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Why does Moscow need religious processions in Ukraine?

Why does Moscow need religious processions in Ukraine?
Article by: Lilia Makashova
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Two processions organized by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate called the “All-Ukrainian Procession of the Cross for Peace, Love and Prayer for Ukraine” are making their way toward Kyiv

One will depart from the west of the country; the other from the east. They will meet in Kyiv on the eve of the celebration of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus and the commemoration of St. Prince Volodymyr the Great.

Espreso TV has looked into what these processions mean and their possible impact.

From the east and west

The first procession departed on July 3, from the Holy Dormition Sviatohirsk Lavra in the Donetsk Oblast. Plans call for the faithful to march some 700 kilometers with the miraculous icon of the Our Lady of Sviatohirsk. The Archmandrite Ioasaf (Kovetskyi) is the curator for the religious procession.

The second procession departed on Saturday, July 9. A thousand faithful gathered at the Holy Dormition Pochayiv Lavra in the Ternopil Oblast, where a prayer was held before the faithful headed toward the capital.

The governor of the Pochayiv Lavra, the Metropolitan of Ternopil and Kremenets oblasts Serhiy (Hensytskyi), and the rector of the Pochayiv seminary, Bishop Sumskyi Serafym (Salisnytskyi), are leading this procession, which is accompanied by the miraculous Pochayiv icon of the Our Lady.

These two processions are to meet on the Volodymyrska (St. Volodymyr) Hill in Kyiv on July 27, where participants will pray to the Blessed Virgin and to the Lord for peace and prosperity in Ukraine.

The faithful from the west and east will sleep in monasteries and cathedrals along the route. According to the organizers, people along the route may join the procession but are not obligated to go all the way: “anyone who joins the prayer procession even for five minutes joins will gain joy from it.”

The organizers believe the processions will gather close to 10,000 pilgrims along the entire route.

Support of the Moscow Patriarchate

The procession from the Sviatohirsk Lavra reached Kharkiv on Sunday, July 10. Among the participants, one could see people in camouflage uniforms, athletic young men, people wearing St. George ribbons (Russian military symbol) and carrying  portraits of Russian tsars.

According to journalist Rostyslav Demchuk, everything was well organized: “Food, water, raincoats, umbrellas, medical care, ambulances, first aid vehicles, support vehicles, guards — the guys in camouflage, and the guys in track suits — all this is in place and is running smoothly,” he wrote.

The information campaign for the religious procession is lead by  journalist Viacheslav Pikhovshek, the main propagandist for President Kuchma and a key advocate for Viktor Yanukovych. He also heads up the channel of the Union of Orthodox Journalists on You Tube, where he maintains that these two processions will unify Ukraine.

However, even the servants of the church acknowledge that there is not only  a spiritual but also a political subtext to this action.

Archbishop Yevstratiy, the secretary of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, points out that the Moscow Patriarchate has several objectives for the religious processions. One of them is to demonstrate the alleged Ukrainian support for the idea of Russkiy Mir (Russian World) at a time when the Ukrainian faithful are leaving the Moscow Patriarchate en masse. He also believes the procession was organized because the Verkhovna Rada has recently appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople for recognition of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“The organizers of the procession intend to argue before Constantinople that the Ukrainian Church does not need any autocephaly: ‘See how many people want to remain subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. See how from two sides of Ukraine people are expressing support for the Moscow Patriarchate,’ ” he said, adding that the same politicians who supported the anti-Maidan are now supporting this procession.

It  is an interesting coincidence that two deputies of the Opposition Bloc (formerly the Party of Regions, the party of Viktor Yanukovych — Ed.), Oleksandr Vilkula and Vadym Novinskyi, were observed at the head of the column in Sviatohirsk. As reported by, they walked for a few kilometers behind the icon and then sat in their cars. Later the column was headed by people in the uniforms of Russian “Cossacks”.

Meanwhile, the Kyiv Patriarchate has decided to declare its own religious procession. It will take place right after the procession of the Moscow Patriarchate on July 28, will last a day, and the route will run from the St. Volodymyr Cathedral to the St. Volodymyr monument.

Reaction of the security forces

The spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs Artem Shevchenko said the security forces are ready for any provocations on the  part of the Russkyi Mir supporters and that the national police throughout Ukraine is monitoring the situation and will deploy the National Guard if necessary.

Speaker of Parliament Andriy Parubiy is convinced the Kremlin has  prepared provocations for the day when the two processions are to meet and has called on the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) to hold discussions with the organizers to prevent the use of imperial symbols and to avoid any provocations. However, Ivan Varchenko, advisor to MIA head Arsen Avakkov, stated on Espreso TV that the size and destabilizing potential of the situation in the country has been exaggerated. According to Varchenko, each column currently has about a thousand  participants. This is at odds with the 10,000 pilgrim figure announced by Pikhovshek.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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