Pravec, Bulgaria, March 27, 2023
As the persecution of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the brotherhood of the Kiev Caves Lavra continues to intensify, hierarchs, clergy, and international organizations from around the world have begun speaking out in defense of the Church.
And on Friday, a statement from His Grace Bishop Michael of Constantia of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, abbot of the Chekotin Monastery of the Archangel Michael, and the abbots, abbesses, and brotherhoods and sisterhoods of eight other monasteries was published.
The attack on the UOC and the Kiev Caves Lavra is, in fact, an attack on the entire Body of Christ, the bishop and monastics write, calling on the Ukrainian authorities to allow the monks of the Kiev Caves Lavra to remain in their home.
The full statement reads:
In the days of Lent, a time of intense spiritual struggle, along with the many trials and especially the horrors of the war in Ukraine—the loss of human lives and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their loved ones, homes, property due to military action, or due to natural disasters in other regions of the world, for us Orthodox Christians, this wound was added to by the increasing persecution against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
We are very concerned by the decision of the management of the Kiev Caves Lavra National Reserve of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine that the monks and inhabitants of the Lavra must leave the holy monastery by March 29.
The Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra is the first monastery in the newly baptized Kievan Rus’, founded in the 11th century by the first ascetics of the monasticism of ancient Rus’—Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of Kiev. Built and improved by the Orthodox monastics and people in Kievan Rus’ and later in the Russian Empire, hundreds of saints prayed in the monastery, venerated everywhere in the entire Orthodox Church.
In its thousand-year history, the monastery experienced the worst times during the militant atheist regime after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Soviet authorities expelled the monks from the monastery and nationalized its churches and monastic buildings. Turned into a reserve and museum, the early 20th-century monastery fell into ruins by the end of Bolshevik rule.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new state power in Ukraine retained ownership of the monastery. The monastic brotherhood was forced to gain access to the churches and monastic buildings through contractual relations with the state institution of the Kiev Caves Lavra National Reserve. In the last 30 years, at the cost of incredible efforts, the clergy of the monastery with the help of the Orthodox people in Ukraine, as well as pilgrims from all over the Orthodox world, have raised the holy monastery literally from ruin and desolation.
Today, the Kiev Caves Lavra, which is the largest monastery in Ukraine and one of the spiritual centers of the Orthodox Church in its importance, can be likened to a spiritual heart, a center of spiritual life and a precious ornament of the martyred Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The attack on the monastery is a blow to the most numerous confession in Ukraine, a blow to the Orthodox Ukrainian people and the entire Orthodox Church—a blow to the living Body of Christ.
In addition to the perceived legacy of Soviet ownership of the holy monastery, which is in itself problematic, have not the current rulers of Ukraine also perceived this past relapse of disregard for the right to freedom of religion?
When we ask ourselves the rhetorical question whether the Lord Jesus Christ is again on trial before Pilate today, let us also bear in mind the definite outcome of such a sacrilegious act as has been repeatedly witnessed to us in the history of the Church.
The hierarchs and clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are invariably with their people, bearing all the hardships of war, encouraging the military in defense of their motherland, collecting aid and care for the injured and needy, and in all these actions showing their loyalty to the government of their country and the full unity and support of their Ukrainian people.
We express our full support to the Kiev Caves monastic Brotherhood that is in danger of being forcibly expelled from the monastery of their repentance!
We appeal to the state authorities in the Republic of Ukraine with a call for non-interference in Church affairs, for observance of the principle of separation of Church and state. We call for the preservation of the Kiev Caves Lavra in its sole and unique purpose as a place of worship and residence for monks of the canonical Church.
Today, more than 200 monks and novices live in the Kiev Caves Lavra. These are the clergy who, with selfless work and with the support of the praying people, over the last 30 years have raised the holy monastery and its many churches from the ruins inherited by the atheist regime. They shouldn’t be deprived of their abode of repentance and prayer. Their prayers are a support for all of us through difficult trials.
The Lavra is also home to the Kiev Theological Academy and Seminary, where many students and seminarians are trained. These are the future clergy and ministers of the Church. They shouldn’t be denied the right to education.
The Kiev Caves Lavra is a treasure trove for millions of believers from all over the Orthodox world. We unite our unworthy prayers with the prayers of all the holy fathers of the Kiev Caves and all the Orthodox Christians of the world for the preservation of the holy monastery from encroachments and the preservation in it of the present monastic brotherhood and spiritual life. Lord, save and protect!