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Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill blesses believers during a service in Kyiv on July 27.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill blesses believers during a service in Kyiv on July 27.

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By Brian Whitmore

August 07, 2009

Patriarch Kirill’s recent high-profile visit to Ukraine was interrupted by an unwanted visitor from the past: Josef Stalin’s ghost.

A five-decade-old letter from the Soviet Communist Party archives, made available to RFE/RL’s Russian Service this week as Kirill was wrapping up his 10-day visit to Ukraine, illustrates the extent to which the patriarch’s predecessors were involved in Stalin’s efforts to wipe out the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the 1940s.

The letter, from then-Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy I to the head of the Soviet Council on Religious Affairs, Georgy Karpov, was dated December 7, 1945, when the Kremlin was consolidating control over territories in heavily Catholic western Ukraine after World War II. Karpov was a colonel in the NKVD, a predecessor to the Soviet KGB.

In the letter, Aleksy informs Karpov of an “initiative group” that was being formed in Greek-Catholic dioceses in western Ukraine that would pressure clergy to agree to disband their church and convert to Orthodoxy.

“More than 800 priests have already joined the initiative group, and it is expected that by the New Year the entire clergy will have done so with the exception of a small number of diehards,” Aleksy wrote.

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