Seizures of temples. How it was: Gribovitsa

The seized church of the UOC in the village of Gribovitsa

Gribovitsa is an example of how the UOC solves the problem of seizures in a Christian way. The Сhurch does not fight for its lawful temple but builds a new one.

The Volyn village of Gribovitsa is located between the regional town of Novovolynsk and the urban village of Ivanychi. During the reform of rural communities, the independent village council of Gribovitsy was liquidated; after considering all the options for consolidation, it was decided to join the village to the new unified territorial community of the Ivanychi district centre. How are these events related to the religious scandal inflamed in Gribovitsa, which became known all over Ukraine?

The conflict rural council held the last elections in October of 2015. Residents of Gribovitsa, in whose presence the confessional map was played, immediately determined the true reason for the parish's demarche: on a wave of church raiding, a change of power took place in the village, as a result of which a representative of one of the families actively promoting the "transition" of the local Holy Intercession Church of the UOC to the Kiev Patriarchate became the chairman of the village council. Subsequently, these people directly participated in all episodes of harassment against the priest and the gradual seizure of church real estate, which began just before the elections.

The start of raider actions
The conflict began on the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God on September 21, 2015, when the future raiders unceremoniously interrupted the closing service of the UOC community and demanded from the priest, Protopriest Igor Margita, that he, at their request, announce the transition to the Kiev Patriarchate. The first attack was already public: the video was promptly posted on one of the local Internet resources. It is interesting that on the video the supporters of the UOC KP said quite important phrases – they had no claims against the priest himself, although later, trying to denigrate him before the "public", the same people told another story.

Preparation for an attack, as follows from the register, began exactly one month before that day, on August 21, 2015, when a unit of the Kiev Patriarchate was registered in Gribovitsa. It is important that in the statute documents of the community, the postal address of the temple of the UOC community was indicated. Who registered a new parish at the address of the already listed parish is difficult to find out now. However, the main object of raiders – the ancient Holy Intercession Church – was transferred to two users: the community of the UOC together with the Gribovitsa village council. Just appropriating an architectural monument de jure is not so simple, and a legal protection agreement will later become one of the stumbling blocks.

It is worth noting that the head of the UOC KP community in Gribovitsa is not a priest but one of the local residents. Until dramatic events, this person, like most other active supporters of the change of the denomination, was not very interested in church affairs. This is the third representative of the Kiev Patriarchate who has served here in the three years since the beginning of the religious epic in the village.

"Bad" denomination

The rector of the Holy Intercession community of the UOC, Father Igor, was once transferred to this parish to resolve a conflict situation. The priest served here for about 18 years, renovated the church house, and translated services into Ukrainian. With the outbreak of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, a terrible thing happened in Gribovitsa: one of the local residents, who had been mobilized into the army, died. Father Igor held a funeral service...

Before all this began, the UOC community carefully kept records and maintained the temple in order, observing the requirements of the law that protects cultural monuments. Thanks to this, the first attacks on the parish of the canonical Church were unsuccessful, but then the raiders started all the hard.

The temple was sealed immediately after the first "assault" on the community. For the first time in three hundred years of the parish's existence, divine services, which even the shelling during the Second World war couldn’t interrupt, ceased. Since then, for almost two years, parishioners of the UOC have gathered in the church house, in which the rector’s family was registered. During this time, raider actions, which could just have been shown on the circus arena, happened on the territory of the temple and the residence of the priest. It is extremely difficult to attribute such initiatives to the respect of the memory of the Ukrainians who died in the war or to the struggle for faith, unfortunately.

  "Disposition of forces"

The land under the priest's house is next to the church area in Gribovitsa. The land under the temple was allocated to the UOC parish for the lawful use, while the land under Father Igor’s house was not registered to the community. There is another residential building in this territory – a former priest's house, old and not very suitable for use, between the temple and the new church house. No one has lived here for a long time. The place was cut off the gas. The dilapidated building was located on the same line of energy supply with the temple, and the single energy meter was placed in it.

Фото 1. Храм и бывший дом священника в Грибовице
The temple and the former priest's house in the village of Gribovitsa

From September to December 2015, the church remained sealed. On December 6, supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate, having broken the seals, entered the church and claimed it their own. Also, parishioners of the "patriotic" denomination used the gas and electricity brought to the church premises. The contracts were registered with the community of the UOC, which had to pay the single gas bill, after which the priest appealed to gas specialists and power engineers with a request to suspend the supply of gas and electricity.

Obviously, such a course of events was foreseen by the raiders before the seizure of the temple. At the end of November, the village council, actually taking the side of the UOC-KP, decided to settle an internally displaced family from the East in the above-mentioned old priest's house. These settlers had managed to earn a rather ambiguous reputation before residing in the house next to the disagreeable rector, but housing and neighbourhood conditions quite satisfied them.

If the gas supply to the temple was blocked immediately, the electricity line was one for both the church and the old house – now residential. For some reason, the priest failed to cut off the church from electricity and leave the house on the power line at first. The move was made more than two months later – at the end of February 2016, when the power engineers appeared in the village before the weekend and switched off the line for two days, saying that "the priest asked so".

A piece of the ICTV story about the "evil priest" who turned off the electricity for the migrants

The outrageous theatrical scandal was eagerly echoed by the media in the capital. In the reports about Gribovitsa, dutiful journalists collected all the gossip and squabbles that the local "activists" of the UOC KP shared with them, telling the public a saga about how "the priest turned off the light to the migrants". Boring documentation on the case was of no interest to the masters of the word, as one would expect. By the way, the scandalous family after a while, when the "case" had already been made, moved from the dilapidated premises to another house.

"Cultural shock" and petty vandalism

During the conflict, representatives of the Department of Сulture of the Ivanychi DSA methodically contributed to removing the UOC community from the temple. Officials suddenly saw gross violations in the repairs carried out in the temple not long before these events. The presence of official documents, which recorded all the approvals of the work done, did not embarrass them.

Father Igor received several orders at once from the Department of Сulture of the RSA with the demand to "eliminate violations in the appearance of the temple" or ... to break the protection agreement. The document with the community of the UOC and the Gribovitsa village council was secured till August 2018, which at that time apparently seemed to the impatient raiders too long.

Meanwhile, services in the house continued. The legally registered family of the rector did not react to the demands to vacate the premises; people continued to attend weekly services. As a petty revenge, someone once doused the wall of the house in mud and stuffed a mailbox with rubbish.

The house of the UOC priest doused in mud

An unexpected gift from brothers in faith

The lose-lose situation seemed hopeless. However, despite everything, the cheerful community headed by the rector took part in the project of the "Favor" charity foundation, which is engaged in the recovery of UOC parishes harmed by raiders. The land for the construction of a new temple was bestowed by the priest, who had inherited it from his fellow-villager shortly before the events.

A new church appeared in Gribovitsa unexpectedly quickly. One of the communities of the Kiev region, having built a temple for themselves, donated a temporary structure to brothers in faith, in which the latter prayed while the permanent building was being constructed. The gift was brought to the village and assembled at the priest's site, having formalized the documentation for the object as an economic structure: Igor Margit was not allowed to convert the plot to in the village council.

Already on August 6, 2017, the first liturgy in the new premises was held in Gribovitsa. The area near the construction site was cleaned and cultivated; a belfry was raised; later a small dome was mounted on the roof.

Moreover, the priest, with the consent of his community, tried to formalize the ownership of church housing and even won the first lawsuit against the local authorities, who also began the process of privatizing a "no-man's" house and refused to provide him with the necessary information as a resident of the village.

You could do it another way!

Without waiting for the end of the litigation for the house, activists of the Kiev Patriarchate went all-in. On October 26, 2017, after breaking the side door, a group of villagers entered the priest's house, sat down in the hall and said that they would not go anywhere until the cleric vacated the room. The "guests" felt at ease and even began to take out things, which, however, they brought back when it started raining.

The police, having arrived at the place, did not take any action to stop the offences. The invaders paid no attention to the persuasion of the police, the chairman of the village council, as well as the presence of representatives of the UOC community, stating that they would stay in the house until they achieved their aim.

Unwilling to go to the next stage of the conflict, the rector of the UOC community agreed to leave the house and check out his family, provided that opponents promised to leave his parishioners alone and not touch the new church.

In addition, Father Igor withdrew all the claims and applications from the courts, with the exception of one – on the case of the cancellation of the fine for the allegedly illegal start of construction of a new prayer room, which was promptly imposed on the priest by the representatives of the State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate who suddenly appeared in Gribovitsa.

The court overturned the fine. Winning the case was the final point in the epic history of a supposedly "church" conflict, which in fact was originally part of a small-town struggle for power, influence and resources. Restoring its strength, the Holy Intercession community of the UOC gradually gathers parishioners who have fallen in schism and continues to pray with their rector.

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