‘We don’t want people to know’: Moscow-aligned Easter service in kyiv | Ukraine

ANUkraine celebrated the highlight of the Orthodox year, the capital’s Pechersk Lavra, a monastery complex that has allegiance to the Patriarch of Moscow, held an Easter service in unusually tense circumstances.

Normally, the streets of Ukraine the night before Easter Sunday would be filled with Orthodox believers walking to church. Easter services in the Orthodox world begin the night before and end at sunrise on Sunday, to symbolize Jesus rising from the dead.

But in times of war in Ukraine, all cities are subject to strict curfews that usually start in the middle of the afternoon and last until early morning.

To allow for Easter celebrations, some kyiv churches, including the UNESCO-protected Pechersk Lavra, have been given permission to hold lockdowns. Instead of coming and going as they pleased, believers had to stay inside the historic walled complex from 11 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday.

Pechersk Lavra remained aligned with the Patriarch of Moscow after an independence vote in 2018. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

For more than 400 years, the only Orthodox Church in Ukraine recognized by Constantinople was the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, aligned with the Patriarch of Moscow. But in 2018, after decades of campaigning, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, considered the main authority for the world’s 300 million Orthodox faithful, granted Ukraine the right to an independent church.

Hundreds of Ukrainian parishes voted in favor of the change, although thousands more remained with the Patriarch of Moscow. Key historical sites around Ukraine, the birthplace of Eastern European Orthodoxy, are now controlled by priests of different affiliations.

The Pechersk Lavra is one that remained with the Patriarch of Moscow (the 1,000-year-old St. Sophia’s Cathedral is controlled by the Patriarch of kyiv), and until recently Ukrainian intelligence services considered its religious leaders to be agents of the Kremlin. for his ties to Moscow. The clerics now say they are independent of Moscow and have spoken out against “Russia’s war on Ukraine,” winning the support of advisers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

At the invitation of one of the chief priests of the Pechersk Lavra, the Guardian entered the hand-painted interior of the 18th-century Trapezniy Church, one of the 12 monastery churches, which stands on the banks of the kyiv River, for his night service.

People sitting in a pew in church, with veiled women.
The faithful had to stay inside the Trapezniy church for six hours due to the war curfew. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

In the main part of the church, believers reserved their places for a long night around the altar. At the other end of the church, a line of believers had formed for confession, which in Orthodoxy is achieved by kissing an icon with a priest standing over the believer, covering the believer’s head with his stole. The service was streamed live for those who were unable to attend.

But less than an hour later, the priests at the altar stopped chanting to issue an unscheduled notice: “Photography is prohibited, the person you are photographing, please stop now.” Metropolitan cleric Pavel, who was leading the Easter service and has been investigated by Ukrainian authorities on charges of instigating religious hatred, said we had to leave.

“You have to understand the [Ukrainian] the ministry of culture will not like that there are many people here,” said an assistant cleric. “We don’t want the Lavra to be closed.”

People in front of the painting of Jesus on the crucifix.
Clerics of the Pechersk Lavra now say they are independent of Moscow and have spoken out against “Russia’s war on Ukraine.” Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

The official live broadcast was allowed because the church’s video cameras were positioned in such a way as to obscure the number of believers, the attendee explained.

“We don’t want anyone to know [how many came],” he said. Showing the live feed of a lockdown service held by the “others” at the independent Ukrainian Mykhailivsky Cathedral in kyiv, he noted that fewer people were present.

“No one wants to be photographed,” said a second attendee, who lamented the fact that before the war, hundreds of journalists attended the Easter service.

The first attendee said that the culture ministry had restricted the number of believers who could attend the lock-in and that, even by holding the services, they were breaking the law; however, a priest at Mykhailivsky Cathedral whom The Guardian spoke to said there were no such restrictions.

“We live in a right-wing state,” said the first attendee. “The president supports us, but there are people who want to take the Lavra from us, physically take it away from us.”

People sitting in a pew in church, with veiled women.
The service was broadcast live, although clergymen favored an opaque representation of the number of worshipers in attendance. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

When asked who he was referring to, he named the Ukrainian far-right battalion Right Sector, which was formed to fight Russian-backed separatists in 2014. Since then, Kremlin propaganda has exaggerated the group’s power and popularity in Ukraine and has repeatedly accused the Ukrainians who have come. against Moscow for being members of the Right Sector. “This war is a mistake,” said the assistant.

Vladimir Putin has used Moscow’s historical dominance over churches in Ukraine as a key argument for Russia’s right to control the country and was angry when kyiv was granted independence. Since the full-scale invasion of Russia, Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill has portrayed it as a holy war and has been a strong supporter of the work of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

But during an Easter Saturday service, Patriarch Kirill was noticeably more subdued. He seemed to have abandoned his pro-violence stance and called for an end to the conflict, although he did not criticize it.

Metropolitan aides said it was not their place to comment on Patriarch Kirill’s position. “We have helped many refugees, we house them in our dormitory in the Lavra. Ten of our priests are traveling to Mariupol right now to supervise the funerals,” said one.

Metropolitan Onufriy [the head representative in Kyiv of the Moscow Patriarch Church in Ukraine] He has called it Russian aggression, but some people in the authorities have put us in a box.”

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