Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has given his support to the expulsion of monks from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, a historic Orthodox Christian site, claiming that it will strengthen the country’s “spiritual independence,” according to Reuters.
The move has been criticized by Moscow, which has called on Christian churches and international organizations to respond.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture informed the monks on Friday that they had until March 29 to leave the monastery, alleging that they had violated a 2013 agreement.
The abbot of the monastery has stated that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) monks will not comply with the order.
The UOC remains in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church but has declared itself independent to maintain good relations with the Ukrainian government.
The Kiev government has already expelled the UOC from two of the cathedrals above the monastery, allowing the government-created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) to take over.
Zelensky defended the move, stating that it was “completely legal” and had the support of the Ukrainian people.
He accused the monks of being “agents of Russia” and claimed that his government would not allow a “terrorist state” to “manipulate the spirituality of our people” or to “steal valuables” from holy sites.
The Pechersk Lavra, founded in 1051, is considered the most prominent Orthodox Christian site in Ukraine.
The expulsion of the monks has been described by the Kremlin as “unacceptable” and “absolutely unprecedented”, with Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, calling for an appropriate response from the international community.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has written to the UN, the heads of other Orthodox churches, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, and others, likening the move to the expulsion of Orthodox clergy under Communism.
Kirill warned that the eviction would “lead to a violation of the rights of millions of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful.”