In our time, earth-shattering events are taking place, to which the state could not help but react
Metropolitan Epiphany, the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, will hold a Christmas service in the Assumption Cathedral — the main cathedral of the Kyiv-Pecherska Lavra. The faithful of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are pleasantly surprised by the decision, which, as I know, comes from the Office of the President, and the Ministry of Culture announced this decision by its order.
How positively did one part of Ukrainian society react to this decision – the one that long advocated the release of the Lavra from, as they said, the "Moscow church,” – and how negatively did the other part react. Especially the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, because it believes that its faith is being banned in Ukraine this way, and their church is being destroyed.
I really hope that the service scheduled for January 7 will be held in a peaceful atmosphere, that the conditions of war will enlighten the minds of all participants of this important event (the feast of the Nativity of Christ).
In our time, earth-shattering events are taking place, to which the state could not help but react. This church has long been warned that the position it has taken does not correspond to the strategic goals and tactical actions of the state. Finally, that time came when, on December 25, the UOC found out (although they were ready to find out earlier) that their lease was about to expire, and some action had to be taken.
And thus on January 5, the Dormition Cathedral and the Tabernacle Church of the Kyiv-Pecherska Lavra were returned to the state. In short, we have a new reality in which we all have to live. It may be somewhat unexpected, but it would be wonderful if, in this situation where the Orthodox faithful are divided between those who are happy about this situation and those who are not, we could all come to an agreement amongst ourselves, and understand that we are not co-owners of the Lavra, but that the Lavra belongs to the entire Ukrainian people, and to think about how to ensure the rights of the entire Ukrainian people to their spiritual, historical, and cultural heritage.
I think that the UOC will not agree with the decision of the Ministry of Culture and with the decision, as I understand it, of the president himself, and will defend what they believe to be their violated rights. Moreover, they have a problem that they were not warned in time (a month in advance) about the end of their lease. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare for court proceedings. However, I want to emphasize once again: a new age, a new reality is coming, and if you in the UOC cannot see this from behind the wall of your monastery, then you should have come out into the world of God a long time ago and seen that the situation is fundamentally changing. I communicate actively with the soldiers at the front, with our chaplains, and believe me, they are so radical and so constructive that the church needs to think.
There is a danger of opposition from the UOC. There are 220 monks on the territory of the Lavra, and it is clear that they can resist in any possible way, including by interfering with the conduct of the service on January 7. Much will depend on the number of OCU faithful who will come to Epiphany’s service in the Assumption Cathedral. But the decision to at least have rotating use of these shrines, I think, is supported today by the vast majority of Ukrainian society. I think, if polled, those who support the government's decision would be the majority.
The fact of the granted permissions to hold a Christmas service in the Assumption Cathedral indicates that the state has begun to align its attitude towards various religious organizations. We have written that everyone is equal before the law. But we know that, in fact, there were those more equal than others. And for a long time, the UOC itself claimed the status of the most equal. Here, tradition played its role, as did political support from state leaders who came to power in certain historical periods. Also, let's remember the financial infusions made by well-known oligarchs who actually supported this church. It is impossible to maintain this kind of scheme on the small contributions of the faithful who come to services.
Well, today the situation has changed. And although they still count money in collection baskets in the old fashioned way, the possibilities of those former sponsors are now somewhat limited, as sanctions have been imposed on them, and business in Ukraine is no longer like it was because of the war. Thus, the Church must think about how to ensure its existence. It is such a huge machine which has a lot of different functions that need to be performed. It is not only about making candles and feeding the monks and employees of the Church, but also many other tasks.
There is now a colossal challenge for Ukraine, particularly concerning problems of freedom of conscience. The UOC claims that it is being persecuted for its religious beliefs, although we know that it is not for their religious positions, but for their political ones. No one makes claims as a metropolitan, archbishop or monk, but rather as citizens of Ukraine. This is how the citizens of Ukraine have turned out to be totally unready to live in step with the vast majority of their fellow citizens.