Ukraine court puts Orthodox leader under house arrest

Ukraine court puts Orthodox leader under house arrest
Priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church pray with their supporters after resisting a government order to leave the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery (AP)

A Ukrainian court has ordered a leading Orthodox priest who is accused by authorities of condoning Russia’s invasion to be put under house arrest.

Metropolitan Pavel, the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, Ukraine’s most revered Orthodox site, has denied the charges and resisted the authorities’ order to vacate the complex.

Ukraine’s top security agency said he was suspected of justifying Russian aggression, a criminal offence. It was the latest move in a bitter dispute over the famed Orthodox monastery.

A hearing had been adjourned until Monday after the priest said he was feeling unwell.

A senior priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church blesses parishioners in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery (AP)

After the court’s ruling, a monitoring bracelet was placed around Pavel’s ankle, despite his objections that he has diabetes and should not wear it.

“I am accepting this,” he said shortly before the bracelet was attached. “Christ was crucified on the cross, so why shouldn’t I accept this?”

In a court hearing earlier in the day, the metropolitan said the claim by the Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, that he condoned Russia’s invasion was politically driven.

“I have never been on the side of aggression,” Pavel told reporters in the courthouse. “This is my land.”

Earlier in the week, he cursed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, threatening him with damnation.

SBU agents raided the metropolitan’s residence, and prosecutors asked the court to put him under house arrest pending the investigation.

A supporter of Ukrainian Orthodox Church holds an icon outside the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery (AP)

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 the 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 UOC 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 UOC has insisted that it is loyal to Ukraine and has denounced the Russian invasion from the start.

But Ukrainian security agencies say some in the church have maintained close ties with Moscow. The agencies have raided numerous holy sites of the church and then posted photos of roubles, Russian passports, and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch as proof that some church officials have been loyal to Russia.

The government had ordered the monks to leave the compound by March 29. It claims they violated their lease by making alterations to the historic site, and other technical infractions. The monks rejected the claim as a pretext.

Dozens of UOC supporters gathered outside the monastery on Saturday, singing hymns in the rain. A smaller group of protesters also turned up, accusing the other side of sympathizing with Moscow.

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