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    Russian Patriarch urges Orthodox Church unity

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    The Orthodox Church unity under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate is no obstacle to the sovereignty of countries that are successors to Kievan Rus, Russian Patriarch Alexy II said on Sunday.

    KIEV, July 27 (RIA Novosti) - The Orthodox Church unity under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate is no obstacle to the sovereignty of countries that are successors to Kievan Rus, Russian Patriarch Alexy II said on Sunday.

    Alexy II made this statement following an appeal by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to the patriarch of Constantinople on Saturday to give his blessing to the country's plans for a national church independent of Russian Orthodoxy.

    "The Russian Orthodox unity cannot hinder a full-fledged life of the sovereign states that are successors to Kievan Rus. Our church respects their sovereignty and is interested in the strengthening and prosperity of their peoples," Alexy II said after a divine liturgy served in the Ukrainian capital to mark the 1,020th anniversary of the adoption of Orthodox Christianity in Kievan Rus.

    A rival Ukrainian church was formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union. However, only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchy, is recognized in Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Kiev Patriarchy officials have recently stepped up contacts with the Church of Constantinople, also known as the Ecumenical Patriarchate, seeking "to return Ukraine to the Mother Church." The drive has been actively backed by President Yushchenko and the country's other top officials against a backdrop of tensions in relations with Russia.

    The Christianization of Kiev dates from late 988, when Prince Vladimir the Great was baptized at Chersonesos, in the Crimea. He then baptized his family and people in Kiev and destroyed wooden statues of Slavic pagan gods.

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