The Orthodox Church of Ukraine on Jan. 7 conducted its first ever Christmas Day service in the Assumption Cathedral — the main cathedral church of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery — marking another decisive break by Ukraine away from Russian domination.
Until the end of last year, the monastery complex had been for decades under the control of the Russian-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).
NV broadcast the divine liturgy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine on the occasion of Christmas, which was led by Orthodox Church of Ukraine leader Metropolitan Epiphanius.
The Holy Assumption Cathedral of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, originally built in the late XI century, was blown up by Soviet troops in 1941 during the Second World War.
The cathedral was restored only in the late 1990s, and was consecrated on Aug. 24, 2000.
Since then, the church had been used by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Although the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, one of the largest Christian centers in the country, belongs to the state, religious organizations use it on a lease basis.
The Russian-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) leased the property of the Lavra back in the early 1990s. Neither the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) nor later the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was granted religious independence or autocephaly by Orthodox leaders in Istanbul in 2019, were allowed to hold services on the premises of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and in the Assumption Cathedral.
However, at the end of 2022, the lease of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) for the two largest churches of the Lavra — the Assumption and Refectory Churches — expired.
From Jan. 1, 2023, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Reserve did not extend the contract for the use of both churches to the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and therefore the Assumption Cathedral and the Refectory Church were returned to the state.
"Ukrainian shrines should serve all Ukrainian people," said Oleksandr Tkachenko, Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, commenting on the end of the Moscow church’s monopoly on the use of the monastery.
The head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius, requested and was granted permission from the state to hold a Christmas Day service in the Assumption Cathedral of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
At the end of December, the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), Metropolitan Pavlo, recorded an appeal to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He noted that on Jan. 1, 2023, the lease of the Assumption Cathedral and the Refectory Church to his church was set to expire, and asked the head of state not to allow its termination.
However, Ukrainian Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko said that his ministry would recommend that the lease agreement not be extended.
On Dec. 1, the National Security and Defense Council instructed the State Service for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience to submit to the government a bill stating that religious organizations "affiliated with the centers of influence in the Russian Federation" cannot operate in Ukraine.
Since the end of 2022, the Security Service of Ukraine has been conducting inspections in monasteries of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) throughout the country.
In many cases, the SBU reported finding anti-Ukrainian literature and symbols on the premises of the Russian-aligned church.