficult and multifaceted mission here, or the unwavering care of the Mother Church for the successful fruition of that mission, but also the willing support of the political leadership to assist the fuller utilization of the Baptism's beneficial effects in the relationships among people and nations. Thus, through the co-operation of the political with the ecclesiastical leadership the desire for the faith and the zeal of the baptized became all the more manifest in experiencing the new spiritual life in Christ that is continuously nourished by the common partaking of the immaculate Sacrament of our Lord's most holy Body and life-giving Blood at the divine Eucharist. It is the Eucharist that assures and seals the unity of all the members of the ecclesial body among each other and with the divine head of the Church, our Lord and God Jesus Christ.
"The baptism, through which we who are baptized become participants of Christ's immaculate Passion and Resurrection, of "one body and one blood" with Him according to St. Paul, is par excellence a sacrament of unity of the whole ecclesial body and it is been confirmed continuously by the common participation in the one Divine Eucharist, in the one Chalice of Life. The great supporter of the Byzantine mission, Ecumenical Patriarch St. Nicholas the Mystic (901-907 and 912-925), invokes that unifying power of the Holy Baptism when he writes to the Prince Symeon of Bulgaria in order to avert the bloody conflicts among Christians that through the baptism "we are one body in the faith, and we have one head, Christ, and we are members of each other, and ought not the members revolt against each other" (PG, 111, 77).
"Therefore, the unity in Christ of the local as well as of the ecclesial body throughout the Oecumene cannot tolerate divisions or conflicts because, as St. Paul points out, "for we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body... if one member suffers, every member suffers with it; if one member is honored, every member rejoices with it. You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (1 Cor. 12:13, 26-27). Any division of the ecclesial body offends its divine Head and renders the gifts of the Holy Spirit inoperative for those who are the cause of the division and those who are indifferent of it. For this reason, that holy Ecumenical Patriarch reminded the Prince of the Bulgarians of the indissoluble spiritual kinship that binds all Christians "the God who loved the world, and returned to Himself His own creature by the Cross and the death of His Son, allowed us to be illuminated by the light of His knowledge, abolishing thus the wall of hostility and He invited us to the illumination of His glory, joining the Romans so in love as in faith; the enmity is abolished, the motion of arms has ceased and separation was followed by love and unity and the befriending of each other" (PG 111, 61-64).
"In this sense, today's splendid celebration of the one thousand and twenty year anniversary of the Kievites' baptism that reaches its peak in this Liturgy functions, on the one hand, as remembrance (anamnesis) of God's many and rich benefits to the great Ukrainian nation that were the baptism's outcome, and, on the other hand, as a compelling invitation (prosklesis) to overcome as fast as possible the divisions of the ecclesial body that were the outcome of our times' confusion and to confirm the common baptism by the gathering of all in one place "arranged in one obedience" as St. Ignatius the God-bearer said, and by approaching unanimously and partaking communally of the one, soul-nourishing Eucharistic altar of the Lord. The Mother Church of Constantinople suffers together with the dearest daughter Church of Ukraine for the dangerous divisions of its ecclesial body and cares, as if it were her own body, for the speedy and full restoration of the desired and God-loving unity. At the same time, she calls upon all the parties of the continuing ecclesiastical crisis to consider each his own responsibilities and-in the name of God!-to act in sincerity, doing whatever is necessary for the peace and unity lest the evil, hardened in time, worsen with obvious repercussions for the spiritual and societal coherence of the Ukrainian people.
"Today, gathered around the Lord's altar, we the Patriarchs and Prelates of the local Churches, and through us the entire Orthodox Church, participate in the joy for the one thousand and twenty year anniversary of the baptism of the pious Ukrainian people which opened the way for the dissemination of the Gospel's salvific message to all the Russian Duchies of Eastern Europe. Our joy is complete because in this significant mystagogy rejoices and celebrates with us His Beatitude the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, our beloved brother and co-celebrant Alexei II. On the one had, his participation emphasizes the beneficial power that that baptism had for all; on the other hand, his personal experience during difficult times expresses the sacrificial struggles that are needed for the continuous confirmation of the divine gifts that flow from baptism to all the faithful. His struggles in defense of baptism's divine gifts under extremely hostile and adverse circumstances during the time of atheism's prevalence are known to all and written indelibly in the memory of the martyred Russian people. His struggles are for our holy brother a testimonial account, and for us all an account of pride. Thus rightly we honor in his venerable person the holy Church of Russia because on account of this memorial mystagogy a great joy permeates both heavens and earth for the glory of the Triune Holy God and His holy Church. The Mother Church knows and recognizes all this, and for this reason she bears witness in honor of our beloved brother and co-celebrant Patriarch Alexei.
"Having said this confessing from the depths of our heart, we wholeheartedly bless Ukraine, land of saints, its esteemed authorities, its Christ-loving people, invoking on their behalf the prayers and intercessions of Our Lady the Theotokos, of the Saints Vladimir and Olga Equal-to-the-Apostles and of all the saints. "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you" (2 Cor. 13:11)."