MOSCOW, Russia -- Down with the Moscow pope", is the slogan repeated by nationalist demonstrators every time the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia visits Ukraine.
In fact it was brandished again today in Kiev, where Patriarch Kirill is on an official visit and were he opened the Synod of the Russian-Orthodox Church. Eight people were arrested for demonstrating against the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In Dnipropetrovsk, however, the authorities have even banned any kind of street protests against Kirill, on this his third trip to the country since being elected in 2009.
In the Patriarch’s attempts to unify the various Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, bringing them back under the spiritual leadership of Moscow, the nationalists glimpse the political objective of the Kremlin to reassert its influence on the former satellite republic.
In Russia the "tour of Ukraine" by Kirill is being closely followed by TV and newspapers, as if it were a state visit. In fact at the very same time, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
After the fall of the USSR in 1991, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine underwent a schism, with some bishops declaring their independence from Moscow.
So far, the Russian Patriarchate has been able to avert their recognition by the global Orthodox hierarchy.
In Ukraine, 80 percent of the 46 million inhabitants are Orthodox Christian, with a third referring to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Beyond the controversy, Kirill’s visit confirms that the unity of the Eastern Orthodox Church is one of his key objectives.
During trip which touched several cities, the Patriarch made the most significant statement on the issue to date in the city of Odessa, tracing what the Russian media have called his "third path".
In the city home to the Kremlin’s Black Sea fleet, where the majority of the population is Russian and relations with the Ukrainian minority are always tense, Kirill spoke for the first time against nationalism as a "dangerous instrument for building societies" which instead, end up living under the "continuing threat of violence."
The alternative to a fanaticism of boundaries, race and ethnicity is "a Western-style multicultural society, but based on a solid structure." "Even in the most multi-ethnic societies like the U.S. – he said - there is always a dominant culture, in this particular case the Anglo-Saxon culture: for Russia and Ukraine it is the Orthodox culture."
And the Patriarch has also listed its core values: "Goodness, the absence of ill will, the spirit of sacrifice and willingness to help others."
The "third path" is realized, then, in a society whose members live according to the "divine law of love."