Pope Francis has interceded publicly in the dispute between the Ukrainian Government and the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow. He did so on Wednesday, March 15, at the end of the General Audience held in Saint Peter’s Square.
The Holy Father made this appeal: “I think of the Orthodox nuns of the Kiev Lavra: I ask the belligerent parties to respect the religious places. The consecrated nuns, the persons consecrated to prayer — of whatever Confession they are – support the People of God.”
As zenit.org reported, Patriarch Kirill asked the Pope for help in view of the fact that the Ukrainian Government suspended the concession of the oldest and most important religious complex of the capital, Kiev, entrusted in the past to the Russian Orthodox Church. All this in the context of Russia’s War against Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox must leave the Monastery this month of March.
In a press release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, an appeal is made to the civil society and to human rights organizations to impede the anarchy of the Ukrainian Authorities and to prevent the abolition of one of the principal shrines of Russian Orthodoxy, the oldest Monastery of the Rus, the Kiev Lavra of the Caves.”
The Russian version states that “The appeal was caused by the action of the ‘Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra’ National Reserve when the leaders demanded that the monks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church leave the Lavra at the latest by March 29, 2023. The reason for this decision was alleged violations of the contract of free use of the Monastery complex. However, the Reserve has not mentioned concrete instances of such violations in its public documents.”
The Monastery of the Caves of Kiev was founded in the 11th century by monks Anthony and Theodosius, who are among the Saints of the Russian Orthodox Church. Resting in the territory of the complex are the relics of more than 100 ascetics venerated in the Russian Orthodox Church. Among them are the honorable remains of Ilya Muromets, hero of the Russian epic, and monk Nestor the Chronicle, who is believed to be the author of the first written Russian chronicle “The Story of Past Years.”
The process of suspension of the free concession of the monastery to the Russian Orthodox began in December of 2022, when the National Security Defense Council (NSDC ) of Ukraine charged the Government to present before the Supreme Rada a draft law “on the impossibility that religious organizations affiliated to centers of influence of the Russian Federation work in Ukraine.”
In all this context, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia made an appeal to the Secretaries General of the UN and of the OSCE, Antonio Guterres and Helga Maria Schmid, to Pope Francis and to other International Organizations and Religious Leaders “to do everything possible to prevent the coercive closure of the Monastery, as it would lead to the violation of the rights of millions of Ukrainian believers to freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine, as well as by documents, such as the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or convictions, and many other acts of international importance.”
For its part, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation notified that it had sent letters “to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, to the President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Korosi, to the acting President of the OSCE, Bujar Osmani, and to the Secretary General of the OSCE, Helga Maria Schmid, on the flagrant violations of the Universal Human and Constitutional rights of Orthodox believers in Ukraine.”
Minister Lavrov argued that “the actions of the Ukrainian Authorities are a flagrant violation of the rights of Orthodox Christians and discrimination against them. These actions violate a series of internationally recognized legal documents: the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or convictions, to mention a few. Lavrov considers that the recent decision of the Kiev Authorities to expel the monks of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra is a repressive attempt to deprive the canonical Orthodox Church of one of its principal shrines with an implausible pretext. In fact, it is a culminating point of the repression directed against the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”
The monastic complex in dispute includes at least 11 buildings surrounding the Cathedral of the country’s capital. Two of those buildings are occupied by monks and one by nuns. The rest are related to museums, libraries, workshops, and others.