Kiev, March 21, 2023
The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church gathered in Kiev yesterday. The main item on the agenda was to formulate a response to the state’s plans to evict the monks of the Kiev Caves Lavra.
After the session, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine and the other hierarchs took the appeal they drafted to the Office of the President, hoping to have the opportunity to personally hand it to President Zelensky and have the opportunity to explain the truth of the situation.
The hierarchs waited outside for several hours but were not received by the President.
Their appeal was published on the site of the Information-Education Department of the UOC:
Honourable Vladimir Alexandrovich!
We address you as the head of the Ukrainian state, of which we are citizens, with the hope that our voice will be heard.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to which many millions of our compatriots belong, has always taught her flock to love their motherland, be worthy citizens of their state and fulfil their public duties worthily. After the beginning of the Russian Federation’s invasion into the territory of Ukraine, our Church was the first religious organisation to decisively condemn this military aggression and call upon her faithful to stand up for the defence of their native land. A great number of parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are presently in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations. Material aid to servicemen, forcibly displaced persons, and other groups of the population that have found themselves in tough conditions is provided due to efforts of parishes and monasteries. Visits of our priests with humanitarian loads to cities and villages which have especially suffered from the war continue. The position of our Church is unchanged: We uphold the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our state and decisively condemn the Russian military aggression against Ukraine.
Today our state needs unity like never before. Nevertheless, the clergy, monastics and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are feeling first-hand how the flame of confrontation on the basis of religion is being ignited in Ukraine. For a long time our Church has been suffering from lawless re-registration of communities, illegal takeovers of churches, and the discreditation in the media with the spread of a large number of groundless accusations. Those accusations are false, but they serve as a pretext for the discrimination of the rights of citizens of Ukraine on the basis of religion and for talks about the ban of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Nine draft laws which, contrary to the principle of equality of religious organizations, are aimed at making the activity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church impossible, have been registered at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. It should be pointed out that the majority of those draft laws have received negative conclusions from the scientific and expert department of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and contain a huge number of remarks and reservations concerning the violations which are at their core, that is violations in the field of such constitutional rights of citizens as freedom of conscience and religion. But the tough situation in the area of religion has drastically deteriorated after it became known that the state authorities intended to move our monastic community out of the territory of the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra, which had literally been raised from the ruins by the monks for the thirty-five years since the moment of the renewal of the activity of this ancient monastery.
After the Ukrainian state obtained independence, it started to return churches and monasteries taken away by the Soviet authorities to the Church or grant her the right to use them. Predominantly, those were destroyed, neglected and crippled buildings. Religious communities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church rebuilt those sanctuaries and once again filled them with life due to their own efforts and at their own cost. Gold-domed churches have become a true adornment of various parts of Ukraine. The Kiev Caves Lavra holds a special place among the revived sanctuaries. Today the Kiev Caves Lavra is a powerful religious, educational, and administrative center, as more than two hundred monks carry out their ministry on its territory, almost three hundred students of the academy and seminary are studying there, and the administrative center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is located there. Apart from that, powerful work on providing humanitarian aid to everybody who needs it is constantly carried out in the Lavra. For every cleric, monastic, and believer of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Kiev Caves Lavra is a priceless holy site, cherished with love. That is why the news of the groundless deprivation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the right to be in the Kiev Caves Lavra caused a huge wave of indingnation among our faithful. Every day we receive more and more addresses about the necessity to protect our holy sites and our lawful right to continue taking care of them.
Honorable Mr. President! Since the beginning of independence, the Ukrainian state has been trying to implement the tenets of freedom of religion proclaimed in international legal acts in its national legislation. The creation of a democratic society in an independent state seems impossible without freedom of religion as the legally guaranteed right of an individual to freely, without external coercion, choose and profess any religion or profess no religion, ever more so when Ukraine is on the path towards the European integration. That is why we respectfully address you as the head of state and the guarantor of the observance of the norms of the constitution of Ukraine and ask you to ensure the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion for the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to prevent the adoption of anti-constitutional laws against the Church which are considered at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and to do everything necessary for the clergy, monastics, and the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be able to continue carrying out their ministry in the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra.
On behalf of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
With deep respect,
METROPOLITAN OF KIEV AND ALL UKRAINE,
PRIMATE OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
The UOC and the Kiev Caves Lavra have repeatedly appealed to the President and other state authorities to end of the persecution of the Church, to treat them decently, but thus far to no avail.