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Culture Ministry: Moscow Patriarchate blocking work of state commission on transfer of Lavra property

by The Kyiv Independent news desk March 30, 2023 2:46 PM 3 min read
Metropolitan Pavlo, running the Lavra, blesses believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) at the historic Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv on March 29, 2023. (SERGEI CHUZAVKOV/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Culture Ministry’s commission, which was supposed to conduct an inventory of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra’s property, failed to enter one of the facilities on March 30, Suspilne news outlet reported.

According to the publication, the commission arrived at the monastery for inspection, but one of the buildings was locked, and the parishioners of the Russian-controlled Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) blocked the entrance to the facility.

This comes as yet another turn in the conflict between the Ukrainian government and the Moscow-controlled Ukrainian Orthodox church. Until recently, the Moscow-controlled church has been the dominating religious organization in Ukraine, where most of the population is Eastern Orthodox. The church's influence was undermined in 2018 when Eastern Orthodox authorities declared Ukraine's own church independent of Moscow. The start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has further alienated the Moscow-controlled church.

On March 10, the Culture Ministry issued a statement saying monks from the UOC-MP must leave the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, Ukraine’s most important Orthodox monastery, by March 29, when the Moscow Patriarchate’s lease expires.

However, Lavra’s abbot, Metropolitan Pavlo, said that he and other members of the Moscow-affiliated church have the right to stay and do not plan to leave the Lavra until the end of the ongoing legal proceedings concerning the monastery. On the morning of March 30, the UOC-MP priests held a service in one of Lavra’s churches.

A commission member and the director of the Culture Ministry’s cultural heritage department, Mariana Tomyn, told Suspilne that the UOC-MP churchmen were​ warned about the March 30 inspection.

Moreover, three of the 15 members of the commission responsible for transferring Lavra facilities to the Ukrainian state are reportedly members of the UOC-MP.

Tomyn added that the commission planned to inform the law enforcement agencies of the church’s hindering its work and solve the issue “in accordance with the law.”

The Ukrainian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that the UOC-MP parishioners started arguing with the commission members when they tried to conduct the inspection.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Pavlo threatened the journalists, who gathered near Lavra to cover the process, according to the Ukrinform news outlet.

The commission is supposed to work on Lavra’s territory for the next three months to complete the process of transferring to the state 79 monastery facilities that were given to the UOC-MP for free use in 2013.

On March 29, the Commercial Court of Kyiv received a lawsuit initiated by the UOC-MP monastery in the Kyiv-Pechersk Larva, demanding the contract termination with the UOC-MP be declared invalid.

The Russian-controlled church’s lease on a part of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra – called the Upper Lavra – expired on Jan. 1, and the Ukrainian government decided not to extend the lease.

Later, Ukrainian authorities said they would also terminate the Russian-affiliated church’s indefinite lease on the remaining part, the Lower Lavra, from March 29, accusing it of violating the terms of the lease.

Russia purges non-Kremlin-aligned churches from occupied territories
Russians have started to forcibly integrate religious centers in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine into Kremlin-controlled churches and mosques, the Ukrainian military’s National Resistance Center reported on Dec. 26.
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