The government of Ukraine has ordered that all Ukrainian Orthodox monks must leave the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, one of the most preeminent monasteries in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the most prominent monastery in Ukraine, because they are under the Moscow Patriarchate and not under the Kiev Patriarchate. Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy, declared:
“The agreement for the free use of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra by the UOC will be terminated on 29 March 2023. This applies to all Lavra premises rented by the UOC.
Today, on 10 March 2023, the National Kyiv-Pechersk Historical and Cultural Reserve gave notice to the UOC’s Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (the men’s monastery) to terminate the agreement on the free use of religious buildings and other state property.
The monks have refused to leave, arguing that there are no legal grounds for the demand to leave the monastery. The order goes back to a commission established under President Vladimir Zelensky’s decree.
Ukrainian intelligence considers priests under the Moscow Patriarchate to be enemy agents. In 2022, Ukrainian intelligence opened 52 criminal cases involving 55 clergymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, including 14 bishops. Not only has the Ukrainian government imposed sanctions on the Russian Orthodox Church, but has also banned 200 Russian Orthodox clerics from entering Ukraine. The head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kliment, stated that the demand to leave the monastery “does not mean anything” and amounts to “opinions of the director of the preserve, not supported by legal arguments.” “How can we leave?” said the metropolitan. “We are responsible for this heritage that we have guarded for decades. And now we must leave it to its destroyers?” The Zelensky regime has repeatedly accused the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (under the Moscow patriarchate) of being “Russian sympathizers”. The Ukrainian government rather supports the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU) – a non-canonical organization that was founded under the government of President Pyotr Poroshenko after the Maidan revolution in 2014.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressed her disdain over the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox, saying: “Has the State Department heard about this?” she said. “This time they won’t manage to ‘not see’ the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”
According to Sputnik International:
The monastery was closed in Soviet times, but back in Soviet times it was returned to the use of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1988, the work of the monastery and the Theological Seminary was resumed: the authorities transferred ground structures and distant caves to the Church, and in 1990, the nearby caves. In 1990, UNESCO added the Kiev Pechersk Lavra to the List of World Heritage Sites. From 1994 to this day, the abbot of the Lavra is Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed).
Pressure on the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the largest in the country, to which millions of believers identify themselves, began in the 1990s from nationalists and schismatics. By 2018, this turned into a large-scale state campaign, the authorities created a “rival” to the UOC, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), from schismatic organizations.
At the same time, an media campaign began against the UOC, with mass raids of its churches, their “voluntary re-registration” to the OCU with the approval of the authorities, attacks by nationalists and schismatics on the clergy and believers with impunity.
In 2022, the Ukrainian authorities organized the largest wave of persecution of the UOC in the recent history of the country. Referring to its connection with Russia, local authorities in different regions of Ukraine decided to ban the activities of the UOC, and a bill on its actual ban in Ukraine was submitted to the country’s parliament. State sanctions have been imposed on some representatives of UOC clergy. The Security Service of Ukraine began to open criminal cases against UOC bishops priests and conduct searches in churches and monasteries to find “evidence of anti-Ukrainian activities.”
This news story sounds like something out of Calles’s Mexico or Bolshevik Russia, wherein the state looked for reasons to persecute the Church. This hatred in Ukraine has been going on for decades. In 2008, Iryna Farion, another Ukrainian nationalist leader, said: “I think that the structure that calls itself a Moscow Patriarchate has nothing to do with Christianity. It is one of the greatest threats for independent and self-sustained development of Ukraine. As long as this institution occupies the Kyiv Pecherska Lavra [an ancient monastery in Ukraine], a Ukrainian will be enslaved.”
In July of 2010, when Patriarch Kirill visited Ukraine, Ukrainian nationalists met him with signs that said, “Down with Moscow Colonizer Priest,” “Ukrainian Orthodox Church against Moscow Heresy,” and “Moscow Patriarchate — Spiritual Occupant”. On May of 2012, around thirty Ukrainian nationalists attacked a church in the Dnieper part of Kiev. They vandalized Christian symbols, destroyed the altar, damaged the Crucifix and icons and threatened the clergy. In the name of the nation, they became antichrist. In April of 2013, three hundred Ukrainian nationalists, carrying the flags of the Svoboda party, tried to storm a church in Novo-Arkhangelsk. They broke the gates and the doors of the church and tried to hit the clergy who were in the courtyard of the church (see Byshok & Kochetkov, Neo-Nazis & Euromaidan, pp. 71-72)
With such religious tension and jingoism, the country is like a room full of gasoline; all it takes is for one to throw in the lighted match of nationalist provocation and the place will implode. I fear that a massacre of Orthodox Christians — something like what happened to Poles in Wolyn — will take place.
Religious nationalism is the desire of certain elements within NATO. When Turkey and the United States supposedly negotiated for the release of pastor Andrew Brunson, part of the deal was that Turkey would pressure the Orthodox church in Istanbul (the center for Eastern Orthodox Christianity) to make a Ukrainian Orthodox Church that would be independent of the Moscow Patriarchate. According to a report from Modern Diplomacy:
One of Washington’s main conditions for lifting the sanctions is Brunson’s release. However, there is another one – the autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the author states.
In April, Kyiv, which strives to break away from the Russian Orthodox Church and create an independent Ukrainian Church, addressed the Ecumenical Patriarchate with an appeal to grant the autocephaly. According to Patriarch Bartholomew, who delivered a speech after the recent Sunday service, the still-ongoing official process is to yield the results shortly.
The previous week, in an interview to BBC Ukraine, the leader of Crimean Tatars and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament Mustafa Dzhemilev said that President Erdogan had confirmed his support in the process of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. “I told him that today Moscow is like a Mecca for the Orthodox but after the UOC becomes independent Istanbul will take the place of Moscow,” Dzhemilev noticed. According to him, when he and Ukrainian president Poroshenko met with Erdogan on July 12, the Turkish leader assured that he would do “everything possible” for the Ukrainian autocephaly and said that he understood the importance of this issue for the Crimean Tatars.
Religious nationalism and tensions in Ukraine are very real. I am afraid that the Ukrainian nationalist lunatics will one day commit a horrendous massacre (at the level of Wolyn) to the Orthodox Christians simply because they are under the Moscow Church.