Ukraine charges priests for ‘praising Russia’
Several Orthodox Christian clergy from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra have been charged with “glorifying Russia,” the Ukrainian security service SBU said on Thursday. The announcement comes just days after a raid on the 11th-century monastery that the Moscow Patriarchate called an attempt to intimidate the faithful.
The SBU said it had received a tip that the priest and several “accomplices” had spoken words of praise about the “Russian world” during a church service. The service then established the “fact of illegal activity” through the subsequent “expert investigation,” it said in a statement.
Kiev city prosecutors will charge the clergymen with “justification, recognition as legitimate, or denial of” Russian “aggression” against Ukraine or “glorification of its participants,” the SBU added.
“Those who wait for the ‘awakening of Mother Rus’ during the full-scale war that Russia is waging against Ukraine need to understand that this harms the interests and the security of Ukraine and its citizens,” SBU head Vasily Malyuk said. “We will not allow such expressions.”
The Kiev Pechersk Lavra is considered to be the most prominent Orthodox Christian site in Ukraine. It is currently administered by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which declared independence from the Moscow Patriarchate earlier this year. However, the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) has laid claim on the Lavra as well.
SBU agents raided the monastery on November 22, citing claims that it was used to hide “teams of saboteurs, foreign citizens, weapons, etc.” for the purposes of “subversive activities of Russian special services.”
Prior to the raid, the OCU had posted a video of a service inside the Lavra, claiming that a hymn about the tolling of bells awakening “Mother Rus” amounted to the illegal “praying for Russia.” The UOC bishop in charge of the monastery rejected the charges and pledged loyalty to Ukraine.
A day after the raid, some Ukrainian lawmakers cited it to propose outlawing the Russian Orthodox Church as a national security threat. Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Vladimir Legoyda called the raid an “act of intimidation,” the latest in the persecution of the Orthodox faithful ongoing since 2014, when US-backed nationalists seized power in Kiev.