To His Beatitude
Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč
“The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:49).
With these words, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, sings of the marvels that the Lord has done in the history of his people and in her own life.
It is this song of praise and thanksgiving that rises from the ancient lands of the Kyivan Rus’ which celebrates the 1025th anniversary of its Baptism. To all, I extend my affectionate greeting.
1. As we know, the path of spreading the Christian message in the territory of Kyivan Rus’ began in the ninth century through the initiative of the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was mainly in the tenth century, however, that the work of missionaries from Byzantium, from the Slavic territories and from the Latin West began to spread the gospel in this region until the baptism, first, of Princess Olga, around the year 955, and then, in 988, of Prince Vladimir who accepted the Christian faith and encouraged the conversion of his people to Christ. This event—so important to the whole area—coincided with the nascent state of Kyivan Rus’: a society open to the cultural and spiritual influences of both East and West.
Saint Vladimir’s decision to be baptised was a considered, personal decision inspired by the example and faith of his grandmother Olga. It was a decision that had an essential role in the consolidation of the state, especially in its development and future direction, and facilitated the integration of its people, who lived within its borders at that time and in following epochs. Through its Baptism, Kyiv became a true crossroads of harmoniously integrated cultures.
The wisdom and foresight of Saint Vladimir, who knew how to contribute—in a fundamental way—towards the cultural and spiritual growth of his people, is a strong example for public leaders today of how to make careful choices for the integral development of citizens, the promotion of the common good and respect of the religious dimension inherent in every person. It is to be held with firm conviction that within the common good of a people and nation there are intangible values such as—and most especially—an openness to the transcendent.
Having tasted the great wealth of the liturgy and life of the Christian faith, St. Vladimir drew from its theological, spiritual, ecclesiastical and artistic riches, introducing them into the context of the Slavic language and culture. “In this manner, that particular ‘Slavonic inculturation’ of the Gospel and Christianity—linked to the great work of Saints Cyril and Methodius—was realised” (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter. Euntes in mundum, 3). This patrimony—gradually enriched “by the local cultural patrimony and thanks to contact with neighbouring Christian nations—steadily adapted itself to the needs and mentality of the people living in that great principality” (ibid., 5).
2. May the memory of this great event of its Baptism be for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church a new impetus to evangelization and pastoral action. Listening to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments, especially the Divine Liturgy, the formation of the faithful and the clergy, the development of charitable works—these are fixed points for a Church more and more capable of responding to Jesus’ invitation to go and make disciples of all nations, bringing God’s mercy and love to every man and woman.
It is a source of deep satisfaction that the Latin-Rite Church in Ukraine will join in the celebration of this happy occasion. My thoughts and paternal greetings go out to all the bishops and faithful. I pray with my whole heart that the testimony of fraternal relations and a common commitment to evangelization will effectively spread the gospel in today’s world, and that each rite, with its own distinct identity, may contribute to the construction of the common homeland. I also remember the Orthodox brethren, who celebrate this anniversary with special intensity. The large and rich spiritual heritage, born on the banks of the Dnieper, continues to be a living source of faith and culture, a precious treasure that the entire Ukrainian people is called to share.
3. The conversion of Kievan Rus’ took place in the context of the undivided Church, which was developing different ecclesial traditions yet in communion with one another.
Being able to refer to a period of substantial, visible Church unity—and to be rooted in this—is an indispensable point of reference for ecumenical dialogue in the life of the Christian communities, who today continue to draw from the rich spiritual heritage of Saint Vladimir.
Returning to origins—in the spiritual sense—means a return to a vision of an undivided Church—one, holy, catholic and apostolic—and to act, that is, to restore that profound unity in diversity, which characterized the Church at the time of Saint Vladimir. The celebration of 1025 years since the Baptism of Kyivan Rus’ makes even more evident that the journey towards full communion among all the disciples of Christ is not a luxury, but rather a profound necessity for a more coherent and effective proclamation of Christ’s message, and an authentic witness of that unity which Christ prayed for to the Father as He approached the supreme act of His sacrifice of love.
4. The celebrations of the Millennium of the Baptism—which involved the Ukrainian Catholic communities in the diaspora and at home, although the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine was, at that time, outside the context of legality—gave a lift to the spiritual renewal of the Ukrainian nation. The year 1988 was the eve of the momentous changes that affected, among others, the large area marked by the Baptism of St. Vladimir. After suffering decades of oppression and persecution, the various Christian communities shone in their witness of fidelity to Christ and the Church, often to the point of martyrdom. The democratization of political life has led to a greater appreciation of the national aspirations of the people and also towards a better respect for religious freedom. The journey has not been easy, but it has initiated an unstoppable process that has opened up new perspectives. I invite you to look with hope to the future, to build your future on the certainty of the presence and action of a God, who never abandons, but who guides as a Father, full of love and tenderness.
“The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:49).
Dear brothers and sisters, the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus’ is a moment of grace for the whole Ukrainian nation and for all people who celebrate this great event, especially our Orthodox brethren. But it also constitutes a call towards a genuine sense of personal responsibility on the part of institutions and persons, following the example of Saint Vladimir, to work for both the material and spiritual common good of the nation. It is a reminder of the ecumenical responsibility of asking God for the gift of unity among all Christians and the need to be tireless builders for this communion. It is also a reminder to look to the future—marked by God—with confidence and hope; and, finally, it is a call to intensify our labours in evangelization and pastoral action in all their various aspects.
The Church of St. Sophia, which recalls the name of Constantinople’s church, is a symbol of Kyiv’s Christianity. The “Indestructible” wall, which bears the sublime mosaic of the Holy Mother of God “Interceding,” reassures us that the Christian faith is indestructible through the power of the Almighty. Mary, who gave us Christ the Wisdom of the Father in the Holy Spirit, helps the heirs of the Baptism of Saint Vladimir to walk in the sign of this divine Wisdom, which exceeds human intelligence and leads us back to its source, the Ineffable Triune God, through a holy fear, which is “the beginning of all wisdom.”
I impart my blessing to Your Beatitude, the Ukrainian episcopate and the entire holy people of God.
From the Vatican, 29 July 2013.