Court upholds Ukrainian Church’s eviction from Lower Lavra, UOC will appeal

Kiev, August 10, 2023

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Ukrainian state authorities have been working to completely evict the brethren of the Kiev Caves Lavra from their own monastery since March, and a Kiev court made another ruling to this effect yesterday.

The ancient monastery came under state control in Soviet times and the modern Ukrainian state has maintained this control, even as the monastery was rebuilt from a dilapidated state by the labors of the brotherhood and the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

As a state-run museum, the Lavra is divided into two sections: the Upper Lavra, which includes the main cathedrals, and the Lower Lavra, which includes the actual caves, the monastic cells, and several other churches.

The state refused to renew the Church’s lease for the use of the Upper Lavra at the beginning of the year. The last service was held on New Year’s Eve. This decision was upheld in court in June. Since the eviction of the Church, the churches of the Upper Lavra have been used for graceless schismatic services, secular music concerts with violent lyrics, art exhibitions, and other inappropriate events.

In March, the Ministry of Culture arbitrarily broke the lease for the Church to use the Lower Lavra as well. The monks were originally told that they had until March 29 to leave their home, but since then, the holy site has been bravely defended by thousands of faithful Orthodox Christians, and the monks, the students of the theological schools, and the UOC administration remain in the monastery.

At the same time, the matter has been going through the court system, and yesterday, the Economic Court of Kiev recognized the state’s termination of the lease for the Lower Lavra as legal, just as it had done in regards to the Upper Court two months ago.

“Thus, the Economic Court of the city of Kiev refused to satisfy the claims of the Holy Dormition-Kyiv Caves Lavra (men’s monastery) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This religious organization wanted to continue to use religious buildings and other state-owned property,” reports the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture.

The Ministry claims that the UOC and monastery brotherhood violated the lease multiple times, though it has yet to name these violations or provide any proof.

Lawyers for the Lavra are preparing an appeal.

This decision comes just days after His Eminence Metropolitan Jonathan of Tulchin became the first UOC hierarch to be sentenced to prison under the current wave of state persecution. He was given five years in prison with the confiscation of property on fraudulent charges of inciting religious enmity and “justifying Russian aggression.”

“It would be naive to expect a different decision in a case where the entire administrative apparatus was involved to deprive the monastery of the right to conduct religious activities,” the monastery’s chief lawyer, Archpriest Nikita Chekman, commented on yesterday’s decision.

The UOC’s Legal Department issued a statement emphasizing that the Court’s decision has not yet entered into force, thus there are no grounds for terminating the Church’s right to use the monastery buildings and property or for sealing up any buildings, as the Ministry of Culture already intends to do starting today.

The Court has yet to present its full judgment and justification for its decision. Moreover, the department argues that the Court failed to fully and objectively examine the case and in fact violated the norms of substantive and procedural law.

“We note that any actions of representatives of the Museum to seal the buildings or obstruct the use of them by the monastery are not only illegal, but also qualify as arbitrariness, for which criminal liability is stipulated,” the Legal Department concludes.

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