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“We don’t want people to know”: Easter service in Kiev in line with Moscow | Ukraine

While Ukraine celebrated the peak of the Orthodox Year, the Pechersk Lavra of the capital – a monastery complex that is loyal to the Moscow Patriarch – hosted an Easter service under unusually tense circumstances.

Normally, the streets throughout Ukraine on the night before Easter Sunday were littered with Orthodox believers walking to the church. Easter services in the Orthodox world begin the night before and end on Sunday at dawn – symbolizing Jesus’ resurrection.

But in a war-torn Ukraine, there is a strict curfew for every city, which usually begins in the middle of the evening and lasts until the early morning.

Several churches in Kiev, including the UNESCO-protected Pechersk Lavra, have been granted permission to lock. Instead of coming and going at will, the believers had to stay inside the historic walled complex from 5 pm on Saturday to 5 am on Sunday.

The Pechersk Lavra remained in line with the Moscow Patriarch after the independence vote in 2018. Photo: Ed Ram / The Guardian

For more than 400 years, the only Orthodox church in Ukraine recognized by Constantinople was the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which belonged to the Moscow Patriarch. But in 2018, after decades of campaigns, the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is considered the leading authority for the world’s 300 million Orthodox believers, granted Ukraine the right to an independent church.

Hundreds of Ukrainian parishes voted for the change, although thousands more remained with the Moscow patriarch. Key historical sites around Ukraine, the birthplace of Eastern European Orthodoxy, are now ruled by priests of various backgrounds.

The Pechersk Lavra is the one that remained to the Moscow Patriarch (the 1000-year-old St. Sophia Cathedral is ruled by the Kiev Patriarch), and until recently, Ukrainian intelligence services considered their religious leaders to be agents of the Kremlin for their Moscow ties. The clergy now say they are independent of Moscow and have spoken out against the “Russian war against Ukraine,” earning the support of advisers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

At the invitation of one of the senior priests of the Pechersk Lavra, the Guardian was admitted to the hand-painted interior of the 18th-century Trapezniy Church – one of the 12 churches of the monastery located on the banks of Kiev – for his night service.

The worshipers had to stay in Trapeznia’s church for six hours due to a war ban. Ed Ram / The Guardian Pictures

In the main part of the church, the faithful kept their places around the altar for a long night. At the other end of the church, a line of believers formed for confession, which is achieved in Orthodoxy by kissing an icon with a priest standing over the believer and covering the believer’s head with his gallery. The service was broadcast live for those who could not attend.

Less than an hour later, however, the priests at the altar stopped chanting and issued an unplanned warning: “It is forbidden to take pictures, now the photographer will stop. Spiritual Metropolitan Paul, who led the Easter service and was investigated by the Ukrainian authorities on allegations of incitement to religious hatred, said we must leave.

“You have to understand [Ukrainian] the Ministry of Culture will not like the fact that there are a lot of people, “said the assistant clergyman. “We don’t want them to close the Lavra.”

The clergy of the Pechersk Lavra now say they are independent of Moscow and have spoken out against the “Russian war against Ukraine.” Ed Ram / The Guardian Pictures

The official live broadcast was allowed because the church’s video cameras were positioned to cover the number of believers, the assistant explained.

“We don’t want anyone to know.” [how many came]”he said. In a live broadcast of the locking service hosted by” others “at the independent Ukrainian Mykhailivsky Cathedral in Kiev, pointed out that fewer people attended.

“No one wants to be photographed,” said another assistant, who complained that hundreds of journalists had attended the Easter service before the war.

The first assistant said the Ministry of Culture had limited the number of believers who could attend the lock-in and that they had broken the law by holding services – although a priest at Mykhailiv Cathedral with whom the Guardian spoke said there were no such restrictions.

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

The service was broadcast live, although the clergy preferred an opaque depiction of the number of believers present. Ed Ram / The Guardian Pictures

When asked who he meant, he named the far-right Ukrainian battalion The Right Sector, which was formed to fight Russia-backed separatists in 2014. Since then, Kremlin propaganda has exaggerated the group’s strength and popularity in Ukraine and repeatedly blames Ukrainians who came against Moscow. that they are members of the Right Sector. “This war is a mistake,” the assistant said.

Vladimir Putin used Moscow’s historical dominance over churches in Ukraine as a key argument for Russia’s right to rule the country and was angry when Kyiv gained independence. Since the complete Russian invasion, Moscow Patriarch Kirill has portrayed it as a holy war and has been a vocal supporter of the work of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

But during Easter Saturday service, Patriarch Kirill was much more restrained. He seemed to give up his stance on violence and called for an end to the conflict – although he did not criticize it.

The Metropolitans’ assistants said it was not their place to comment on Patriarch Kirill’s position. “We helped a lot of refugees – they accommodated them in our hostel in Lavra. “Ten of our priests are traveling to Mariupol right now to oversee the funerals,” said one of them.

Metropolitan Onufriy [the head representative in Kyiv of the Moscow Patriarch Church in Ukraine] he called it Russian aggression, but some people in the authorities boxed us up. ”