A Kyiv court ordered a leading priest to be put under house arrest Saturday after Ukraine’s top security agency said he was suspected of justifying Russian aggression, a criminal offense. It was the latest move in a bitter dispute over a famed Orthodox monastery.
Metropolitan Pavel is the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, Ukraine’s most revered Orthodox site. He has denied the charges and resisted the authorities’ order to vacate the complex.
In a court hearing earlier in the day, the metropolitan said the claim by the Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, that he condoned Russia’s invasion was politically driven.
“I have never been on the side of aggression,” Pavel told reporters in the courthouse. “This is my land.”
After the court’s ruling, a monitoring bracelet was placed around his ankle, despite his objections that he has diabetes and should not wear it.
“I am accepting this,” he said shortly before the bracelet was attached. “Christ was crucified on the cross, so why shouldn’t I accept this?”
Earlier in the week, he cursed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, threatening him with damnation.
Ties to Russia
The monks in the monastery belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of having links to Russia. The dispute surrounding the property, also known as the Monastery of the Caves, is part of a wider religious conflict that has unfolded in parallel with the war.
The Ukrainian government has cracked down on the UOC over its historic ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, has supported Russian President Vladimir Putin in the invasion of Ukraine.
The UOC has insisted that it’s loyal to Ukraine and has denounced the Russian invasion. But Ukrainian security agencies say some in the church have maintained close ties with Moscow. The agencies have raided numerous holy sites of the church and then posted photos of rubles, Russian passports, and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch as proof that some church officials have been loyal to Russia.
The government had ordered the monks to leave the compound by March 29. It claims they violated their lease by making alterations to the historic site, and other technical infractions. The monks rejected the claim as a pretext.
Supporters and protesters
Dozens of UOC supporters gathered outside the monastery Saturday, singing hymns in the rain. A smaller group of protesters also turned up, accusing the other side of sympathizing with Moscow.
“They wash the brains of people with Russian support, and they are very dangerous for Ukraine,” said Senia Kravchuk, a 38-year-old software developer from Kyiv. “They sing songs in support of Russia, and that’s horrible, here, in the center of Kyiv.”
Third-year seminary student David, 21, disagreed. Dressed in a priest’s robes and with a Ukrainian flag draped round his shoulders, he insisted the Lavra priests and residents were in no way pro-Russian. The state, he said, was trying to evict hundreds of people from Lavra without a court order.
“Look at me. I’m in priest’s clothes, with a Ukrainian flag and a cross around my neck. Could you say that I’m pro-Russian?” said David, who declined to give his last name because of the tensions surrounding the issue. “The priests are currently singing a Ukrainian hymn, and they’re being called pro-Russian. Can you believe it?”
Many Orthodox communities in Ukraine have cut their ties with the UOC and transitioned to the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which more than four years ago received recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Bartholomew I is considered the first among equals and one of the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Patriarch Kirill and most other Orthodox patriarchs have refused to accept his decision authorizing the second Ukrainian church.
Source : VOA