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14 June, 2011  ▪  Roman Malko

Priests in Pursuit

Is the Moscow Patriarchate laying its hands on a historical monument?

The epic story of the Church of the Tithes seems to have reached new heights. Builders’ trailers were recently installed on the excavation grounds there. This was done at night, away from curious eyes. Both the police and public activists have failed to identify the owners who brought them there. Both the municipal authorities and the Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox priests deny involvement. But it is clear that the officials and men in black frocks are not telling the whole truth.

WHO REAPS THE BENEFITS

Archeologists insist that the Kyiv City Administration and district administrations have been the heaviest lobbyists for a modern church to be built in the sacred place. “The fact that the trailers were put here apparently for construction purposes is the result of some lower-rank officials’ ad-libbing,” says Vitaliy Koziuba, research fellow at the NANU Institute of Archeology who directed the excavations. “Evidently they think they will push their project through, but there has been no official decision and the construction works themselves violate Ukrainian law.”

It is this “bureaucratic plankton” which likes a dark and slippery environment that is the main culprit in the situation. If these functionaries stuck to their duties and national laws, there would be no conflict.

A recent attempt to hold a competition of projects to decide on what to do with the long-suffering foundation of the ancient church was an utter failure. It was doomed from the start: projects were accepted for the tender that clearly contravened both its concept and Ukrainian laws in general. The competition thus seemed to be a trick conceived to legalize the idea of a new church rather than a way to find a reasonable solution. Proof of this is the failed first ballot in which the project to make a museum, rather than a church, won. The repeat ballot only fuelled suspicion. Surprisingly, two absolutely incompatible conceptions – the museum project and the Byzantium-style church project – were declared winners.

Jury member Larysa Skoryk and Kyiv City Council member Oleksandr Bryhinets say that the votes of the respected commission members were split along professional lines. Historians, architects and archeologists, who are perfectly aware of the site’s historical and cultural value, supported its conservation, while the bureaucrats voted for a new church. Obviously, they also realize how valuable the Church of the Tithes is but want to convert it into a money-bearing equivalent.

THE SILENCE OF THE PRESIDENT

There has been no shortage of people speaking in favor of building a new church at the site, including ex-President Leonid Kuchma, who even signed an edict on the matter. Viktor Yushchenko and one-time Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko also joined in. However, all of them changed their minds once they learned that their fantasies ran counter to law. The current president decided not to follow their suit. A rumor (later proved false) had it that Viktor Yanukovych had signed a decree permitting construction works at the site of the Church of the Tithes. In reality, Yanukovych merely ordered officials to look into the situation. Evidently, no ranking official wants to bear responsibility now and openly break the law. For this site in downtown Kyiv is protected by all conceivable international conventions.

Neither Metropolitan Vladimir, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate, UPTs MP), nor Patriarch Kirill of Moscow have made any direct statements about the need to build a new Church of the Tithes. Their subordinates, however, do not conceal their desires. Archimandrite Hedeon went as far as saying that the church would be built there anyway. He runs the Monastery of the Tithes which was set up on a plot of land near the church which the clergy had seized essentially as raiders.

If you believe Hedeon’s official biography published on the site of the UPTs MP Kyiv Metropolitanate, he is a seasoned clergyman. Before coming to Kyiv he had held two high positions, one in a Russian province and the other in the USA. His self-confident demeanor betrays having not only good intentions but also some influential patrons who have both blessed the “God-pleasing” cause and provided some tangible assistance. His selection of helpers is also revealing. Most of his monks look more like fighters in special task units rather than typical monks. They do not mince words or exhibit any particular peacefulness.

Princess Maria Romanova, who is considered a descendant of the Russian monarchial dynasty, recently paid a visit to Ukraine and awarded Hedeon with the Righteous Order on Anna, Third Degree, for his merits before the church and the state. It is an easy guess which state was implied.

THE FOUNDATION OF THE “RUSSIAN WORLD”

Church raid attacks are nothing out of the ordinary in Ukraine. People are no longer surprised at churches being taken away from one denomination by another one or chapels being built on illegally seized land. But the Church of the Tithes is special. It was the first stone church of Kyivan Rus’ and was built by Prince Volodymyr himself at that. Can it be that the Kremlin rulers are viewing it as an important piece to go into the foundation of the “Russian World” they have started building by working through the Russian Orthodox Church?

Realizing that a church cannot be built legally, the masterminds must have decided to resort to the time-tested method of ruse, impudence and exploitation of peoples' superstitious beliefs. They are fortunate to have the political wind blowing in a favorable direction. Modern Ukraine has not yet seen examples of churches being taken down, even if they were illegally built in the first place. As soon as Moscow priests put the first bricks on the foundation of the Church of the Tithes to build their new church, no one will drive them out from there.

A recent attempt to install builders’ trailers near the site is a very telling move. It was a test. If the public had let it pass and failed to express its outrage, bulldozers would have immediately arrived to start digging the foundation. Experience of fighting against illegal construction projects in Kyiv shows that it is extremely hard – virtually impossible – to stop bulldozers.

FACT FILE

The Church of the Tithes or Church of the Dormition of the Virgin was built in 988–996 A.D. by Prince Volodymyr the Great. It was destroyed by Mongols in 1240. The excavations of the ruins were launched back in the 1630s on the initiative of Petro Mohyla who found the sarcophagus of Prince Volodymyr and his wife Anna there. In 1842, a new church, executed in the imperial Byzantian-Muscovite style, was erected on the ruins, but it was razed to the ground by the Bolsheviks in 1928.


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