According to the decision of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, on March 29, 2023, the agreement on the free use of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was terminated based on the conclusions of the interdepartmental working group. Monks and priests of Kyiv-Pechersk were given a deadline of March 29 to leave all structures of the Lavra.
In parallel with the mentioned process, in the period of March 26-29, various manipulative claims about Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra were disseminated on social networks. Namely:
- Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is planned to be transformed into a museum;
- Divine services will no longer be held in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra;
- Zelenskyy fights against Orthodoxy;
- Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is being shut down by order of the West.
The post by the head of the Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center, Dimitri Lortkipanidze, claimed that according to the decree of the President of Ukraine, continuous prayer service in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra would be stopped and the complex would turn into a museum. Lortkipanidze’s post was shared by a number of Facebook pages (1, 2, 3, 4), Facebook accounts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and the news agency Spacenews.io. In the same post, Lortkipanidze also announced a silent protest at the Ukrainian Embassy in Georgia on March 28. The same messages were voiced by Lortkipanidze in the program of the Georgian pro-Kremlin “Sezoni TV.”
The claim about the alleged conversion of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra into a museum and the termination of divine worship was also voiced by Bondo Mdzinarashvili, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster, as well as other Georgian-language Facebook accounts (1,2,3,4) Some Facebook users (1,2) argued that the integration in the West fosters the fight against Orthodoxy.
On March 28, the leader of “Georgian Idea,” Levan Chachua, also published a post about the mentioned topic, who wrote that the monastery complex of Kyiv-Pechersk will be turned into a museum “by order of the clown marionette”, the millennial service and prayer will be stopped and more than 200 Orthodox clergyman will be forced to leave the monastery. On March 29, Vato Shakarishvili, the founder of the public movement “Ai Ia,” also responded to the current events in Ukraine, writing that the Ukrainian authorities, under the influence of the West, banned religious services in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and turned it into a museum.
The claims around the termination of divine services in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and its transformation into a museum are manipulative. In fact, the complex has had the status of a museum up until now, which does not contradict the possibility of performing divine worship. In addition, in a statement published on March 18, the Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine denied the information about the closure of the monastery and noted that prayer, worship and monastic life would continue.
Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is an Orthodox monastery complex located in the centre of Kyiv, on an area of about 26 hectares, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. The Lavra unites two, “lower” and “upper” parts. The Cathedral of the Assumption and its museums are located in the territory of Upper Lavra. The lower Lavra combines a monastery where about 200 monks live, as well as the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary, where about 400 students study. The same place is the main residence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (УПЦ МП) of the Moscow Patriarchate. The monastery began to operate in the 11th century, about 100 years before the founding of Moscow, during the reign of Prince Yaroslav the Wise. That is why there is no reason to consider the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra as belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate: the Lavra is much older than both Moscow and its Patriarchate. After the establishment of the Soviet government in Ukraine, the monastery complex was closed in 1926, and the complex became a “Museum city of the whole of Ukraine.” During the Second World War, with the permission of the authorities, the monastery resumed its activities. In 1961, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra was closed again as part of Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign, and the Lavra became a historical-cultural reserve. In 1988, part of the Lavra was given to the Russian Orthodox Church, as there was no other church in the Soviet Union at that time. After that, the territory controlled by the Ukrainian part of the Russian Orthodox Church expanded, which later became part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
When was the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra leased to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (УПЦ МП), and why was the lease terminated?
In 2013, during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (УПЦ МП) of the Moscow Patriarchate was given the “Complex of Buildings and Structures” of the Lavra free of charge. During this time, a significant part of the buildings of the complex was under the exclusive control of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (УПЦ МП) on the basis of the lease. The agreement for the free use of the Lavra from March 29, 2023, was terminated based on the conclusions of the interdepartmental working group, as the terms of the agreement on the use of state property were violated by the monastery. According to the statement of the Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, Oleksandr Tkachenko, the monks will be able to stay in the Lavra after the completion of the state inspection, but under certain conditions. In addition, according to the minister, quite a lot of violations were observed in the territory of the Lavra; among them was the restructuring of architectural monuments and the construction of new facilities without planning permission. The article of Deutsche Welle, based on the findings of investigative journalists, states that in 2014-2017, at least five architectural monuments were damaged by such actions.
At the end of November 2022, the Security Service of Ukraine began searching the churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (УПЦ МП) in different regions of the country. According to the security service, in November, counterintelligence operations were carried out in 350 churches and 850 people were checked. According to the agency, within the framework of the investigation, evidence confirming the influence of the “Russian world” was revealed: a case of a clergyman providing information to the Russian side during the war, as well as propaganda literature and documents containing calls to switch to the Russian side, as well as a large amount of Russian money, Russian passports, dry goods intended for the Russian military food packages.
On November 15, 2022, the State Security Service initiated a court case under the pretext of justification of Russian aggression due to the song performed by the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra parish, in which “Mother Russia” was mentioned.
It should also be noted that in 2013, Vladimir Putin awarded the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Onofres, with the state award of the Russian Federation – Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky.
As for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), it received the tomos of autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Constantinople at the beginning of 2019; also the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was recognized by the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Africa, as well as the churches of Hellas and Cyprus. It should be noted that after receiving autocephaly from the Constantinople Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate severed the Eucharistic connection with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Russian Church also severed relations with those hierarchs of Greece who recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Will the Divine Worship be Terminated in the Lavra?
On March 18, the head of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, Epiphanius I of Ukraine, issued an official appeal about the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The statement mentions that the termination of prayer, worship and monastic life in the Lavra is not in question and the comparison the events taking place in the monastery with the past persecution of the communist government against the church, and in particular with the closing of the monastery, is a baseless manipulation. According to the Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, under the leadership of the then head of the monastery, the Lavra has consistently and purposefully turned into a centre for spreading the ideology of the “Russian world” – the ideology that serves to justify Russia’s war against Ukraine. On March 29, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Epiphanius I, appointed Archimandrite Abraham (Lotisha) as acting head of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. Metropolitan Epiphanius also appealed to the authorities of Ukraine to allow the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the territory of Lavra to perform worship services and start monastic life.
On January 5, 2023, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine made a decision to return the Cathedral of the Dormition and Refectory to state property, which was preceded by a search process in the churches under the Moscow Patriarchate in Kyiv and other regions.
In connection with the said process, propaganda messages were amplified on social networks, claiming that Ukraine is fighting against Orthodoxy, which is why the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra crosses began to turn black. In addition, a conspiratorial video was shared, as if the anti-religious actions of the Ukrainian authorities caused the proliferation of crows above the sky of Kyiv. For more information about the topic, see the articles prepared by “Myth Detector:”
- Does the Ukrainian Government Fight against Orthodoxy or the Influence of Russia?
- The Origin and Context of the Video Showing Flocks of Dark-colored Birds
- Kremlin Media Disseminates a Conspiracy about the Blackening of Crosses of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra
About the Sources
Part of the Facebook users that have spread manipulative information about the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra has been involved in the dissemination of disinformation in the past as well. Myth Detector has verified a number of false and manipulative claims disseminated by individual actors and Facebook users. See our articles featuring: Dimitri Lortkipanidze, Levan Chachua, Nikoloz Mzhavanadze, and Bondo Mdzinarashvili.
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