Kiev Caves Lavra to gov’t: stop persecuting the Church and monastery

Kiev, December 29, 2022

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The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra are calling upon the Ukrainian government to stop the persecution against the Church and monastery, and to allow the large brotherhood to continue to enjoy the usage of the churches of their own monastery.

In Soviet times, the Lavra became a state-owned museum, and Ukraine never returned the territory to the Church after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Earlier this week, it was announced that with the new year, the monastery would no longer be able to use the main churches of the Upper Lavra—the Holy Dormition Cathedral and the trapeza church.

The monastery press service published an open letter to President Zelensky and other officials in this regard:

Dear Vladimir Alexandrovich!

Dear Denis Anatolievich!

Dear Alexander Vladislavovich!

Dear citizens of Ukraine!

We, the clergy and brothers of the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra (men’s monastery) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, are addressing you regarding violations of the rights of the monastery and its parishioners, which have intensified recently.

Since its foundation at the beginning of the 11th century, the Lavra has been and remains the center of spiritual life, the place of monks’ prayerful work, the pride and beauty of KIev, which is noted not only by visitors, but also by international organizations, in particular UNESCO. Throughout the history of its existence, the Lavra has been subjected to persecution and destruction, but it has always been revived with new strength, rallying the Orthodox people around itself. During the godless times of Soviet rule, the Kiev Caves Lavra was closed and turned into a museum for almost 70 years, a significant part of the monks went to prisons and camps or were deprived of their lives. During these terrible times, the churches and buildings of the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra were destroyed and brought to ruin. But after the restoration of Orthodox worship in 1988, the Lavra emerged from the ruins by the efforts and funds of the monastery, the brethren, benefactors, and parishioners. It should be noted that the state, as the owner, has not taken and is not taking any significant measures for the restoration and maintenance of the churches. The funds allocated for this purpose from the state budget were insignificant, so the National Reserve still can’t take credit for those improvements from the reconstruction and restoration that have been carried out over the past 30 years.

The Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra has repeatedly appealed to the authorized state authorities with demands to return the churches and structures of the Lavra to its rightful owner—the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In particular, such appeals were also submitted regarding the transfer of the churches of the Upper Lavra, if not to ownership, then to permanent gratuitous use. However, these appeals were left unanswered for political reasons. The only thing that the monastery managed to achieve, at the expense and efforts of which the Holy Dormition Cathedral and trapeza church were rebuilt and restored, was to transfer them to hourly use for the duration of the Divine services. Moreover, the Lavra pays significant monthly funds for lighting and heating, despite the fact that these churches are to be constantly heated at the expense of the state budget.

Now the management of the National Reserve has refused to extend the contracts for the hourly use of the Holy Dormition Cathedral and trapeza church for the coming year of 2023. Moreover, recently, shameful searches were carried out in the Lavra and other monasteries and fake “news” was fabricated in the so-called mass media. All this is done, obviously, for the purpose of transferring the churches of the Upper Lavra to the newly created OCU.

The attitude towards the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in general and to the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra in particular shows that the state of Ukraine, which has declared its European democratic choice, is far from implementing it in practice.

In 1995, Ukraine pledged to “establish a legal solution to the issue of returning church property” (subparagraph XI of paragraph 11 of pace Conclusion No. 190 (1995) of 26.09.1995). However, in 2005, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe again called on the Ukrainian authorities to “establish clear rules for the return of church property, as required by subparagraph 11.XI. Conclusion No. 190 (1995)” (PACE Resolution No. 1466 (2005) of 05.10.2005). The action plan for fulfilling the duties and obligations of Ukraine arising from its membership in the Council of Europe, approved by Presidential Decree No. 39/2006 of January 20, 2006, provided for the development and submission to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of a draft law “on improving the rules for returning church property to religious organizations.” Presidential Decree No. 24/2011 of January 12, 2011 approved the action plan for fulfilling the duties and obligations of Ukraine arising from its membership in the Council of Europe, in which one of the mandatory measures is defined as the development and submission to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the draft law of Ukraine “on the return of religious buildings to religious organizations.”

Currently, these PACE decisions and Ukraine’s obligations to implement them have not been implemented. Please note that the PACE documents do not refer to the creation of a new division of the Church of Constantinople and the transfer of religious buildings to it, but to the return of Church property to the religious organizations from which it was seize—in this case that can only be the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra (men’s monastery) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as the canonical legal successor of the Lavra founded by Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves.

As history shows, the persecution of the holy Orthodox Church and the abuse of holy sites entails troubles and sorrows not only for the organizers and participants of such shameful actions and their descendants, but also for the land where it takes place. We know that if persecution first turns away the weak by faith, then further, the more the Church of Christ is strengthened, about which its founder, Our Lord Jesus Christ, said the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18).

We have hope and remember the words of Christ: If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (Jn. 15:20). And he who is not persecuted is not with Christ. But we know that the more Christians were persecuted, the more Christianity grew and spread.

However, we, as citizens of Ukraine, are cheering for our fatherland, for the shaky peace in society that now exists and which could be destroyed by short-sighted actions to take away churches from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Having responsibility before God for the souls of people entrusted to us, we ask you to put an end to the lawlessness and persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and, in particular, the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra (men’s monastery) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We assure you that we will defend our rights by strengthening prayer, rallying the flock around the Church, as well as by legal means, including through international organizations.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the sons of God (Mt. 5:9).

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