Near the entrance to the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an 11th-century Orthodox cave monastery complex in the heart of the city, police stop every car for a brief check, writes POLITICO.
Wednesday is the deadline for the monastery’s 1,000 inhabitants to leave what was their home amid heightened political concerns that some of them were too close to Moscow, and were Russian fifth columnists. The police inspected the departing vehicles to ensure that none was loaded with the more than 800 icons, crosses and other priceless artifacts stored within the religious complex
Ukraine’s church splintered in 2018 into two factions with almost the same name. In the teeth of opposition from the Kremlin, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was granted ecclesiastical independence by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2019. In a sign of the political fault lines underpinning the feud, OCU churches had offered support to the Maidan protesters of 2014, who toppled Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow’s satrap in Ukraine. This left the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which was still loyal to Moscow.
The expulsions from the Lavra technically come as part of the termination of a 10-year-old agreement on the free use of religious buildings and other state-owned property that the monastery signed in 2013. This was brought to an end after a special government commission found out about numerous violations of the rent terms by the holy tenants.
In reality, the matter is highly political, because of anger in Ukraine that some clergy from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church collaborated with Russian invaders.
Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko ordered the monks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to leave all premises of the Lavra, but said that Ukrainian authorities would not use force against the monks if they miss the deadline. He also said if the monks want to stay, they just need to transfer their allegiance to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
As of March 26, more than 1,236 religious communities and monasteries have announced the transition from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Only some 4% of the Orthodox faithful now identify with the Moscow Patriarchate, according to a study by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology think-tank. Most of the clerics from Lavra Moscow Patriarchate Church still do not recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, even though Constantinople’s Patriarch Bartholomew granted it independence in 2019”, - writes the author.