Tensions soar in Kiev over iconic Christian monastery (VIDEO)
The standoff between the Ukrainian government, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), and the rival schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), continues over Kiev Pechersk Lavra, the largest Orthodox monastery in the country.
On Wednesday, the UOC failed to meet the deadline to vacate the monastery, rolled out by the government earlier this month. Having accused the church of violating the 2013 deal to administer the property, which is designated a national cultural preserve, Kiev ordered the monks at UOC to leave it. However, no specific violations were cited in the order. Later on, Ukrainian culture minister Aleksandr Tkachenko has said that UOC monks can stay at Lavra, but they would need to defect from the church and join the OCU, a rival schismatic church set up by the state in 2015.
The UOC has urged Orthodox Christians to come to the monastery on Wednesday to protect it and the monks from the looming eviction. Thousands of faithful responded to the call, gathering at the monastery and praying in its courtyard, as footage from the scene shows.
The Lavra has also launched a court case, challenging the lease agreement termination, as well as demanding the government explain what exactly it had violated. According to the monastery’s lawyer, protoireus Nikita Chekman, the case was taken on by a Kiev court, with the first hearing on the case set to take place on April 26. The lawsuit also asks the court to forbid the government from taking any actions against the monks while the case is being considered.
Meanwhile, the rival OCU has appointed a new custodian for the monastery, archimandrite Avraamiy, who swiftly released a video address to the Orthodox Christian faithful. In his address, the schismatic hierarch laid the blame for the ongoing persecution on the UOC itself, accusing it of reluctance to sever its "submission to Moscow" and recognize the OCU. The UOC severed its ties with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) early in the ongoing conflict between the two countries, yet it still faced allegations of collusion with Moscow and mounting pressure from the government and Ukraine’s domestic security services.
The UOC was quick to react, forbidding the rival caretaker from delivering mass, as well as accusing him of "turning to schism and grossly violating his vows."
Ukrainian authorities, for their part, have signaled their readiness to pursue the eviction of the monks further. President Vladimir Zelensky hailed the action against the UOC monks as an important step "towards strengthening the spiritual independence of our state and protecting our society from cynical religious manipulations by Moscow." A similar message was conveyed by Aleksey Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s national security council, who said that while the monks "won’t be dragged out by their legs," the monastery will be used only for religious services "in line with effective legislation."
A government commission, tasked with transferring the Lavra buildings back into the government’s use, is set to begin working at the monastery on Thursday, Tkachenko said in a separate statement.
"There was never any talk of the end of monastic life there. What kind of monastic life it will be, we’ll see later on," the minister said.