By Elena Teslova
MOSCOW (AA) - The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on Saturday handed to the head of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery a notification on the opening of a criminal case against him on suspicion of inciting religious discord in the country and working for Russia.
"Today at 07:30 (0430GMT), I was handed a suspicion (charge). ... Now my house will be searched. I am not guilty, and I ask for your prayers," Metropolitan Paul (Peter Lebed) told people who gathered near the entrance of the monastery.
He said in a sermon: "Our tears will not fall to the ground, but will fall on the heads of those who caused these riots," referring to the authorities' plans to evict monks from the monastery. His remarks were incriminated by the Security Service as a "curse" on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Also, in a video address on YouTube, the clergyman said "divine retribution will fall on heads" of people, who are "persecuting" clergymen.
On March 10, Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said on Telegram that the contract for the use of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) would be terminated on March 29, based on the monastery's alleged "violation of the terms of the agreement on the use of state property."
On March 29, hundreds of believers gathered inside and near the monastery to protest the decision.
On Saturday, pro-government groups came to Lavra, chanting anti-Russian mottos, pushing the monks to leave, not only the monastery but also the country.
Presidential advisor Mikhail Podolyak, in an interview with the YouTube 24 channel, spoke about the possibility of clearing the country of pro-Russian clergymen.
"A unique chance when it was possible to solve everything very quickly and painlessly was during the first three to six months of the (Russia-Ukraine) war. Then, it was possible to physically clean up a lot of pro-Russian ones, today, it is a little more difficult. But, again, a little more difficult does not mean impossible," Podolyak said.
In a separate statement, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council, said the eviction of the monks is the eventual goal.
The monks voiced fears that law enforcement may start storming the monastery on Saturday evening or in the coming days.
Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, has been an important center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity since its foundation in 1051.
Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches used to be united, but in 2018, then-President Petro Poroshenko requested the autocephaly (autonomy) status for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), established in opposition to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was part of the All-Russia congregation.
The two institutions split, the process was accompanied by the division of property, and the new church secured a lot of assets, which was protested by the UOC.
The newly formed church has long eyed, ceasing the main religious establishment of Ukraine, Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, from its opponents.
With the start of the Russian "special military operation" in Ukraine, the OCU accused the UOC of connections with Moscow.
In May last year, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split from Moscow, but nevertheless is labeled by the Ukrainian authorities and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as "pro-Russian."