Experts comment on Zelensky’s refusal to withdraw Lavra from UOC-MP
Changes in the lease the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra are unlikely, according to the former speaker of the Primate of the UOC-MP, who has now changed jurisdiction to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Fr George Kovalenko.
Fr Kovalenko calls the petition of Ukrainians to President Zelensky to withdraw the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra from the Moscow Patriarchate because of the violation of quarantine during the pandemic, “the society’ emotional response to the inappropriate behavior of the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate during the pandemic.”
In an interview with Voice of America, Fr Kovalenko stated: “This will not lead to anything else than destabilization. Today, I do not see any active applications from other churches who would be willing to serve in the Lavra. There are no such statements. What are we discussing then?”
He also recalled that the website of the President of Ukraine collects signatures for another petition - with a demand to leave the Lavra in the use of the Moscow Patriarchate.
“Well, just imagine they obtain these 25 thousand votes. What next? I do not believe in petitions as a tool for solving such difficult issues,” Fr George added.
Religious scholar Viktor Yelenskiy also considers the requirement to transfer the Lavra to the OCU unrealistic, at least at present.
“No one will do this today. All the more so the influential forces in the Office of the President are pursuing a policy of rehabilitation and protection of the Moscow Patriarchate in every possible way,” Yelensky said to Voice of America.
He added, “Of course, the Lavra behaved too bad during the coronavirus pandemic. I would even say that they did not act like Christians and did not even repent for their appeals: come, hug, kiss, bring children, take communion. It looks like the only freedom that they are allowed in Moscow is to be more obscurantist than the Moscow Patriarchate itself.”
Therefore, public indignation at the actions of the hierarchs of the Lavra is justified, Yelensky believes, and the state should take a сcloser look at what the MP is doing in the Lavra, how it adheres to sanitary standards, how it protects cultural monuments.
“Zelensky might take advantage of such a petition if he wanted to. He could at least give instructions to the Cabinet of Ministers to consider the petition and the facts it refers to. And he just said that it was not his responsibility. This is what he does when he wants to close the issue,” Yelensky said.
And no matter how the government tries to put the matter to rest, political decisions will still have to be made, experts say. Director of the Department of Religious Affairs Andriy Yurash compares the situation with a sick tooth that no one wants to treat, but if you set it going, you will have to go to a surgeon.
“There are certain things that you can avoid for a while, but you can't completely ignore them. Lavra's issue is one of these. It has been and will remain one of the top priorities for society,” Yurash told Voice of America.
According to him, "this public petition is an indicator that the society is dissatisfied, that a very large public group does not perceive the current state of things and will not perceive it in the future."
How to find a balance between the majority who want to see changes and the minority who categorically rejects them and want to leave everything as is? According to Yurash, we need a broad political dialogue on state regulation of cultural monuments that are managed by certain religious organizations. And that means we need political decision-making.
“Such decisions – even if they initially provoke an ambiguous public reaction – eventually become a public good. For to experience anxiety today means to prevent much more global possible challenges tomorrow,” said the Director of the Department of Religious Affairs.
According to Yurash, the President was right when he said that the Lavra as an integral property and architectural complex is directly subordinate to the Cabinet of Ministers. In particular, it was the Cabinet of Ministers that decided in 2013 to transfer the Lower Lavra to the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate.
As an official reiterates, the Cabinet can make any decisions. But one cannot shift to the Cabinet all the burden of political decisions, as well as the responsibility for their non-acceptance.
We will remind, on the eve of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, answering addressed to him a petition calling for an end to the use of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the Moscow Patriarchate, said that the state property of Ukraine operates the Cabinet of Ministers. They say that this issue is not within the competence of the head of state.
In his response on the President's website, Volodymyr Zelensky stressed that he is obliged to act only on the basis and within the powers provided for by the Constitution.
An e-petition on the presidential website was registered in April and collected more than 27,000 votes out of the 25,000 required.
The reason for filing the petition was the violation of the quarantine by Lavra during the pandemic, which led to an outbreak of coronavirus infection there.
The appeal to the President was as follows: “Stop the use of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate by terminating the lease agreement and transfer the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).”
As noted in the text, the Lavra is a shrine of the Ukrainian people, the OCU is the Autocephalous Orthodox Church recognized by Constantinople on the territory of Ukraine, while the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate is not.
This means, the appeal says, “it is quite fair that the Orthodox denomination, which the Orthodox world has recognized as the Autocephalous Orthodox Church on the territory of Ukraine, should use the spiritual Shrine.”
Demanding to withdraw the Lavra from the Moscow Patriarchate, the initiators also faulted the hierarchs of the UOC-MP for the “statements and actions directed against the Ukrainian people.”
In particular, they recalled the statements by Metropolitan Onufriy about the Holodomor, allegedly sent down to Ukrainians for their pride; his condemnation of the anti-terrorist operation in the Donbas as “fraternal bloodshed”; the refusal of a priest of the UOC-MP to bury a child who was baptized in the Kyiv Patriarchate etc.