The Kiev-Pechersk Lavra
- Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) urged Christian leaders of various denominations and international organizations, including the UNO, to pressure Kiev over its plan to evict Christian monks from Ukraine’s largest Orthodox monastery located in Kiev, the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, a historic religious site honored by many Christians, including Christians in Russia.
The provocative plan was put in motion on March 10, when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) was informed that its monks and clergy must vacate the monastery by March 29, 2023. The notice was given after a government commission decided the country’s largest religious organization was somehow in violation of the terms of its lease from the state. The church, however, has already stated that it refuses to move out, insisting there are no legal grounds for the eviction.
In his address, carried by the ROC press service, Patriarch Kirill condemned the continuous persecution of Orthodox Christians by the Ukrainian authorities, likening their conduct to the anti-clerical acts in the past.
“Throughout the thousand-year history of the monastery, it has repeatedly suffered from raids, foreign conquests and outright persecution of Christians. But only during the reign of militant atheists in the 20th century were the monks of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra expelled from the monastery,” the Patriarch said.
The monks of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra have been the victims of numerous hostile actions from Ukraine’s authorities, the Patriarch noted, including “humiliating” searches and raids by the country’s domestic security agency, the SBU.
The Patriarch expressed his concerns over the Lavra standoff in letters to several Christian leaders and international organizations, urging them to “make every possible effort to prevent the forced closure of the monastery, which will lead to a violation of the rights of millions of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful.” The letters were sent to the heads of all Orthodox Churches, Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and many others.
Ukraine has long experienced religious tensions, with multiple schismatic entities claiming to be the true Orthodox church of the country and challenging the authority of the UOC, which has been formally subordinate to Moscow’s Patriarchate. The tensions deteriorated back in 2018, when the schismatics established the brand-new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). This was done with active participation of then-President Pyotr Poroshenko, who managed to secure recognition of the new entity by the Turkish-headquartered Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The OCU remains favored by Ukraine’s incumbent leadership as well.
Founded in 1051, the Pechersk Lavra (‘monastery in the caves’) is considered the most prominent Orthodox Christian site in Ukraine and Russia. Legally it is the property of the state, as a national historic preserve, and administered by the UOC under a 2013 agreement with the government.
According to a memo from the Ministry of Culture, published by multiple Ukrainian outlets, a commission established by President Vladimir Zelensky’s decree in December 2022 had determined that the UOC is in violation of the deal, and therefore must turn the monastery over by the end of March.
The UOC does not intend to leave, however. Its head, Metropolitan Kliment, told the outlet Liga that the document “does not mean anything” and amounts to “opinions of the director of the preserve, not supported by legal arguments.” "How can we leave?” asked the metropolitan. “We are responsible for this heritage that we have guarded for decades. And now we must leave it to its destroyers?”
Kiev is currently favoring the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU) – a non-canonical organization established by the government of President Pyotr Poroshenko after the US-backed coup in 2014.
In January 2023, the government evicted the canonical UOC from the Dormition Cathedral and the Refectory Church, adjacent to the Lavra, and immediately gave permission to the OCU to hold a Christmas service there.
Zelensky has also sanctioned more than a dozen UOC clerics and even stripped several of Ukrainian citizenship. A number of priests have been killed and imprisoned in Ukraine.
…According to an ancient religious legend, exactly six months later after the expulsion of the monks from the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, the authorities in Kyiv who do this will fall…
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