Ukrainian monks face fall­out of church split

Or­tho­dox Chris­tian schism threat­ens peace­ful life of cave-dwelling brothers in coun­try’s holi­est lo­ca­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - - World news - By Alec Luhn in Kiev

FOR a mil­len­nium, monks have been se­clud­ing them­selves from the world in the caves of the Kiev-Pech­ersk Lavra, where 120 mum­mi­fied brothers lie in glass-cov­ered coffins along low, slop­ing cor­ri­dors.

Their soli­tude has been in­creas­ingly in­ter­rupted, how­ever, since the top pa­tri­arch in Istanbul said in Oc­to­ber he would recog­nise a new Ukrainian church in­de­pen­dent of Rus­sia.

The move has sparked the big­gest schism in Or­tho­dox Chris­tian­ity in 350 years, with the es­tab­lished Ukrainian Or­tho­dox Church re­main­ing loyal to the Moscow pa­tri­ar­chate.

That loy­alty re­mained un­changed even af­ter Rus­sia an­nexed Crimea in 2014 and backed sep­a­ratists in an on­go­ing con­flict in eastern Ukraine.

The ex­ist­ing church con­trols the Kiev-Pech­ersk com­plex, which is a Un­esco world her­itage site and the holi­est place in Ukraine, as well as 12,000 of the coun­try’s 18,000 churches.

Next Satur­day, Ukrainian re­li­gious lead­ers will hold a “uni­fi­ca­tion as­sem­bly” to lay the ground­work for the new church and choose its leader.

How­ever, late last month, employees of the cul­ture min­istry, which tech­ni­cally owns the Kiev-Pech­ersk Lavra, sud­denly came to take an in­ven­tory of the holy relics there. The next day, agents of the Ukrainian se­cu­rity ser­vice raided the Lavra, charg­ing the head ab­bot with the “in­cite­ment of re­li­gious ha­tred”.

The pres­sure came af­ter the jus­tice min­istry said it was can­celling the right of the Ukrainian Or­tho­dox Church of the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate to use an­other monastery com­plex in Pochayiv.

How­ever, the monks of Kiev-Pech­ersk say they are stand­ing firm.

Ab­bot Joseph told The Sun­day Tele­graph that monks went to prison in the past for re­sist­ing Soviet crack­downs and would re­sist this one. He added: “The monks won’t leave as long as the army doesn’t come.”

When Prince Vladimir con­verted from pa­gan­ism in 988 and brought Or­tho­dox Chris­tian­ity to much of what is now Be­larus, Ukraine and Rus­sia, the seat of power was in Kiev.

By the 17th cen­tury, how­ever, Moscow was in con­trol of Ukrainian lands, and the Con­stantino­ple pa­tri­arch, the “first among equals” in the Or­tho­dox world, gave the Rus­sian pa­tri­arch do­min­ion over the church here.

That was re­versed by pa­tri­arch Bartholomew’s de­ci­sion in Oc­to­ber, which came af­ter lob­by­ing by Petro Poroshenko, the pres­i­dent of Ukraine.

In re­sponse, Vladimir Putin warned “pol­i­tick­ing in such a del­i­cate sphere has al­ways led to heavy con­se­quences”.

Pa­tri­arch Fi­laret of Kiev, the leader of one of two splin­ter churches in Ukraine, ac­cused the Ukrainian Or­tho­dox Church of the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate of be­ing an agent of the Krem­lin.

“With­out an in­de­pen­dent church there won’t be an in­de­pen­dent Ukrainian state, and Moscow knows this well,” he told The Sun­day Tele­graph. “It’s fight­ing to keep the Ukrainian church de­pen­dent on Moscow.”

How­ever, the priest in charge of the Holy Trin­ity Cathe­dral in Kram­a­torsk blamed the me­dia for ex­ag­ger­at­ing his church’s links to Moscow.

“We are the Ukrainian Or­tho­dox Church. It’s you jour­nal­ists who have de­cided we are the Moscow pa­tri­ar­chate,” he told The Sun­day Tele­graph. “Why do you lie? Those who lie can get a fist to the face.”

The Moscow pa­tri­ar­chate church’s spokesman Arch­bishop Kli­ment said it re­jected the cre­ation of a new church be­cause of canon­i­cal law.

He ar­gued that Mr Poroshenko, who is in dan­ger of los­ing re-elec­tion in March, was the one us­ing church af­fairs to political ends.

“For more than 300 years, Con­stantino­ple didn’t in­ter­fere,” he said. “Now when there’s an elec­tion on and the pres­i­dent is us­ing the church is­sue, Con­stantino­ple has … in­ter­fered in the re­li­gious life of our coun­try”.

Thirty-nine per cent of Ukraine’s 30mil­lion Or­tho­dox be­liev­ers are for the new in­de­pen­dent church and 29 per cent are against, while the rest are un­de­cided, a re­cent poll found.

‘With­out an in­de­pen­dent church, there won’t be an in­de­pen­dent Ukraine. Moscow knows this well’

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