On unrighteous trials against UOC hierarchs
The Ukrainian authorities are prosecuting three UOC hierarchs who face real prison sentences. Another bishop is next in line. What are they accused of, and how objective are the accusers?
On September 6, 2023, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the National Police submitted the cases of Metropolitan Vissarion of Ovruch, the secretary of the eparchy, and the abbot of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin to the court. They are accused of 'inciting national and religious discord'. The authorities seem to be determined to imprison more members of the episcopate and clergy of the UOC. Judging by the printed materials they are accused of possessing, the charges will be just as 'convincing' as those against UOC representatives whose trials are already underway.
Brochures entitled 'Patriotic Education of Youth. The God-commanded Unity of the Church of Christ' found by law enforcers in the Ovruch Eparchy. Among other things, they are referred to as 'political propaganda products that impose ideas of the ‘Russian world’, promote war, and enforce Kremlin views on Ukrainian history.
Three 'metropolitan' cases
On August 31, Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshhorod, the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra of the UOC, was discharged from the hospital, where he was admitted after being held in the Lukyanivka pre-trial detention centre. On September 1, a court hearing took place, during which the under-investigation Metropolitan participated via video conference due to his health condition.
Besides Bishop Pavel, Metropolitan Theodosy of Cherkasy and Kaniv is also under investigation, while Metropolitan Jonaphan of Tulchin and Bratslav has already received a five-year (!) prison sentence with asset confiscation.
When you read and hear such news, it feels like it's happening in a different reality, a reality of absurdity.
The first abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Metropolitan Jonaphan, has already been sentenced under the following articles of the Criminal Code: Article 109, Part 2 – Actions aimed at forceful change or overthrow of the constitutional order or take-over of government; Article 110, Part 1 – Trespass against territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine; Article 161, Part 2 - Violation of citizens' equality based on their race, nationality or religious preferences; Article 436-2, Part 3 of the Criminal Code – Justification, recognition as legitimate, denial of armed aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, glorification of its participants.
The latest Lavra abbot is suspected of committing crimes under Part 2 of Article 161 and Part 3 of Article 436-2 of the Criminal Code.
Metropolitan Theodosy is also charged under the same articles of the Criminal Code: Article 161, Part 2 and Article 436-2, Part 2–3.
It creates the impression that these accusations were made as if following a single command. There is also a very strong sense of historical déjà vu: when, from the late 1920s to the late 1930s, there were staged trials of Bolsheviks-Communists against the clergy and believers of the Orthodox Church – everything is as a blueprint.
We know how it ended – the Church was enriched with a multitude of new martyrs for the faith, and the names of the 'judges', tormentors, and executioners have long faded into oblivion. The most terrifying thing is that for such 'trials', the entire lineage of 'judges' and all the 'witnesses' for the prosecution will be held responsible. Many sane representatives of the judicial system, unwilling to participate in this terrible farce, are recusing themselves.
But why is there such a massive surge of accusations now, so similar to what was called 'treason to the homeland' a hundred years ago? Why are these trials taking place when an unprecedented wave of seizures of UOC churches is happening, supported by law enforcement agencies and the government, marked by cynicism and intensity? Perhaps, the problem lies not in the bishops and their statements at all, but in the government, which, like a century ago, fabricates cases against unwanted archbishops. Let's try to figure out what caused such charges.
The Metropolitan Theodosy case
In mid-February, the residence of the bishop underwent a ten-hour search, and he was charged with a criminal offence under Article 161, Part 2. Shortly thereafter, the bishop was placed under house arrest for 60 days, wearing an electronic bracelet. Almost simultaneously, another charge arises, Article 436-2, Part 2-3. While the first charge is related to religion, the second charge involves justifying Russian aggression. The accusers may have a tenuous connection to the "incitement" accusation, as the bishop consistently criticizes the actions of the OCU, calling things by their names—schism as schism and the seizure of temples as blatant wrongdoing and raiding. However, the accusation of "justifying aggression" is troubling for the prosecution. They present ephemeral data from electronic sources, literature published in Russian monasteries, and most importantly, the "Novorossiya" flag allegedly found in one of the eparchy's monasteries. But what about the bishop himself?
"The first and more serious charge is under Article 436-2 (parts 2 and 3) for allegedly giving orders to publish extremist materials on the official website of the Cherkasy Eparchy. However, I have never given such orders and never intended to do so. This statement is completely false and does not correspond to reality in any way. The prosecution has no facts, no evidence whatsoever to assert otherwise. The charges against me under this article of the Criminal Code of Ukraine are completely fabricated from beginning to end," said the archbishop.
Metropolitan Theodosy continues to insist not only on the groundlessness of the charges but also on the accusers and witnesses from the prosecution's side. The key point is that in the courtroom, the prosecution's witnesses were clerics of the OCU, but for some reason, they were dressed in military uniforms (clearly for persuasiveness).
Right there, the bishop asked them why they didn't come to testify against him in their appropriate priestly attire – robes or cassocks? The answer is, of course, obvious: if they had come dressed according to their status and position in priestly garments, even a blind person would have seen that the case against the bishop is driven by the schemes of a "competing organization". As for admitting guilt, as the judicial officials urge him to do, Metropolitan Theodosy doesn't even consider it, stating that he is not the one being persecuted, but it is the entire Orthodox Church of Ukraine that is under attack.
The Metropolitan Jonathan case
Metropolitan Jonathan was the first to fall under the repressive crackdown. On October 11, 2022, his residence was searched as part of an investigation into Article 161, Part 1-2. According to official comments from the SBU at that time, the Metropolitan was considered a witness in the case.
The most interesting developments occurred later when SBU officers conducted a series of "linguistic" and other expertise, including an examination of the computer and hard drives seized during the search. As a result of these examinations, the bishop was charged with multiple offences, one more serious than the other, including threats to national security and territorial integrity, and justification of Russian aggression.
The justification for these charges was found on the computer, where allegedly pro-Russian leaflets downloaded from the internet were discovered, supposedly distributed by the bishop among the clergy. Additionally, the leaflets themselves were said to have been seized during the search.
However, lawyers and technical specialists managed to trace the electronic trace and the dates of their creation, showing that these leaflets appeared on the computer after it had been in the possession of investigators for several days. This evidence strongly suggests evidence tampering. Consequently, since January, Metropolitan Jonathan, along with his lawyers, has been fighting not just for his personal freedom and justice but against the entire system.
Apparently, he has been successful in his fight because the bishop received an extremely strange proposal from a high-ranking police official. According to Metropolitan Jonathan, the representative of this official said that "with proper 'understanding'" during a personal meeting with his superior in Kyiv, "there might not be a trial in his case". The eparchy's press service reported that the messenger did not specify "where and how such a trial might not take place".
The Metropolitan Pavel case
The abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra devoted his entire life to the revival and restoration of the former beauty and grandeur of the monastery. The reason for the case against him can be understood from the words said by one of the SBU officers to him: "If there is no recognition of the OCU, there will be a case."
On November 22, 2022, searches were conducted at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. At the beginning of 2023, the Reserve did not renew its lease agreement with the monastery’s Refectory Church and Dormition Cathedral, and in March, it unilaterally announced the termination of the contract with the Lower Lavra. This led to a confrontation between the faithful and the state.
On March 30, at 7 a.m., the SBU, police and Prosecutor's Office personnel arrived at the abbot’s residence in the territory of the Near Caves of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The Lavra's subsidiary farm and a house belonging to the metropolitan located in Voronkiv were also searched. Closer to noon, the bishop was taken to court. Due to a prolonged hearing, the bishop's health deteriorated and the hierarch was taken to hospital. The hearing was postponed to Monday. However, Metropolitan Pavel was suddenly summoned to court at 6:00 PM and, treated like a criminal, was transported directly from the hospital building. At around 22:00 on Saturday (!), the court placed the Lavra abbot under house arrest, which suggest wearing an electronic bracelet. He was charged with two articles: incitement to religious hatred and justifying Russian aggression.
The official basis for the charges was a compilation of phone conversations intercepted by the SBU. The unofficial motive, however, was the removal of the abbot as a figure obstructing the dispersion of the Lavra.
Since then, the court has extended the period of detention for Metropolitan Pavel once more. On July 13, the SBU again accused him of the same charges, and on July 14, the Solomiansky Court changed the measure of restraint, sending Metropolitan Pavel to pre-trial detention with the possibility of release on bail in the amount of 33,300,000 hryvnias. Collecting the bail for the bishop was obstructed in all possible ways: from blocking the Lavra's accounts to the impossibility of completing the transaction. On August 9, the bishop was finally released from custody but almost immediately ended up in the hospital due to a heart attack and surgery that followed.
This is just the most superficial analysis of the trials of the bishops based on publicly available sources on the Internet. A fair and unbiased approach reveals not just white threads stitching together all three cases. There is an obvious analogy and déjà vu with the last century – today's judges are acting exactly like their predecessors. They seem to be simply carrying out a top-down task.
Yes, today the metropolitans are not being exiled or shot. But the Bolsheviks didn't decide on that immediately either.