KYIV – On a frosty Saturday morning, several altar boys pose for a group selfie next to the Dormition Cathedral of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex in the Ukrainian capital.

“This is for history! The Moskals used to occupy this place, and now here we are,” said one of the boys, using a Ukrainian slur for Russians.

“No time for pictures, boys! We have work to do,” a priest exhorted the youths as Ukraine’s Orthodox Church’s first Christmas service was about to begin at the Lavra – an 11th-century monastery that The most important religious center for Ukrainian Orthodox believers.

“God has given us a great gift during difficult trials: for the first time, the Ukrainian prayer of the Local Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine is heard in the main cathedral church of the Assumption of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. Christ was born! Let us praise him Do it!” Church Metropolitan Epiphany said during the Christmas service.

Just as Ukraine is fighting against Russia to maintain its sovereignty, Ukraine’s Independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine is waging a battle against Russian-backed priests for control of the Lavra monastery complex, also known as the Monastery of the Caves. Is. An increasing number of Ukrainians are moving away from the Russian-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church, also known as the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and are switching allegiance to the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, especially since February when Russia annexed Ukraine. attacked.

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian-backed church came to be seen as an instrument of Moscow’s influence in Ukraine as many priests allegedly collaborated with the Kremlin’s invading forces Yes, according to the Ukrainian government.

‘moral victory’

“We have already won a moral victory as all people of good faith condemn the genocide, terror and numerous war crimes perpetrated on our land by the evil Russian Empire,” Metropolitan Epiphany said at the Christmas service.

Hundreds of parishioners came to the Lavra for the first Christmas service in the Ukrainian language inside these walls. The Dormition Church was soon filled with soldiers, priests, and other believers, and people kept coming. Some had to stay outside and watch the service on TV screens even though the temperature was minus 8 degrees Celsius. Many people cried with happiness.

“This is a historic event. A turning point. Even though it is still unclear whether the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will receive long-term rent from the state, we saw the government’s position. And it is clear. Won’t, thank God,” one believer, 19-year-old Hanna from Kyiv, told Politico. “Of course, we want them to go in peace. We want to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ in peace.”

Prior to this, parishioners and priests of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine were not allowed to pray here, as the Dormition Cathedral, the main church of the Kyiv Pechersk Monastery, used to be the main headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with Russia, also known as goes. Moscow Patriarchate Church. So far it is unclear whether the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine will be allowed to occupy the church for more than one Christmas Day, as the previous tenants, Moscow-backed priests, will not agree to leave peacefully.

Although the priests of the Lavra deny that they still have ties to Moscow, several of them are currently under investigation by the Security Service of Ukraine for alleged collaboration with Russian security forces and after Russian passports and Russian propaganda materials were found during searches of monasteries. are subject to. The priests deny the allegations.

While the entire Lavra complex is state-owned, Russian-affiliated Orthodox priests have rented the Dormition Cathedral and the nearby Trapezna Church from the state since the 1990s. In December, their lease expired and the Lavra’s primary manager, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, refused to extend it, returning both temples to the state on 5 January.

Cathedral Struggle

Russian-affiliated priests refused to accept the decision, claiming that they had the right to remain in Lavra churches until the end of the war, despite the termination of the lease. Russian-affiliated priests also claim that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has no right to serve in the Dormition Cathedral.

The Russian-affiliated church said, “The announced program on the territory of the Lavra is an attempt to forcibly seize the cathedral through blackmail and misleading society.” said in a statement on Thursday.

Priests claim Ukrainian Orthodox Church announces service before obtaining official permission and under pressure Government To deliver it in Kyiv.

The priests of the Lavra consider themselves to be the only real local Orthodox Church in Ukraine. At times, Moscow-backed priests have called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine schismatic, even though in 2019 Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, officially recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and granted it self-government.

“Ukrainian shrines should serve the entire Ukrainian people, and we will adhere to this principle in the future,” Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said in a statement. Statement Thursday on Telegram.

Around 3,000 police officers were guarding the Lavra complex during the Christmas service on Saturday morning.

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