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Drama at the Lavra: What’s at Stake?

20. April 2023

Nicholas Denysenko
A Blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University

The decision of the Ukrainian government to terminate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s (UOC) lease at the Kyiv Pechers’ka Lavra monastery complex has dominated Orthodox news in recent weeks. The events leading up to the decision have stirred up emotions, generated debate, and given birth to rumors on the state’s objectives. Dispassionate analysis is at the mercy of credible information, and it is in short supply.  Let us begin with a few facts that can contribute to understanding the situation.

First, the Lavra is not “church property.” It is a National and Historical Cultural Reserve and belongs to the Ukrainian people. As a national property, the Lavra is managed by the state.

Second, the UOC was on the property in accordance with a rent-free lease that did not have an expiration date. The state, as the landlord, has the right to terminate that lease, with the understanding that a hasty departure is stressful and inconvenient.  

Third, debates on renter’s vs. landlord’s rights are in the domain of Ukrainian law. We await rulings on appeals and clarifications from Ukraine’s constitutional court. Imposing the laws of other countries on the Ukrainian situation just distorts the situation further.

There are also a number of issues that need more clarification before we are able to analyze this situation rigorously. The first set of issues concerns the state’s motivations for terminating the lease. Ukraine’s security service (SBU) is investigating the UOC to identify collaborators. There is a great deal of discussion, accusation, and denial about collaboration. Patience is required to learn the actual facts. It is premature to declare Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebid) a collaborator until he has gone through the due process, regardless of the outrageous character of his statements and actions.

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