Article published by Ozy on November 26th 2018
Taras Palianytsia isn’t religious, but the Holy Dormition Pochayiv Lavra monastery has been on his mind a lot lately. Built on a hill in the 16th century, the monastery towers over the small western Ukraine city of Pochayiv that Palianytsia calls home. The shrine is Ukraine’s second biggest monastery and one of its most sacred Orthodox sites. But right now, Palianytsia, a deputy in the local city council and member of the nationalist “Svoboda” (Freedom) party, says the monastery is “a problem.”
A country of 42 million people with two-thirds of its population being Orthodox, Ukraine is in the midst of a tussle over its religious identity. In early October, the Istanbul-based Constantinople Patriarch, considered “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, announced its intention to grant Ukrainian clerics independence from the Russian Orthodox Church, which controls the Pochayiv monastery and has, until now, dominated religious life in Ukraine. The previously unrecognized Church of the Kiev Patriarchate will take a leading role in the new church.
There’s just one problem: The Moscow Patriarchate currently controls nearly 12,000 parishes in the country, which face an uncertain future once Ukraine gets its own, independent Orthodox church. And as one of Ukraine’s most important religious centers, the Pochayiv monastery finds itself at the heart of this dispute, a key prize for both sides, and a bellwether for the battle over the other smaller parishes.