The Monastery of the Caves has deep symbolic importance for both
Russians and Ukrainians.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian security officers raided a centuries-old
Orthodox Christian monastery complex in Kyiv on Tuesday, saying they
wanted to prevent its use as a center for pro-Russian, subversive
activities. The agents scoured the sprawling complex aboveground
looking for Russian saboteurs among the clerics and weapons amid the
holy relics, even as pilgrims prayed in caves below where the monks
are buried. Moscow condemned the move as an attack on the Russian
It was unclear if any arrests were made or illegal activity
discovered, but the publicly announced search appeared designed to
send a clear message: Priests who support the Kremlin’s goal of a
“Russian world” that includes Ukraine will be found and perhaps
The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Caves, is
a huge complex that is considered one of the holiest Christian sites
for both Russians and Ukrainians. It is the headquarters of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which had until recently been subordinate
to the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.
The search was a vivid demonstration of the depth of mistrust toward
the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which long pledged its loyalty to the
Moscow Patriarch. After Russia’s invasion in February, the Ukrainian church’s leadership made a formal break, but government officials have
spoken openly about suspicions that some clergy members are still
loyal to Moscow.
Officers of Ukraine’s state security service said in a statement that together with the police and national guard it carried out “counterintelligence” activities in the monastery intended to “counter the subversive activities of the Russian special services in Ukraine.”
Sprawling along the Dnipro River in central Kyiv, the complex
encompasses ancient churches, administrative buildings and caves where
revered monks and saints are buried. It is considered the birthplace
of monastic life in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
The Reverend Hieromonk Ioan, a member of the Kyiv monastery, said that
the clergy there simply wanted to pray in peace. He said that they
were not loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate but did not shy way from the monastery’s close historic ties with Russia.
“We have certain relations with Russia, and it’s painful for us what
is going on now,” he said in an interview outside the monastery after
the raid. “Time will show how it will be in the future.”
“The most important is that the war is over — we are praying for
that,” he said. “For the guilty to be punished and for us to live in
peace and not to be afraid of tomorrow.”
Ukrainian security officials said in a separate statement that they
had also raided two other monasteries, as well as the headquarters for
a local diocese, all in western Ukraine.
The Ukrainian church has been slowly asserting itself since the
country’s independence in 1991. It received formal autonomous status
within the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2019. Since the war started,
hundreds of churches have switched allegiance from the Moscow
patriarchate to the Kyiv-based church.
Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, is a
prominent supporter of President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of
Ukraine and has characterized the war as a just defense of Russian
nationalism and a crusade against the spread of liberal ideologies.
Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, has urged Kirill not to “transform himself into Putin’s altar boy” and instead to work for
Tuesday’s raid prompted a harsh reaction in Russia, with the Kremlin characterizing the move as further proof that Ukraine is “at war with
the Russian Orthodox Church.”
“This can be regarded as another link in the chain of military actions against the Russian Orthodoxy,” said Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman.
Vladimir Legoyda, the spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church,
called the raid “an act of intimidation” against the only remaining institution “where people both in Russia and Ukraine sincerely pray
Ukrainian security services said they had already arrested more than
30 Ukrainian priests working as Russian agents over the course of the