Metropolitan Pavel (born Petr Lebed), a representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and Viceregent of the Pechersk Lavra, said on March 22 that despite the termination of their lease, the monks would not be vacating the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. He made the statement via a video message on the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra’s YouTube channel.

 

The Kyiv Perchersk Lavra (or Monastery of the Caves) is an 11th century monastery complex in the heart of Kyiv, and one of the holiest religious sites for both Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Christians. Today it is owned by the Ukrainian government.

 

“We were given two weeks, until March 29, to vacate the monastery, but we will not be able to do so for several reasons,” Pavel said.

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“Over the course of 35 years, the brothers have worked tirelessly to organize and maintain the life of the monastery and to accommodate the needs of monks. We just don’t have a place to take it all (kitchens, laundry), and we don’t intend to leave anything behind,” the Metropolitan stressed.

 

Pavel, who is also known by the nickname “Pasha Mercedes” because of his fondness for luxury cars, has urged members of the UOC-MP to protect the sanctuary, saying that he’s not going to give it away without a fight.

 

“Many accuse us of surrendering the monastery without a fight. I call on you to fulfill your duty to defend this holy place alongside us,” he said.

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In addition, the vicar of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra reiterated that there are no plans for the UOC-MP to transition to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine of the Kyiv Patriarchate (OCU-KP).

 

Tensions have been building progressively at the holy site, especially since March 10, when the UOC-MP was notified that their lease allowing for their free use of religious buildings, which are state-owned property, would be terminated on March 29.

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Prior to the eviction notice, the UOC-MP was accused of harboring a pro-Russian fifth column among its ranks. The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) searched the premises on Nov. 22, finding Russian passports, pro-Russian literature, cash that was suspected of being used to finance saboteurs, and forged documents.

 

The SBU said the operation and others like it were aimed at preventing the use of church facilities as a “center for the Russian world” and to search them for sabotage groups, foreign citizens, or illegal weapons.

 

“We will not allow the terrorist state [Russia] to have any opportunity to manipulate the spirituality of our people, to destroy Ukrainian shrines – our Lavras – or to steal any valuables from them,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on March 12.

 

With the eviction of the UOC-MP, more of the holy site will be occupied by the rival OCU-KP. The OCU-KP was formed in 2019, when the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople conferred canonical status on the merger of two Ukrainian churches that the Russian Orthodox Church had always deemed illegitimate.

 

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