The events around the Pochaev Lavra have unfolded rapidly, and, as they say, “on all fronts.” On November 19, the Pochaev City Council held a Deputy’s session where they decided to cancel the transfer of the land plots from the brothers’ residential buildings of the Lavra; then on November 23, the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice canceled the decision on state registration of the rights of usage of the complex of buildings; and again, five days later, on November 28, the Cabinet of Ministers canceled its decision No. 438 from July 17, 2003, “On the Exclusion of the Buildings of the Holy Dormition-Pochaev Lavra From the Composition of the Kremenets-Pochaev State Historical-Architectural Reserve.” In fact, the Pochaev Lavra was transferred to the disposal of the museum. This is what our conversation with its abbot, Metropolitan Vladimir (Moroz) of Pochaev, concerns.
—Your Eminence, tell us, how are the brethren of the Lavra reacting to what is happening?
—The position of the brothers of the Pochaev Lavra is expressed in our appeals and statements, posted on the official sites of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and our monastery. First of all, I would like to note that there is no panic and no excesses in the Lavra. The services are continuing as usual; the Lavra prays, labors, and receives pilgrims. As for the decisions of the Ministry of Justice and the Cabinet of Ministers, I’ll say this: There’s a systematic attack underway against the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Officials are working out a program launched by certain political forces from above. On every Ukrainian television station, on social networks, there are speeches from the leaders of the schismatics who declare that all our churches and monasteries should be transferred to the so-called United Local Church. In fact, it’s a new form of persecution. Such rhetoric sounds from high political rostrums, and media outlets are competing with each other in twisting the facts and making all sorts of insinuations against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
It turns out that everyone—the civil servants and lawyers who took part in preparing the documents on land issues in Pochaev—are now despised and persecuted. Special Services representatives have already visited all of them, carrying out searches and seizing archival and other documents concerning the Pochaev Lavra. They’ve opened criminal cases against them! What for? To make it clear to everyone that any assistance to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is criminally punishable…
—Vladyka, this is not the first attempt by state officials to take the Lavra from the Church, is it?
—Calls have repeatedly been made at sessions of the Ternopil Provincial Council and from other political platforms. And yet, in 2003, by decision of the Ukrainian Cabinet Ministers, the Pochaev Lavra was removed from the control of the Kremenets Historical Reserve and six objects were transferred to the use of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We have a long-term agreement with the State Construction Committee under the Cabinet of Ministers. Despite the fact that we have an agreement, the Ministry of Culture petitioned for these objects to be transferred to the Reserve again. At the order of the Ministry of Culture, the Kremenets Reserve, in its turn, appealed to the Pochaev Registrar to register these buildings to them, but they refused, because the buildings are on the balance sheet of the Lavra. And then the Prosecutor’s office was brought in…
The local authorities also don’t want to transfer the land around the buildings that also belonged to the Lavra and is now in disrepair, and which we, as much as we are able, try with God’s help to bring into a suitable condition. The authorities don’t want to protect the rights of the holy site, and the current legislation providing for the return of the land to the user is not being implemented. This is already the thirteenth time the City Council has refused to make this decision, “thanks” to Svoboda activists who disrupt their sessions and threaten the local deputies.
It should also be noted that money from the state budget has never been allocated for reconstruction and the maintenance of the churches and buildings of the Holy Dormition-Pochaev Lavra, which are architectural monuments. Look at pictures of the Lavra from thirty years ago, when in the Soviet period we were forbidden to repair or restore anything, and compare it with the modern look of the Lavra. How the monastery has flourished and been adorned since then! And now, they again want to deprive the monks of the right to be proprietors in their own monastery!
These current events are reminiscent of the 1920s and 1930s, when the Bolsheviks deprived the Church of its property, when they gave churches to the Renovationists. And playing the role of the Renovationists today is the so-called United Local Church. But the guardians of this creation forgot to turn the pages of history and learn that the artificially created pocket church of the Renovationists did not receive any support from the faithful; millions went to the camps, into exile, to places of torment and execution, but they remained faithful to the Church of Christ. The Renovationist church disappeared from the face of the Earth within a few decades, but our Church, having passed through the crucible of trials, remains until today; and we believe that, according to the words of Christ, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (cf. Mt. 16:18).
—It’s no accident that Pochaev is called a stronghold of Orthodoxy, as the Lavra is located on the border with the Catholic world, which has sought to submit the sacred place to itself in all ages. And there was a period when the Uniates managed to implement this. But with the help of God the monastery again and again threw off the shackles of the heretics and atheists.
—First of all, it should be understood that the place for the creation of a monastery here was indicated by the Theotokos herself, appearing in a fiery pillar in 1240 on Pochaev Mountain, leaving on a rock, as in wax, a trace of her footprint, from which a spring flows to this day. And the Lavra is ruled neither by the Ministry of Culture nor the local history reserve, but by the Mother of God. It’s enough to recall a few episodes.
In 1620, the grandson of Anna Goiskaya, the Lutheran Andrei Firlei, planned to drive the monks from Pochaev Mountain, for which he took away their land and, bursting into the monastery with his servants, carried the wonderworking icon away. After that, the house of Firlei suffered disasters and diseases that did not stop until the icon was returned.
An event in 1675 entered the Lavra’s chronicles forever when during the Zbarazh War a detachment of 50,000 Turks and Tatars led by Nureddin attacked the monastery. It was literally defenseless before the huge army. But then, the Queen of Heaven herself appeared over the Holy Trinity Church with an outstretched omophorion in her hands, with the Heavenly angels, and with St. Job [of Pochaev—Trans.]. The arrows shot towards the monastery turned back and began to strike the invaders, and they fled in fear. The Lavra endured tribulations both from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and during the First World War.
But the Lavra was subjected to the most severe trials in the twentieth century, in the Khrushchev period. The last monks who witnessed those terrible persecutions are still alive. Most of them have already passed to the other world. But they pray for our monastery there with our venerable abbot Job of Pochaev. In those days, they were sent to prisons and psychiatric hospitals, evacuated many miles away, deprived of their residency permits, but nothing could force them to leave the walls of their home monastery. They were ready to die defending it. The brothers of the Lavra are the same way now. Not a single monk will compromise his conscience, leave the monastery, or endorse the new evil currents with the creation of the so-called United Local Church.
—Monasticism is called an indicator of the reaction to what is going on in the world and in the Church world—why?
—Because you won’t find any incriminating evidence against a monk. A monk has a small cell, he has no real estate or any savings in the bank, he serves God with faith and truth. A prayerful spirit reigns in his soul, and he makes known how to react to what is happening in the world. The Spirit of God leads him to that path that leads to the Heavenly Kingdom, and therefore it’s difficult to deceive or seduce a monk with something. He prays a lot, believes correctly; and just look: After Philaret’s schism in 1992, not a single monastery supported him!
Christianity, both in the past, and in the twenty-first century, is confession, because the world neither understands nor accepts us. As the Lord said: If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (Jn. 15:20). It’s no coincidence that His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II of bright memory would note that this modern secular world will never accept the teachings of the Church of Christ; and we see, both in developed European countries and in the entire world, Christianity is rejected, ignored, persecuted, and destroyed, or is replaced by some kind of surrogate.
The judgment of God is carried out here on Earth. There will be a sentence there. You have to have a certain consciousness; you have to have faith and pass everything through the prism of Sacred Scripture. We have to understand what the Lord is calling us to—to perfection, to holiness, to the Heavenly Kingdom, to a right, God-pleasing manner of Christian living. And whatever the circumstances, we must remain faithful children of the Church of Christ.
—Vladyka, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry is the Sacred Archimandrite of the Pochaev Lavra,1 and he was its abbot for a few years in his time. How is he reacting to what’s happening?
—The Lord led His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry to the See of Kiev at the most difficult time for Ukraine, when the country is facing the great trials of the military confrontation in the east. The political and economic crisis also entails trials for the Church and the threat of a new schism has arisen, now from the Patriarchate of Constantinople. And all this time, His Beatitude remains for us all—hierarchs, clergy, monastics, and laity—an example of true asceticism, prayerfulness, an unbending will, and optimism. We all rejoice that we have such a primate, that in such difficult and onerous situations, he does not lose heart, and gives us all an example of correct standing in faith, an example of confession. In his face we see a true pastor and a steadfast and courageous servant of the Church of Christ.
—Vladyka, what would you like to wish our readers, our God-loving Orthodox flock in these early days of the Nativity Fast?
—First of all, to congratulate everyone with the beginning of this wonderful time of preparation for meeting the Divine Child Christ. It is a profitable time for the purification of our souls, for spiritual perfection. And I want to wish that we would all be found worthy of this salvific meeting with our Lord Who is being born. And also, firmness in faith, and to always remember that the All-Powerful God is always with us. Orthodox Christians have been and will be zealous and steadfast, and they do not allow themselves to be offended. We ask the holy fathers and our brothers and sisters for their holy prayers for the holy Orthodox Church, for our ancient monastery, for the Ukrainian state, and for its much-suffering people, that love, peace, and mutual understanding would finally reign in our country.