Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitschko on Friday ordered the closure of 74 temples belonging to the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), citing its alleged “direct ties” to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Klitschko’s decree is using the same legal justification employed to seize the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, or Monastery of the Caves, which Ukrainian police stormed last month. The monastery, which is nearly 1,000 years old, was handed over to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a rival organization set up by the government in 2018.
The Lavra is technically state property but the church administered it under a 2013 agreement, which Kiev declared null and void earlier this year, claiming that the UOC violated it by having ties to “enemy nation” Russia. Ukrainian courts rejected the UOC’s appeals.
The shuttered temples may be handed over to the OCU or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is in communion with Rome, or could even be demolished as “illegal objects” given the government’s annulment of lease and use contracts.
Back in March, President Vladimir Zelensky called the seizure of the Lavra “a move to strengthen our spiritual independence” and accused the UOC of being a tool of Russia. A third of Ukraine’s regions have outrightly banned the UOC so far.
Moscow has accused Kiev of persecuting the canonical Orthodox church and Washington for tacitly approving Ukraine’s actions. The US State Department, which produces an annual “religious freedom” report, has not once commented on Kiev’s campaign against the UOC. The reports published so far contain references only to meetings with representatives of the government-backed OCU.
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