Tensions rise in Kyiv over iconic Christian monastery (VIDEO) — RT Russia and the former Soviet Union

Ukrainian Orthodox Church refuses to leave Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra despite growing government pressure

The clash between the Ukrainian government, the Canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the rival Orthodox Schismatic Church of Ukraine (OCU) continues over Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, the country’s largest Orthodox monastery.

On Wednesday, the UOC missed the deadline to leave the monastery, announced by the government earlier this month. After accusing the church of violating the 2013 agreement to administer the property, which is designated a national cultural reserve, Kyiv ordered the UOC monks to vacate it. However, no specific violations were cited in the order. Later, Ukrainian Culture Minister Aleksandr Tkachenko said UOC monks could stay at Lavra, but would have to leave the church and join OCU, a rival schismatic church created by the Status in 2015.

The UOC urged Orthodox Christians to come to the monastery on Wednesday to protect it and the monks from impending expulsion. Thousands of devotees answered the call, gathering at the monastery and praying in its courtyard, footage from the scene shows.

Lavra also filed a lawsuit, challenging the termination of the lease, and demanding the government explain exactly what it had violated. According to the monastery’s lawyer, protor Nikita Chekman, the case has been taken up by a Kiev court, with the first hearing in the case scheduled for April 26. The lawsuit also asks the court to bar the government from taking action against the monks while the case is being considered.

Meanwhile, the rival OCU appointed a new guardian for the monastery, Archimandrite Avraamiy, who quickly released a video address to Orthodox Christian worshippers. In his address, the schismatic hierarch blamed the ongoing persecution on the UOC itself, accusing it of unwillingness to break its “submission to Moscow” and recognize the OCU. The UOC severed its ties with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) at the start of the ongoing conflict between the two countries, but it still faced allegations of collusion with Moscow and mounting pressure from the government and Ukrainian internal security services.

The UOC was quick to react, banning the rival janitor from delivering mass, while accusing him of “turning to schism and grossly violating his vows.”

The Ukrainian authorities, for their part, have signaled that they are ready to pursue the expulsion of the monks. President Vladimir Zelensky hailed action against UOC monks as a milestone “towards strengthening the spiritual independence of our state and protecting our society from the cynical religious manipulations of Moscow.” A similar message was conveyed by Aleksey Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security Council, who said that if the monks “will not be dragged by their legs,” the monastery will only be used for religious services “in accordance with the legislation in force.”

A government commission, tasked with returning the Lavra buildings to government use, is expected to begin work at the monastery on Thursday, Tkachenko said in a separate statement.

“There was never any question of the end of monastic life there. What kind of monastic life it will be, we will see later”, said the minister.

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