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The thousand-year-old religious origins of the Ukraine war

From one Vladimir to another, the Ukraine war is steeped in one thousand years of history and religion.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — From one Vladimir to another, the Ukraine war is steeped in one thousand years of history and religion.

In 988, Vladimir the Great brought Christianity to Kyiv, Ukraine's capital city, by inviting the whole town to the Dnieper River to be baptized. Orthodox Christianity spread from there through Eastern Europe and Russia.

Now, Vladimir Putin wants to claim that history as part of modern Russia’s.

“This has been the origin story that Putin has relied on,” said Jon Stone, professor of Russian and Russian studies at Franklin & Marshall College.

The Russian Orthodox Church has long claimed the entire region as their canonical territory. However, Ukrainian Christians chafed at the Church’s increasingly political approach, which backs Putin and often preaches his ideals.

“You can’t workably separate the Russian Orthodox Church from Putin’s government,” Stone said.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared independence in 2019, a move still not recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

“They claim that, for instance, Ukrainian Catholic Church are schizmatics, or not true believing Christians,” said Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy of the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who is also the pastor at Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Jenkintown, Montgomery County.

The war in Ukraine is entirely tied to religion, as Putin said he wants to reunite all Orthodox Christians under Moscow’s leadership.

“The whole thing about [Russia] claiming to be the third Rome: after Rome itself, Constantinople, now they are the real Rome, the center of Christianity,” Rabiy said. “They are really delusional at this point.”

Even as the future of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church hangs in the balance, church leaders are still looking forward to their post-war role.

“Certainly we are going to be a huge part in renovation or also providing assistance to people once the war is over,” Rabiy said.

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