03/14/2023, 10.02
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Orthodox Church: Ukrainians and Russians clash over Kiev Caves

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Ukrainian authorities had ordered the expulsion of monks loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. Kiev wants the Moscow jurisdiction to step aside. The 'Lavra' is the oldest monastic institution of Russian Orthodoxy. Its fate tied to the outcome of the bloody Russian invasion.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church historically linked to Moscow (UPZ) have taken to the streets of Kiev to demand the cancellation of the expulsion of monks from the local "Lavra of the Caves".

The administration of the institution, owned by the Ukrainian State, had ordered all Upz members to leave the monastic territory by 29 March, due to the termination of their contract, according to a notice issued by the director general Aleksandr Rudnik, also published on the Lavra's official website, although it was later removed.

The letter recalls that the agreement had been in force since 2013, for the free use of the church buildings and other facilities associated with them. Rudnik then mentions the conclusions of the inter-ministerial working group, and the letter from the Ministry of Culture dated 9 March, in which it is stated that the community of monks allegedly violated the conditions for the use of state property.

Mention is also made of Ukrainian President Zelenskyj's decree imposing personal sanctions on representatives of all religious associations linked to Russia.

From the Moscow Patriarchate come a series of accusations, comparing Ukrainian politicians to "Soviet officials of the 1960s" and protesting that there are no real legal grounds for the eviction, which is only linked to the "distorted manias" of the Ukrainian leadership, as stated by the chairman of the Synodal Department for Culture of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Kliment.

Patriarch Kirill even appealed to Pope Francis and UN Secretary General Guterres to "prevent the expulsion of the monks" from the Lavra. He also recalled the great "unity of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples", who have their common origin in Kiev, which "can be found carved on the walls of the Cave Monastery".

The Minister of Culture in Kiev, Aleksandr Tkacenko, responded to the accusations and street protests by speaking on a television programme, where he backtracked on the ultimatum and assured that "the monks will be able to remain in the Lavra, under certain conditions, and in any case there will be no forceful action against the monks". The decision on whether to renew the agreement, according to the minister, 'will allow the monks to decide on how they wish to remain in the Lavra'.

Tkacenko said he had spoken directly with everyone, including several priests who have moved from the Upz Church to the Ukrainian autocephalous Pzu Church, who are also working to obtain such a condition from the monks.

"In any case, we will not force anyone, we are a democratic country," the minister concluded. According to Kiev, if the Moscow jurisdiction steps aside, all the religious monks present will be able to continue to live and celebrate according to their own traditions, under the control and protection of the Ukrainian State.

The Kiev Caves Monastery is the oldest monastic institution of Russian Orthodoxy, dating back to the mid-11th century under the principality of Jaroslav the Wise, son of Prince-Baptist Vladimir the Great.

According to tradition, the first hermit Antonij chose a cave near the Dnipro river, returning home after years of monastic experience on Mount Athos, and other ascetics occupied the adjacent caves around him. Eventually, the monk Feodosij was chosen from among them, and he united everyone in the large community that spread out from Kiev Hill along the path of the caves to the river.

Even after the destruction of the city by the Tatars in 1240, the monks remained in the Caves until the Soviet period, when Moscow turned the Lavra into a museum. After the end of the USSR, the administration remained in the hands of the Ukrainian state, and monks from all Orthodox jurisdictions found a place in the monastic cells, under the official guidance of clerics from the Moscow Patriarchate. After so many divisions and conflicts, in the midst of the bloody Russian invasion, the fate of the Great Lavra stands out as a prophecy of the future of Russia and Ukraine.

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