Moscow Patriarchate refuses to evacuate Becherska Lavra from Kiev

The head of the Lavra Becherska Orthodox Monastery in Kiev said on Monday that he and the monastery’s other monks have no intention of leaving the monastery. Independence of Kiev.

Bechersk Lavra in KievPhoto: Ukrinform / Shutterstock Editorial / Profimedia

On March 10, the Ministry of Culture issued a statement calling for monks from the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church to leave the Bezerska Lavra (“Bezerska” means “cave”) in Kiev, the most important Orthodox monastery in Ukraine.

“We are not collaborators,” said Metropolitan Pavlo Lebit, head of the Lavra.

“We are citizens of our state, living (in the monastery) since 1988. Many of us have no other place but here. No one can separate us from God’s love,” he said.

The Russian-controlled church’s lease on part of Kiev’s Becherska Lavra — known as the Upper Lavra — expired on January 1, and the Ukrainian government decided not to renew the lease.

Ukrainian authorities later said they would terminate the remaining lease of the Lower Lavra indefinitely from March 29, accusing it of violating lease terms.

The pro-Russian church argued that the termination of the lease was illegal.

Since January, the Ukrainian government has allowed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent from Russia, to hold more religious services at Kiev’s Pechersk Lavra. There is speculation that authorities may permanently transfer the Lavra to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Lebit, pro-Russia news and Ukraine’s denial of statehood

On December 2, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy imposed sanctions on Lebit, abbot of Becherska Lavra and former deputy of the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

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Lebit held consistent pro-Russian views and called for “solidarity” with Russia. “Crimea has never been Ukrainian,” he added.

In November, social media users shared a video in which a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate and parishioners of one of the Lavra’s churches sang a prayer for “Mother Russia.” The priest was later suspended by the Moscow-affiliated church.

Becherska Lavra in Kiev, founded in 1051, was one of the first monasteries in Kievan Rus. It belonged to the Ukrainian branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople until 1688 when it was annexed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian patriarch wrote to Pope Francis and other world religious leaders

Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, asked Pope Francis and other religious leaders on Saturday to urge Ukraine to end its crackdown on the church’s historic sect affiliated with Russia, Reuters reported.

Among the many leaders who spoke were Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Pope Tawadros, head of the Coptic Church in Egypt, the UN. Among them were Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Dürk.

Patriarch Kirill I urged religious leaders and international organizations to “make every effort to prevent the forced closing of the monastery, which would lead to the violation of the rights of millions of Ukrainian believers,” according to a statement, Agerpres quoted.

The patriarch of Moscow strongly supported the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. The BOU says it has severed ties with Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate and is the victim of a political witch hunt.

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Since October, Ukraine’s security service has periodically raided BOU churches, imposed sanctions on its bishops and financial supporters, and opened criminal cases against dozens of clergy.

The majority of Ukrainian Orthodox believers belong to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was formed four years ago by a union of branches independent of Moscow’s authority.

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