On the second day of the Nativity, January 8, on the eve of the evening services, about thirty men in balaclavas and masks from the radical right organization C14 (“Sich”) blocked the entrance to the territory of the Holy Dormition Kiev-Caves Lavra. Shouting political slogans and lighting fireworks, they demanded a meeting with the abbot of the Lavra, Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed). His Eminence came out to the angry crowd of extremists and calmly began a discussion with them. A little while later a group of seminarians arrived on the scene to help out the Metropolitan. In answer to the outrage, the seminarians prayed and sang Christmas songs. Apparently the radicals could see that they that they were getting nowhere and couldn’t handle the peaceful, prayerful mood of the Orthodox, so they left the Lavra, threatening to return.
We asked the abbot of the Kiev-Caves Lavra Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod to give us his assessment of the incident.
Vladyka, this is probably not the first attack the extremists have launched on the Lavra, right?
Unfortunately, that’s right. Over the past couple of years, after the tragic events on the Maidan, there have been several such incidents. This attack was also planned. The young men came in balaclavas and masks, with video cameras and political posters, in order to provoke disorder and fights, hoping for a violent response. But I came out to them and they apparently didn’t expect this, supposing that the monks are scared by their aggressive actions. I came up to them and invited them to come to church and pray on that holy Christmas day. Of course they refused, although several of them were taken aback. When I learned that their leader’s last name was Karas (the word for a small species of carp), I even joked with them—my last name is Lebed (swan)—that it’s dangerous for a little carp to fight with a swan…
In reply to their aggressive shouting I just continued to explain to them that we aren’t separatists and not “sellouts”, and we don’t go under any kind of political slogans. The Lavra is a holy place that is many centuries old, and pilgrims come here from all over the world to pray. I tried to explain to them that the Church does not give any recommendations concerning political activities or parties.
Unfortunately the conversation went nowhere. They did not hear me.
—Is the reason for that in their aggression?
—Their aggression is the consequence of their worldview. The problem is that these young men are zombified by political extremist and national ideas. They are obsessed with the desire to war with the enemy, whom they feel they must find and destroy. In this case, the Lavra, as they expressed it, is “the heart of Russian aggression”. They don’t understand that the monks of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, like monastics in all continents, pray for the whole world and have no relation to politics. It was early in the morning, when the city had not yet woken up, the Eucharist was being celebrated in the Caves church, the Bloodless Sacrifice was being offered, and prayer to God for peace for the whole world was being raised up to God. There are up to eight Liturgies served per day in various churches of the Lavra. People who come here leave the roiling passions of the world, while the world, often with its hatred and political passions, is intent on breaking into the monastery. The enemy of mankind whispers to them that they should look for enemies in the Church—separatists or some foreign agents. In that state of mind even candle stubs can appear to be explosives, as happened in the cathedral in the city of Suma. These people are in a state of obsession; I would even call it insanity. Therefore it is useless to try to explain or prove anything to them…
—Where there any law enforcement agents present?
—Several police cars arrived. Unfortunately, these representatives did not react in any way to what was going on. The young men shouted insults through megaphones directed at the Church, prevented cars from entering the Lavra, beat upon automobiles, did outrageous things, pushed around defenseless women, and beat up one young man when he said it was because of these “hurrah-patriots” that peaceful civilians are perishing in Eastern Ukraine. And there was no reaction from the law enforcement agencies! After all, these men were doing things that are punishable by law.
—Did any investigators, prosecutors, or representatives of the Ministry of Interior Affairs come to see you the next day? Could it really be that there was no reaction whatsoever?
—Absolutely no reaction. And there were videos showing these outrages broadcasted on many Ukrainian television channels. True, the commentary varied.
—It is obvious that such incidents also have a spiritual component?
—From the spiritual point of view, such people are like the servants of Herod, rushing to destroy the Infant Christ. On the holy days of the Nativity of Christ, instead of glorifying the Lord, rejoicing and being merry, they are enflamed with hatred and filled with the spirit of evil. One can only grieve over their spiritual and emotional state, for they don’t know what they are doing; they don’t know that they are attacking not Metropolitan Pavel and the brothers but the Lord Himself. And as we know, the Lord will not be mocked. The only thing we can do is pray that these unhappy souls be brought to reason.
—What is the situation like now in the Lavra?
—This incident had no effect whatsoever on the festal services. It is peaceful now in the Lavra.