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Abbot of Kiev’s landmark monastery reports threats of seizures from extremists

"We hear the threats now that a number of the so-called ‘Moscow centers’ will be seized on October 14," says the abbot of Kiev’s world-famous Monastery of the Caves

MOSCOW, September 19. /TASS/. The abbot of Kiev’s world-famous Monastery of the Caves [also known as the Kiev Pechersk Lavra], Metropolitan Paul has uploaded a video address on to his YouTube channel where he informs the audiences on the threats from Ukrainian far-right nationalists extremists to begin the seizures of parishes staying within the realm of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The latter Church reports to Moscow Patriarchate and enjoys a broad administrative autonomy within the Russian Orthodox Church. It has about 12,000 parishes and some 200 monasteries, and a number of them have turned into the targets of aggression on the part of Ukrainian radicals on numerous occasions since the declaration of independence by the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1991.

"We hear the threats now that a number of the so-called ‘Moscow centers’ will be seized on October 14, when the Church marks the feast of Intercession of Our Lady," His Eminence Paul said. "But why Moscow centers and not Christ’s centers? Is it Moscow City here? Recall that we preach the teaching of Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross and rose from the dead. We urge everyone to be Christians in spirit, not in formal terms."

The abbot underlined the absence of any political affiliations among the clerics of the monastery, which the Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus treasure as the cradle of their religious tradition and the place glorified by the exploits of dozens of saints, who spent their lives in the service of God there over centuries.

"Our clerics don’t engage in politics and don’t entice people to rising up one against another," Metropolitan Paul said. "Let us stay away from doing evil things, from acting out evil thoughts, in contrast to those who are gathering signatures under the demands to take this Lavra away from the [canonical] Church and to turn it over to state control in line with some vague laws.

"We should step up prayers for our shrines and defend them," he said.

Somewhat earlier, a petition to revoke the resolution of the cabinet of ministers on the transfer to the monastery to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the monastery compound for free use appeared at the official homepage of the Ukrainian government.

Under effective legislation, the agencies of state can accept any petition for scrutiny if it is undersigned by 25,000 or more people. The demand to deprive the canonical Church of its most treasured shrine has gathered 1,695 signatures.

The situation in the Orthodox Christian community in Ukraine is highly complicated, as the country has two schismatic religious organizations referring to themselves as Ukrainian Orthodox Churches in addition to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate, which enjoys the status of a canonical Church.

Ukrainian authorities have been striving to set up a Ukrainian Church disconnected from Moscow Patriarchate ever since the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the fifteen constituent republics of the former USSR, declared itself an independent country in 1991.

In April 2018, President Pyotr Poroshenko addressed the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, with a request to grant autocephaly to Ukraine. The Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament, supported the appeal, as did the two schismatic religious organizations - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the so-called Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which is a successor to an early 20th century movement of nationalistic Ukrainian clerics.

The canonical Church reporting to Moscow Patriarchate did not send any appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On September 7, Synod of the Church of Constantinople appointed two exarchs to Ukraine in the format of preparations for the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. The appointees and other officials at the Ecumenical Patriarchate gave the assurances that the move aimed to bring in unity to Ukrainian Orthodoxy. They admitted the situation had many knotty aspects and was highly delicate.

The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church reacted with indignation to Patriarch Bartholomew’s decision on Ukraine. It ruled last Friday to stop mentioning him during liturgies in the Russian Church and to ban co-officiating with the hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the chief of Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external Church relations said this did not mean a full severing of relations with the Church of Constantinople and therefore the rank-and-file believers could continue taking communion at the churches reporting to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The official strife against the canonical Ukrainian Church goes hand-in-glove with the extremist attacks on its parishes, which turned into the targets of nationalistic right-wingers’ outrage and robberies on 19 occasions in 2017. The authorities did not find or punish the perpetrators of any of these offenses.