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Lavra. What's next?

Photo: EPA/UPG

29 March 2023 is a landmark date for the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. It is the last day assigned by the state when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate, UOC-MP) can stay in the Lower Lavra. The main complex of monastery buildings, where monastic life takes place, is located there.

How will events develop further? Will the UOC-MP really refuse to leave the monastery? What will happen to the shrines? Will the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) monastery "move in" right away? Will monastic life in the Lavra continue for sure? What about the Pochayiv and Svyatohirsk Lavras?

We answer the most frequently asked questions in detail but in clear language.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

So, the UOC-MP had to leave the Lower Lavra by 29 March. Did they do it?

In general, yes. The main institutions left, including the Metropolitan's Office, all Synod departments (a kind of church "ministries"), the Theological Academy.

They have been actively packing up for the last three weeks.

And who is left?

Ordinary monks. In total, the monastery's brethren number from 100 to 200 (depending on whether you count everyone or only those who actually live there and obey).

Among the latter, about a quarter prefer to stay and join the OCU monastery. The whole life of these people is connected with the Lavra. Between Pavlo Lebid and the Lavra or the Moscow Patriarchate and the Lavra, they definitely choose the monastery.

About 15 per cent are hardcore supporters of the Russian world. They are ideological fanatics. There are not many of them, but they are completely inadequate. I call them "Zakhariy's pupils". Zakhariy is the one whose "bells were ringing over Russia". They have no private interests or any assets (no matter how strange it may sound about monks), they are as poor as church mice.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

Another 10 per cent is the "inner circle" of Metropolitan Pavlo Lebid. It is these people who have registered numerous companies and accounts that have been operating all these years on the territory of the Lavra, where Pavlo managed to build an entire business empire.

For Pavlo's "inner circle", the Lavra is a source of profit.

That is why they cling to it so much.

And the majority are still taking a wait-and-see attitude, watching how events will unfold and what decisions the brothers in faith will make. It is important to understand that everyone in the monastery knows each other, communicates daily, and is strongly connected to each other. It is not customary to make "sudden moves" in this environment. It has never been accepted. Historically.

At the same time, the monks have to make up their minds on their own – no-one will do it for them.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

Will they not be expelled by force?

No. Leaders of the state in general and law-enforcement agencies in particular have repeatedly stressed that no-one would physically touch the monks. Their self-determination is a matter of time, everything will happen naturally.

Pavlo says that the monks are not going anywhere and that they have filed a lawsuit with the Economic Court.

As is his old habit, Pavlo is lying. Most of the key structures of the UOC-MP have already left the Lavra.

The lawsuit was drafted in such a way that it has no prospects. Yes, it will take some time, but it will not affect the situation in any way.

Photo: EPA/UPG

An interdepartmental commission will start working on 30 March to conduct an inventory. How will this happen?

The territory of the Lower Lavra is quite large, there are many buildings - residential, commercial, etc. To put it very simply, the commission "takes one building for analysis", fully examines and inventories it, then locks it up, gives the key to the heads of the state reserve, and the police take over the protection of the premises. This is how it works, one building at a time, step by step. On Wednesday, the first two residential buildings were already inventoried and locked.

According to preliminary estimates, the work will last at least a month and a half. Maybe longer.

If violations are found, what will be the consequences?

This question should be answered by lawyers. It depends on what violations were committed and who signed the relevant documents. But we already know about at least 36 illegal buildings on the territory of the Lower Lavra (read more and see photos here). You must admit that it is one thing when a kiosk is set up somewhere in the Far Caves, where pilgrims can buy water or some biscuits – given the distance, it is objectively necessary there, and it takes three minutes to remove the kiosk. It's quite different when some incomprehensible plastic structures are cut into the thousand-year-old wall of the Lavra or when a bathhouse is set up in the basement of a house that has the status of an architectural monument (don't ask me why, I don't know).

Photo: Max Trebukhov

Well. Sooner or later, the inspection will be completed. So, will the OCU enter the Lower Lavra?

As of now, there is no such decision. But, yes, the OCU officially appeals to the government and the management of the reserve with relevant requests. I am almost certain that in some time these requests will be granted and the OCU monastery will be able to fully make presence in the Lavra. Thus, the traditions of monastic life in the monastery will not be interrupted. This can happen within a few months to six months.

The abbot has already been appointed, hasn't he?

Yes and no. Indeed, on 29 March, the Archimandrite of the Lavra, Avraamiy (Lotysh), announced his transfer to the OCU. Immediately, by the decision of His Beatitude Epifaniy, he was appointed interim abbot of the OCU monastery in the Lavra.

Why acting? Because in normal monasteries, the brethren elect their own head in a democratic and transparent manner, at a general meeting. In the Lavra, when the monastery becomes fully operational, it will be the same.

Acting abbot of the Lavra, Avraamiy
Photo: OCU
Acting abbot of the Lavra, Avraamiy

Avraamiy was the "sacristan" of the Lavra. That is, in fact, he was the main "museum keeper", protecting all the valuables and taking care of them. On 29 March, he appealed to the brethren to join the OCU and create a new monastic life in the Lavra. As noted, there are those willing to join the Lavra, and this will soon be announced publicly.

It only took three hours for the UOC-MP to ban Avraamiy from ministry, forbid him to receive communion, etc. (they simply did not have enough time for anathema).

They did not prohibit traitors, collaborators, or agents of the enemy from serving.

Those who were convicted and exchanged were not banned.

Those who fled to the marshes (three metropolitans alone escaped to Russia) were not banned.

The leaders of the Crimean parishes, Rovenky and Romny dioceses, which came under the omophorion of the Russian Orthodox Church, were not banned.

The devils who were in the Kremlin were not banned.

But Avraamiy was quickly banned. Fortunately, this would not have any canonical consequences for him.

When the Lavra is sorted out, will they deal with Pochayiv?

Yes, it is logical. The legal scheme for the Pochayiv Lavra is very similar to Kyiv – it is also a lease, but not for an indefinite period, but until 2052. If the Cabinet of Ministers wishes and has the political will (which is definitely there), it can terminate the lease.

Pochayiv Lavra
Photo: Viktoriya Matola
Pochayiv Lavra

The Greek Catholics, who actually built the monastery in its current form, have already claimed their rights to Pochayiv. The OCU is also claiming it, and it would be good if they could find some kind of common solution. In fact, the Lavra is a large monastery or even several monasteries.

The right decision would be the union of two large churches, which demonstrates to all people an example of love, mutual respect and support.

What about Svyatohirsk?

The Svyatohirsk Lavra is the "youngest". It was established in 2004, in fact, by the decision of then-Prime Minister Yanukovych. An interesting fact (you can read more in our recent interview with Father Heorhiy Kovalenko): the first services there were conducted by members of the Autocephalous Church. As you may know, the Autocephalous Church is one of the co-founders of the OCU, and in fact, the OCU is its successor.

In 2014, Girkin's militants "amassed" in the Svyatohirsk Lavra before the storming of Slovyansk and stored weapons there. In 2022, the monastery was seriously damaged by shelling. Moreover, even after the liberation of the city of Svyatohirsk (the monastery itself is located on the other side of the river, controlled by Ukraine), the monks "complained" that if Ukraine had not defended itself, no-one would have shelled them, and there would have been "peace".

The shelling-damaged Svyatohirsk Lavra, Donetsk Region, 3 October 2022
Photo: EPA/UPG
The shelling-damaged Svyatohirsk Lavra, Donetsk Region, 3 October 2022

Sonya KoshkinaSonya Koshkina, editor in chief
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