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An orthodox church leader at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery is under investigation, according to a statement Saturday from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), who accuse him of “inciting religious hatred” and “justifying and denying Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine.”
As part of the investigation, the SBU said it found that Metropolitan Pavlo, Petro Lebid, “in his public speeches repeatedly insulted the religious feelings of Ukrainians, humiliated the views of believers of other faiths and tried to create hostile attitudes towards them, and made statements justifying or denying the actions of the aggressor country.”
“Investigative actions” were taken at the metropolitan’s places of residence, the SBU said. The operation was conducted under the supervision of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, according to the SBU.
“The enemy is trying to use the church environment to promote its propaganda and split Ukrainian society. But we will not give him (the enemy) a single chance! The SBU systematically blocks all attempts by Russian special services to use their agents to harm the interests and security of Ukraine,” SBU head Vasyl Malyuk said in the statement.
Here’s what led up to the investigation: Metropolitan Pavlo is the abbot of the 980-year-old monastery, home of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), a branch of Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine that has been traditionally loyal to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
Kirill is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a supporter of his war on Ukraine.
Tensions over the presence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra have risen after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and an agreement that allowed the UOC to occupy the historic complex was terminated on March 10. The UOC was instructed to leave the premises by March 29.
In May 2022, the UOC cut ties with Moscow and declared “full independence,” but some members have maintained their loyalty.
The metropolitan attended a court hearing Monday but felt unwell and had to go to a hospital, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said.
Some more background: Since the start of Russia’s invasion in 2022, Ukraine’s Security Service said it has launched more than 40 “comprehensive counterintelligence and security measures” in the church environment of the UOC, “which were aimed at stopping the destructive activities of pro-Russian clergy.”
As a result of the measures taken by the SBU, 61 criminal proceedings were initiated against 61 clergymen, the agency said. “In total, the courts have already passed 7 sentences against individual clerics who sided with the enemy, including 2 who were used in the exchange for our servicemen,” it said.
Based on SBU investigations, 17 UOC officials have been subject to sanctions by Kyiv and almost 250 clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church have been banned from entering Ukraine, the agency said.
Ukraine has also terminated the citizenship of 19 UOC clergymen who were dual Ukrainian-Russian citizens, forcing them to leave the country, the SBU said.