November 26, 2022

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An investigation into a centuries-old monastic complex in the Ukrainian capital and other religious sites has underscored the suspicions of Ukrainian authorities towards some members of the Orthodox Christian clergy whom they consider to be loyal to Russia despite Moscow’s nine-month war against the country.

The raid by security services and police personnel at the Pechersk Lavra Monastery, one of Kyiv’s most revered Orthodox sites, was unusual but did not take place in isolation.

Ukraine’s Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism Service reported on Wednesday that its agents had searched more than 350 religious buildings in total, including sites in another monastery and a diocese in the Rivne region, 240 kilometers away ( 150 miles) west of Kyiv.

And the service, known by its Ukrainian initials SBU, accused the bishop of another diocese of pro-Moscow activity last week after it searched church premises and found materials that allegedly justified the Russian invasion. .

The SBU said the effort was part of its “systematic work to counter the subversive activities of Russian special services in Ukraine.”

Orthodox Christians constitute the largest religious population in Ukraine. But they have been fractured along lines that echo political tensions over Ukraine’s defense of its independence and Western orientation amid Russia’s continued claim to political and spiritual hegemony in the region – a concept sometimes called the “Russian world”.

Many Orthodox leaders spoke out fiercely in favor of Ukrainian independence and denounced the Russian invasion. But recent research shows authorities suspect places like Pechersk Lavra — a UNESCO World Heritage site revered as the birthplace of Orthodox monasticism in this region — of being nests of pro-Russian sentiment and activity.

Ukrainian authorities investigated some clergy earlier in the war but have largely shown deference so far, said Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, professor of ecclesiology, international relations and ecumenism at the Sankt Ignatios College, University College Stockholm.

That deference has now faded, with many Ukrainians believing church officials should “be as equal before the law as all of us,” said Hovorun, an Orthodox priest from Ukraine.

“Some key metropolitans of the Ukrainian church were quite famous and notorious for publicly supporting the ‘Russian world’ ideology,” he said. “It’s not a secret.”

The SBU said on Wednesday that during operations this week, more than 50 people underwent “extensive counterintelligence interviews, including using a polygraph.” He said they included Russians and other foreigners, some without valid passports.

He also said he detected “pro-Russian literature, which is used during studies in seminaries and parochial schools, including for the propaganda of the ‘Russian world'”.

In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the Ukrainian authorities of “waging a war against the Russian Orthodox Church”.

But the Reverend Mykolay Danylevich, who has often served as a spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, took issue with Peskov’s characterization on social media site Telegram, saying the UOC is not Russian. The UOC declared independence from Moscow in May.

“The UOC is the same ‘Russian Church’ as ​​Kherson is a ‘subject’ of the Russian Federation,” he wrote, referring to the city liberated by Ukrainian troops after Russia illegally seized it. annexed.

The SBU operation follows a Nov. 12 service at the Pechersk Lavra complex where a Ukrainian Orthodox priest was filmed speaking about Russia’s “awakening.” Songs praising the “Russian world” were sung, he added.

“Those who, in the conditions of a full-scale war launched by Russia against Ukraine, are waiting for the ‘awakening of Mother Rus’ must understand that this harms the security and interests of Ukraine and our citizens And we will not allow such protests,” SBU chief Vasyl Maliuk said.

Separately, the SBU said last week that it had denounced the “subversive activities” of Metropolitan Jonathan of the Diocese of Tulchin and Bratslav in western Ukraine.

The service alleged that he was storing printed materials justifying Russia’s invasion in his church and planned to distribute them. He said the material called for “the seizure of state power and the modification of the borders of our country”.

Metropolitan Jonathan denied the allegations, saying they “do not represent the truth”.

The SBU said on its Facebook page that it was following legal procedures. He said he “adheres to the principle of impartiality of the activities of any religious belief and respects the right of every citizen to freedom of secularism and religion”.

The term “Russian world” serves as a flashpoint in a culture war underlying the shooting war. It portrays Moscow as the protector and cultivator of a millennial Orthodox Christian culture shared across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, justified the war as part of a “metaphysical struggle”, with Russia acting to protect Ukraine from the liberal encroachment of the West, which is manifesting through events such as gay pride parades.

Orthodoxy in Ukraine is divided.

The historic branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been officially loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church since the 17th century. But after splinter groups organized as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, they were recognized in 2019 as an independent church by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Russian church fiercely rejects this decision as illegitimate.

And three months after the start of the war, the part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that had remained loyal to Moscow then declared its independence.

But the relationship of this church with Moscow remains ambiguous.

“His status is no longer clear,” added John Burgess, author of “Holy Rus’: The Rebirth of Orthodoxy in the New Russia” and professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

“There is a certain division within this church,” with priests and other leaders “who are very vocally pro-Moscow,” he said. But in other dioceses, priests no longer mention Kirill by name in public prayers – a ritually powerful snub in the Orthodox tradition, where such prayers are common as an expression of church unity.

The search for Ukrainians from Pechersk Lavra is sensitive. Dating back to the 11th century, it includes a maze of caves, tombs of saints and Baroque churches, according to UNESCO.

“From the perspective of American pluralism, you would say, ‘Really? Would you raid a church because someone sang a song? ‘” Burgess said. “But this is wartime. There’s so much anger at Russia and so much anger at anything that seems to be associated with Russia. We’ll see if the security forces have really found anything.”

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Smith reported from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. AP journalist Inna Varenytsia in Kyiv contributed to this.

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