Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) conducted investigative activities on the premises of the Pochayiv Assumption Lavra of the Moscow Patriarchate church on November 30. According to the SBU press service, the action stems from criminal proceedings concerning accusations that the monastery’s leaders engaged in inciting inter-ethnic and religious hostility. Law enforcement officials allege representatives of the Lavra published content on its website deemed insulting to Jews’ national dignity and promoting hatred towards members of other faith communities.
Slidstvo.Info journalists spoke with the spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), Metropolitan Klyment.
“I AM NOT SURE THAT THE LAVRA HAS A WEBSITE AT ALL”
“If we are talking about some article on the website, it is even less clear what were the grounds for searching the entire vast territory of the monastery and who approved it. I am not sure that the monastery has an officially patented website for which this religious organization should be responsible. Moreover, I have no idea what kind of publication you are talking about,” Metropolitan Klyment, spokesman for the UOC (MP), told Slidstvo.Info.
On November 30, the SBU conducted searches in the Pochayiv Lavra. According to law enforcement officers, “in the post, the clergy of the UOC (MP) questioned the existence of Ukraine as a sovereign state separate from Russia.”
In a comment to Slidstvo.Info journalists, Metropolitan Klyment said that he was unaware of the court decision, according to which the SBU can conduct searches.
The searches in the monastery may be related to events at the Kremenets Theological School, which is located nearby, Klyment said. Future church choir leaders study there. The doors of the cells in which the students were sleeping at the time were allegedly kicked in by law enforcement officers.
“The girls were forced to hastily pack up and leave the premises in the cold. Their parents prevented the police from taking them by bus to some basement of some unknown educational institution, where, according to the police, they ‘should be placed after the completion of the clearing of the premises’ where they studied,” adds the Moscow Patriarchate spokesman.
A regents’ school is also located on the grounds of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kremenets. Today, the students and teachers were relocated to alternative facilities prepared in advance, allowing their studies to continue, the press service of the Ternopil Oblast police said.
“Police psychologists and specialized dialogue officers spoke with individuals present at the shrine. All of them were given the opportunity to leave the temple grounds legally. No force or coercion was used against people — the actions were conducted solely through legal means,” the regional police reported.
Journalists of Slidstvo.Info found that the website of the Pochayiv Lavra was already blocked last year. According to the monastery’s representatives, the provider did so at the request of the Security Service of Ukraine, allegedly because of “false denunciations.” At the time, the monastery said that they would try to restore the site as soon as possible. The journalists found that Pochayiv Lavra created a new website on the same day that the previous one was blocked.
DENIAL OF THE EXISTENCE OF UKRAINIANS
Following searches at the Pochayiv Theological Seminary and the Ivano-Frankivsk Diocese of the UOC (MP) in late November, the SBU opened two criminal cases relating to violations of citizens’ equality based on race, nationality, and region.
At that time, law enforcement officers found propaganda materials denying the existence of the Ukrainian people, language, and Ukraine’s right to statehood.
“The Security Service found brochures and books with xenophobic and hateful content with offensive fabrications about other nationalities and religions. Most of the literature was written by Russian figures and published by Russian printing houses,” the statement said.
In addition, during a search of the Ivano-Frankivsk diocese of the UOC (MP), the SBU found chevrons of the “Great Don Army,” a pro-Russian armed group that, according to the SBU, fought in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in 2014.
In early December, law enforcement officers charged the rector of the Pochayiv Theological Seminary, Archbishop Job (Viktor Fedorovych Smakouz) of Shumsk, with inciting hatred.
“The archbishop distributed posts on social media that humiliated the national honor and dignity of Ukrainians. His actions also contributed to inciting religious hatred and enmity. To spread the destructive content, the rector of the institution used an anonymous Facebook profile and used the narratives of Russian propagandists to craft his posts,” the SBU said in a statement.
In July 2023, the court sentenced a novice of the Pochayiv Lavra to five years in prison with confiscation of property. After the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, he actively spread Russian propaganda narratives on social media and justified armed aggression against Ukraine.
REFUSAL TO PERFORM FUNERAL SERVICES FOR UNBAPTIZED IN THE UOC (MP)
Over the years of Moscow Patriarchate presence at the Lavra, their activities there were accompanied by scandals: refusal to administer the church sacraments because they knew the “Our Father” in Ukrainian, as well as to pray and to lead funeral rites for people without baptism under the UOC (MP).
Instead, they called to pray for the Russian tsar, and printed and sold children’s coloring books with the Russian military, books about Tsar Nicholas II and the salvation of the “new Russian tsar.” The Pochayiv Lavra also hosted religious processions involving titushky (young men of athletic stature wearing sports clothing, serving the role of provocateurs or “protecting” civil actions – ed.) when in 2018, hundreds of young people marched in T-shirts with the words “Get ready for war.” St. George’s ribbons and flags of the “DPR” have also been repeatedly flown at such processions.
In November 2022, the SBU gathered materials found as evidence, along with other alleged propaganda, leading to the opening of two criminal cases.
THE LAVRA ABBOT AND ANTI-UKRAINIAN RHETORIC
Metropolitan Volodymyr (Viorel Lazarovych Moroz) has been heading the Pochayiv Lavra since 1996.
The website of the Russian Orthodox Church states that the Metropolitan received three orders from Patriarch Kirill, two of which were after the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
After the Tomos of Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was granted, the website of the Holy Dormition Pochayiv Lavra published an appeal from Metropolitan Volodymyr about the alleged “threat” to him. The bishop asked the faithful for prayerful support and compared the Ukrainian government to the communist one: “Lenin’s grandchildren in spirit are threatening to kill, so we will defend our shrine… The new style with its consequences is unpleasant for us, the Orthodox,” the metropolitan stated.
In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pochayiv Lavra gathered hundreds of people without masks for worship. Subsequently, outbreaks of coronavirus were recorded in the monastery. The abbot of the monastery himself joined the conspiracy theory. Metropolitan Volodymyr was convinced that Bill Gates (the founder of Microsoft), through the coronavirus vaccine, “wants to implant microchips in people’s bodies to control them using 5G technology.”
“ISSUING AN IDENTIFICATION CODE IS WORSHIP OF DEMONS”
Metropolitan Seraphim (Zaliznytskyi) headed the Pochayiv Theological Seminary, where he urged students not to receive individual tax numbers. According to him, after receiving an identification code (which is used to pay taxes in Ukraine), “demon worship” takes place. Such propaganda has been widely distributed in brochures and audio cassettes throughout Ukraine.
Shorty before February 24, 2022, Metropolitan Seraphim fled to Moscow. The Russian church thereafter assigned the cleric to a parish in Moscow.
This was not Seraphim’s first trip to Russia. In 2007, he was dismissed from the Bila Tserkva diocese, refused an appointment to Sievierodonetsk, and relocated to Moscow, where he became the rector of a church. But then he returned to Ukraine and in 2016 headed the Pochayiv Theological Seminary. A year and a half later, he became Bishop of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomyia.
LEASE OF THE POCHAYIV MONASTERY TO THE UOC (MP)
The Investigative Department of the National Police of Ternopil Oblast opened 12 proceedings related to economic activity and fraud in the Pochayiv Lavra. Some of the buildings of the Pochayiv Lavra, namely six buildings, are on the balance sheet of the Kremenets-Pochayiv State Historical and Architectural Reserve.
The MPs proposed to terminate the lease agreement with the UOC (MP) for the monastery’s facilities. They even registered a corresponding draft resolution, which is currently under consideration.
In March 2023, members of the Ternopil Oblast Council appealed to the prime minister of Ukraine, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine with a demand to terminate the agreement on the use of the Holy Dormition Pochayiv Lavra and the complex of buildings of the Pochayiv Lavra. This agreement was concluded until 2052, but the council members want to return the Pochayiv Lavra to the state.