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Ukrainian cleric in court amid dispute over Kyiv monastery

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s top security agency notified a top Orthodox priest Saturday that he was suspected of justifying Russia’s aggression amid a bitter dispute over a famed Orthodox monastery.

Metropolitan Pavel, the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, Ukraine’s most revered Orthodox site, has strongly resisted the authorities’ order to vacate the complex. Earlier in the week, he cursed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, threatening him with damnation.

Facing a court hearing in the Ukrainian capital, the metropolitan strongly rejected the claim by the Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, that he condoned Russia’s invasion. Pavel described the accusations against him as politically driven.

The SBU, which has raided his home, asked the court to put him under house arrest pending the investigation.

The monks in the monastery belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of having links to Russia. The dispute surrounding the property, also known as Monastery of the Caves, is part of a wider religious conflict that has unfolded in parallel with the war.

The Ukrainian government has cracked down on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church over its historic ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, has supported Russian President Vladimir Putin in the invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has insisted that it’s loyal to Ukraine and has denounced the Russian invasion from the start. The church declared its independence from Moscow.

But Ukrainian security agencies have claimed that some in the UOC have maintained close ties with Moscow. They’ve raided numerous holy sites of the church and later posted photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch as proof that some church officials have been loyal to Russia.

The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery is owned by the Ukrainian government, and the agency overseeing it notified the monks that it was terminating the lease and they had until Wednesday to leave the site.

Metropolitan Pavel told worshipers Wednesday that the monks would not leave pending the outcome of a lawsuit the UOC filed in a Kyiv court to stop the eviction.

The government claims that the monks violated their lease by making alterations to the historic site and other technical infractions. The monks rejected the claim as a pretext.

Many Orthodox communities in Ukraine have cut their ties with the UOC and transitioned to the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which more than four years ago received recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Bartholomew I is considered the first among equals among the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Patriarch Kirill and most other Orthodox patriarchs have refused to accept his decision authorizing the second Ukrainian church.

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