Ukraine’s leader believes seizing the historic Kiev Pechersk Lavra will strengthen “spiritual independence”
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has endorsed the order to expel monks of the canonical Orthodox church from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, insinuating they were agents of Russia. Moscow has called on all Christian churches, as well as the UN and other international organizations, to respond to the “outrageous” decision.
“This week there is also a move to strengthen our spiritual independence,” Zelensky said in a weekly address to the nation on Sunday evening. “We will not allow the terrorist state any opportunity to manipulate the spirituality of our people, to destroy our holy sites – our Lavras – or to steal valuables from them.”
He also claimed the steps his government was undertaking were “completely legal” and had the full support of the Ukrainian public.
On Friday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture notified the monks they had until March 29 to vacate the monastery, claiming they had violated the 2013 agreement under which the state allowed them to administer the national historic preserve. Founded in 1051, the Pechersk Lavra (‘Monastery of the Caves’) is considered the most prominent Orthodox Christian site in Ukraine.
Kiev has already expelled the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) from two of the cathedrals above the monastery. Within days of that decision, in early January, the government-created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was allowed to hold services on the premises.
The UOC monks will “not carry out the order” to leave, the abbot of the monastery said on Monday. The head of the church, Metropolitan Kliment, had called Friday’s note the personal opinion of a Ministry of Culture official, with no legal standing. The UOC remains in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, but has declared itself independent and condemned the Russian “invasion” to remain in the Ukrainian government’s good graces.
Kiev’s move to expel the monks is “unacceptable” and “absolutely unprecedented,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. “We believe that the world community should respond accordingly to such an outrageous decision.”
On Saturday, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church compared the eviction to the expulsion of Orthodox clergy under Communism. Such a move would “lead to a violation of the rights of millions of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful,” said Patriarch Kirill, in a letter sent to the UN, the heads of other Orthodox churches, Pope Francis of Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, and others.
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