KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian government has taken the main cathedral of the revered historic monastery from the church previously affiliated with Moscow’s patriarchate and allowed its Ukrainian rival to use it for Orthodox Christmas services.
The move comes as the long-running tensions between the two churches exacerbated amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko said Thursday that the Dormition Cathedral and the Refectory Church of the nearly 1,000-year-old Pechersk Lavra — also known as Monastery of the Caves — in the Ukrainian capital have been taken over by the state after the lease of them held by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) expired on Dec. 31.
On Friday, Tkachenko said that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) — the similarly named rival church — asked for and was granted permission to conduct the service at the cathedral on Saturday when Orthodox Christmas is celebrated.
In 2019, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine received recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Moscow’s and most other Orthodox patriarchs refused to accept that designation that formalized a split with the Russian church.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which remained loyal to the Moscow patriarch since the 17th century, declared independence from Moscow’s Patriarchate after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The UOC gave Moscow a liturgical cold shoulder by dropping the commemoration of Moscow Patriarch Kirill as its leader in public worship and blessing its own sacramental oil rather than use Moscow’s supply.
But Ukrainian security agencies have claimed that it has maintained close ties with Moscow. They have conducted numerous raids of the church’s holy sites, posting photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch.
Prominent Ukrainian Orthodox Church leaders have rejected the allegations of ties with Moscow, insisting that they have loyally supported Ukraine from the start of the war and that a government crackdown will only hand a propaganda coup to Russia.
Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill, in a video message marking Christmas, called on believers to pray “for our brothers in Ukraine, who are being expelled today from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, that Lavra, which for centuries has been the guardian of true, undistorted Orthodoxy.”