Thanks and praise be to the Lord Our God, and to his servant, Saint Vladimir the Great. It was he, the grand prince of Kiev, who converted to Christianity in A.D. 988, was baptized in Chersonesus and proceeded to baptize his family and people in Kiev, in what is now known as the Baptism of Rus' (Хрещення Русі).
Not long after the Baptism of Rus', in 1054 A.D., the Church founded by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ split apart, as the churches of the east separated themselves from Rome in the Great Schism. This was the culmination of a gradual process of estrangement that began in the first centuries of the Christian era. Linguistic and cultural differences, as well as political events, contributed to the estrangement. The eastern Orthodox churches, although holding similar beliefs to the Catholic Church, because they do not acknowledge the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, are therefore schismatic.
In the centuries that followed the Great Schism, the Orthodox Church divided itself into a number of national churches -- Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, etc. For the last 330 years or so, the so-called "Great Russians" have dominated their cousins, the Ukrainians, whom they disparagingly call "Little Russians". In matters religious, the Russian Orthodox Church has denied the distinctness of the Ukrainian believers, claiming that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is nothing more than a branch of the Russian church.
Today, all that has changed! An independent Ukrainian Orthodox church was created today at a signing ceremony in Istanbul, formalizing the split with the Russian church to which it had been tied since 1686. In front of scores of clerics and Ukrainiaqn President Petro Poroshenko, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, signed the "Tomos" forming the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
In his address, Patriarch Bartholomew said, "The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries." The patriarch, considered "first among equals" in Orthodox Christianity, said Ukrainians could now enjoy "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention."
Walt's readers, and the world at large, must not forget that not all Ukrainians are Orthodox believers. There is a large and vibrant community of Ukrainian Catholics -- loyal to Rome and followers of the Byzantine rite of Catholicism -- well-established in the western part of the Ukraine, and even more so in the communities of the Ukrainian diaspora, particularly in Canada. Let us ask our Lord, through the intercession of Saint Vladimir, to bless all Ukrainian believers -- Catholic and Orthodox -- and hasten the reunification of all believers in His one true Church.