Spiritual Trenches Exhibition in Kiev

In Kiev, in the Monastery of Saint Theodosius, coffins and disguises are nowadays replaced, which is an accurate reflection of the schism existing in the Orthodox Church after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is easy to notice the religious movement within the barricades already set up in the temple. Some monks, under the black habit, wear military boots and trousers like the one in charge of sending souvenirs to the few visitors who visit this place.

Can a priest carry a Kalashnikov rifle in the current conflict? This is confirmed by several, but after the dust settled, the authorities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church stopped. Father Makarios, 42, publicly boasted a few days ago that a bulletproof vest, helmet and rifle were ready in his office at the Monastery of San Teodoso. It didn’t go down well and now he prefers not to act on the boastfulness in a journalist’s question. But he laughs slyly as he multitasks with several men in disguise around the building. They belong to civil defense agencies created to assist the Ukrainian army against Russian forces.

One is called stasis, which moves with a knife, handcuffs, and various clips that have ammunition attached to a military bulletproof vest. At first glance, no one would say that he is a peaceful citizen. The 31-year-old headmaster of the school took up arms as best he could in Irpin, a suburb of Kiev where fierce fighting has been going on since the start of the war. At the first moment of the Russian invasion, he sent a mother, wife and three children to Germany. He left Irpin on March 6 and his house is now a monastery. “Our mission is to protect civilians, assist with evacuation and cooperate with the military,” he explained. Of course, he adds, there was a strange clash of arms with the religious. However, this does not prove a specific one-time exercise. It says that the weapons in the hands of the monks are “for defense only and not for attack”. “If Russian soldiers come, yes,” he said.

Father Makarios and Stasi, one of the armed civilians currently living in the Monastery of Saint Theodosius in Kiev.Luis de Vegas

Part of the parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church sees not only the invasion of the Russian army, which began on February 24, as a threat. So are the postulates that the Russian Orthodox Church is trying to impose on Kiev from Moscow by President Vladimir Putin, who is inextricably linked to Patriarch Kirill. Archbishop Evstrat Zorya, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, called Putin an “antichrist” and compared him to Stalin or Hitler, including in statements to EL PAÍS at the San Miguel de la Kupula Monastery in Doradas.

The conflict comes from afar and has spiritual, as well as political (due to ties to a country’s government), cultural (due to linguistic ties), and ancestral (due to the control of sacred sites) connotations. A few meters from the Monastery of Saint Theodosius stands the huge building of the Monastery of the Caves, the most important in Ukraine and which remains faithful to the Russian Patriarch. You can’t see the militiamen stationed in the facility on the streets and patrol in absolute tranquility between several police officers, but none of the officers of the facility want to make statements and comment on the situation. Only one religious official says there is no cookie oven: “Our leaders have currently banned us from talking to journalists to avoid provocation.”

The representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, Archbishop Evstrat Zorya, pictured in Saint Michael's Monastery.
The representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, Archbishop Evstrat Zorya, pictured in Saint Michael’s Monastery.Luis de Vegas

“I believe in God and if he wants 100 bullets not to kill me then so be it. If he decides one bullet is enough then so be it.” Under the same name as the other religious mentioned above, Father Makarios, 60, and using a walking stick, admits in San Theodosio that he has participated in several Saturday training sessions as part of civil defense groups since January. These include emergency medical care, blast sealing windows, bomb protection, and various other techniques, but not the use of firearms.

“We are not threatening a religious war, but Russia and Putin themselves are trying to use the religious pretext for their aggression,” said Archbishop Evstrat Zoria, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He said the Russian president had referred to religious ideas four or five times in a recent speech to supporters. What he does is insidious, demonic, satanic. “Putin is the antichrist of our time, just like Stalin or Hitler,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis, who has been meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in recent days, tried Friday to end what he calls the Vatican’s “hateful war”.

Famous opera singer Vasil Slipak (left), who was shot dead during a battle in Donbas in 2016, is depicted in one of the frescoes in the Monastery of Saint Theodosius in Kiev.
Famous opera singer Vasil Slipak (left), who was shot dead during a battle in Donbas in 2016, is depicted in one of the frescoes in the Monastery of Saint Theodosius in Kiev.Luis de Vegas

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Coordinator of all Orthodox Churches in the world, signed the Decree of Independence of the Church of Kiev from Moscow in 2019 when Petro Poroshenko was President of Ukraine. From the 17th century before that, worship was held in the former Soviet Republic under the rules of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, with the largest denomination, 12,000 parishioners; The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate follows with 6,000 parishioners and the Independent Minority Church with 1,000.

The “main problem” was Poroshenko’s interventionism, condemns analyst Ruslan Bortnik, who said a religious split between Kiev and Moscow was not necessary. He believes that until now there were not so many problems between the peoples, but that the tension between the two churches was caused by political interference. Bortnik states that the Moscow Patriarchate is also strongly opposed to “Russian intervention”.

View of Kiev from the cave monastery.
View of Kiev from the cave monastery. Luis de Vegas

Leaning on a cane and dressed in a rich gray beard as he speaks, Father Makarios tries to live as unforgettable as possible in the war-torn climate that has nearly intoxicated him in Kiev. In front of the Spanish reporter, he prefers to call Miguel de Cervantes or Federico Garcia Lorca and expresses sympathy for Flamenco. But tears well up in his eyes as he recalls arriving in Kiev 16 years ago from his native Donbass, a region of eastern Ukraine where the military has been at war with pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

This war has nothing to do with the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. On the steps of the São Teodósio Monastery, some recent paintings summarize the country’s history. One of the murals shows the famous opera singer Vasil Slipak, who was shot dead during a battle in Donbass in 2016, along with a religious figure. He is considered a national hero. A few meters away, several men equipped for battle move from place to place in the monastery complex, which today looks more like a barracks.

Source: La Neta Neta