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11 Mar, 2023 21:32

Church appeals to global religious leaders over Zelensky plan

Patriarch Kirill has urged Christian leaders worldwide to press the country not to evict Russian monks from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra
Church appeals to global religious leaders over Zelensky plan

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), on Saturday urged Christian leaders of various denominations and international organizations, including the UN, to pressure Kiev over its plan to evict monks from Ukraine’s largest Orthodox monastery, the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

The controversial plan was put in motion on Friday, when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) was informed that its monks and clergy must vacate the monastery by March 29. 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 of the Soviet era.

“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 others, according to the ROC press service.

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.

Following the beginning of the hostilities between Moscow and Kiev in February 2022, the UOC formally proclaimed independence from Moscow. The move, however, has not spared it from accusations of covertly supporting Russia in the ongoing conflict or from the crackdown by Ukraine’s authorities.