I don’t often write about religion because, honestly, it is not a topic that interests me. But I realize that many people are religious and care about these matters deeply. And I can understand why Russian Orthodox Christians might be quite upset about one of their top monasteries in the world, this exquisitely beautiful landmark, being rudely invaded and searched by clumsy slab-faced Ukrainian goons from the SBU-heir-to-Soviet-KGB.
Well, we are talking about a very famous monastery in Kiev, called the Kiev-Pecherskaya Lavra (the word “Pecher” or sometimes “Peshcher” meaning “cave”), founded in the year 1051 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Who truly was a very clever and able ruler, not to mention a wise guy. Full disclosure: I once visited this amazing site myself, as a student-tourist, that was long before this current war. It’s really spooky when the guide takes you down into the caves and you see all the mummies of ancient monks, lying in a kind of bunk-bed type arrangement on the walls of the caverns.
Anyhow, this monastery was one of the very first built in Kievan Rus after the Russian people, with a little encouragement from the top, discarded their former pagan religion and converted to Byzantine-style Christianity.
This monastery has always been at the center of political intrigues. From 1592 to 1688 the Lavra was a Stauropegion directly subordinate to the Patriarch of Constantinople. In this capacity it fought against the pro-Polish Uniates. Within the overall culture war of the medieval epoch, the Lavra helped to pull together a “Little Russian” identity that was beneficial to Moscow, and not so beneficial to the other side (Lithuanians, Poles, Germans, Swedes, etc.)
A word of reminder: the term “Little Russia” (Malaya-Rossiya) is not a derogatory. Westie ignorami always get this wrong. Russians divide their ethnos into 3 major tribes: Greater Russians (Veliko-Ross), Little Russians (Malo-Ross) and White Russians (Belo-Ross). Despite Westie ignorance in these matters, these terms are neither a derogatory, nor a glorification. The terms are simply calqued from the Greek. For example, you had “Micro-Graecia” (smaller, or Micro-Greece) which was the core land, or the heartland, out from which the Greek ethnos proceeded. These wandering Greeks established “Magna-Graecia” (Greater-Greece) which included new lands and colonies. Similarly, Eastern-Slavic Russians believed that Kiev was their heartland. Not of the ethnos per se (Russians were spread everywhere, Novgorod was established around the same time as Kiev), but of the Christianized sector, hence “Micro-Russia”, or Malaya-Rossiya. From thence Russian Orthodoxy expanded out into the Greater regions, hence Greater Russia or Velikaya-Rossiya. This is the reason why Moscovite Russians called themselves “Great Russians” (a better translation is “Greater Russians”), and it has nothing to do with glorifying themselves, as in “Ooh, look at us, we’re so great!”
Recall the opening phrase of the Soviet National Anthem: Unbreakable Union of free Republics, was built to last forever, by Greater Russia…
You see that this use of the word “great” (Velikaya) is semantically different from the same adjective when used in conjunction with, say Peter, as in Peter the Great. In that case, they really are saying that he was a great guy. Same word, but different meaning. Hence the confusion. This is why I personally prefer to use the translation “Greater Russia” instead of “Great Russia”. It hints at those vast treks of our ancestors and is also, paradoxically, flattering towards Ukraine, as it gives Kiev the laurels of being the true Russian heartland!
Religion Is Sacred, But Let’s Talk Turkey
But back to the history, and let’s talk turkey here (considering that tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day!)
All religious doctrine aside: Being a Little-Russian meant that you were Byzantine Orthodox and friendly to your Muscovite neighbors. The alternative was to be a “Uniate” which meant, in essence, being a Catholic, friendly to Poland, and hating Moscow. This is a gross over-simplication, of course, but I stipulated I would talk plain turkey.
Anyhow, leaping forward to the present day: The Lavra remains under the political/religious control of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which, in turn, is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. Hence, given the current war being raged directly by Russia vs Ukraine, one can see why the Kiev regime is highly suspicious of any enterprise that takes its order from Moscow! [Again, for purposes of simplification, I am ignoring some developments that happened in the past few years, when the Ukrainians, under Poroshenko, organized a Schism within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and half of their property went over to the pro-Ukrainian schismatics who have their own phony Ukrainian Patriarch, long story, maybe we’ll get into that later…]
Officer, Do You Have A Warrant?
All of that is historical context to our topical news story of the day, the reporter is Dmitry Zubarev.
Today (Wednesday) the Ukrainian SBU announced that when they searched the Kiev Cave Lavra yesterday from top to bottom, their slab-faced goons found some highly suspicious items. Namely, “pro-Russian literature, and millions in cash.” Ooh! Do tell!
Aside from the Kiev Lavra, the SBU also searched three other “pro-Russian” monasteries, two in the Rivne Oblast, and also some properties of the Sarny Eparchia. This is what the SBU found during their searches:
Over 2 million hryvna [around $54,000 American bucks]; $100,000 of actual American cash; and several thousands of Russian rubles. [Well, maybe these monks like to have a stash of cash for a rainy day?]
Also a stack of “pro-Russian” literature, whatever that means. [Could be a Pushkin poetry anthology, or maybe some Tchaikovsky CD’s, for all we know].
In all, an amazing number of 350 church properties were subjected to this search. It’s almost like the SBU has nothing better to do, even when they are steadily losing the war and Russian spies are falling out of every tree! More ominously, 850 citizens of Ukraine, Russia, and other countries, were drawn into this dragnet; of which 50 were subjected to intensified interrogations with the help of polygraph machines. (Let’s hope they were only polygraph machines, and not crude tasers!)
In conclusion: On the one hand, it is very easy to laugh at the Ukrainians: Look, they’re so paranoid now, they are even going after churches! And you can bet the Russian government is playing up these shenanigans for every possible drop of propaganda value: Oh, they are persecuting innocent monks!
On the other hand, we know that religion has always been an effective tool of struggle between various political, and even military, factions. One only has to look at centuries of Ukrainian history: The “Little-Russian” people have ever been pawns on that vast chess board where rages the struggle between two civilizations: Western Catholicism versus Russian Byzantium.