The History of the Pochayiv Lavra and the Ownership Dispute Between the Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Churches
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church have expressed a desire to serve in the Pochayiv Lavra. The origins of the Lavra and its builders are shrouded in legend, with some sources suggesting that it was founded by Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monks in 1240 and others saying it was established by a local landowner and his companions in 1220. The Lavra has a rich history, including the printing of books in Ukrainian, Polish, and Latin, but it has also been the subject of ownership disputes, with the Lavra currently leased by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This article will explore the history of the Lavra and the current dispute over its ownership. It will also examine how the Lavra can be returned from the lease of the UOC and who will be able to serve in it afterwards. The article features an interview with Dr. Ella Bystrytska, a religious studies expert from Ternopil, who shares her insights on the topic.
How can the Lavra be returned from the lease of the UOC and who will be able to serve in it afterwards?
A conversation with Doctor of Historical Sciences Ella Bystrytska
Tell us more about the Pochaiv Lavra. How was it founded? Who built it?
It is officially believed that in 1240, the monks of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, escaping from the Tatar-Mongol yoke, founded their monastery on the mountain. The second legend connects the establishment of the monastery in 1220 with a local landowner. He and his friends went hunting in this area. They saw a deer that they could not shoot after firing 15 arrows. And the next year, when they came to hunt, they already saw a vision, the Mother of God appeared to them, and from that time they began to build a monastery there. And the first monk was the Athos monk Methodius. A chapel was built for him, and already in 1220 there was a monastery there. These are all legends, they date back to the 16th century. There are no official sources that confirm the existence of the monastery.
Who built the monastery, who contributed the most to its construction?
The abbot of the monastery in the first half of the 17th century was Iov Pochaivskyi, who was connected with the construction of the monastery, the normalization of the activities of the friars, and the transfer of the icon of the Mother of God to Anna Goyska.
Tell us about the figure of Hanna Goyska. Why is it so defining for the Pochaiv Lavra?
We know about Hanna Goyska as a philanthropist. She was a very pious person and was presented with an icon of the Mother of God from Athos. Her brother, who was blind from birth, regained his sight while praying in front of this icon. For her, it was a sign that God favored her and she should support the monastery. She bequeathed her wealth to the monastery. In the first half of the 17th century, it was a fairly well-known monastery, and many people came to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It became very prestigious to donate, and there is a list of princely families who have already donated to the monastery.
What denomination did the monastery belong to at that time?
It belonged to the Kyiv metropolis, which was Orthodox. In 1596, the Berestei Union was concluded, and in 1712, the brothers expressed their desire to join the union. During Vassilian’s time, the monastery already had the appearance we see today, with the Assumption Cathedral, the Baroque pearl of the Pochaiv monastery, being built. By the way, the Basilians are making an attempt to canonize Iov Pochaivskyi. Pototsky wrote a letter to the Pope, but this idea did not receive support. The printing press was important. One of the first books, “Zertsalo Bogosloviya”, was printed in the 17th century, when Iov Zaliso was the hegumen.
I saw a post on social networks about the fact that there were books published in the Ukrainian language even before the “Aeneid.”
Yes, they were printed in Ukrainian, Polish, and Latin. They had high artistic value, as they followed the examples of Renaissance and Baroque literature from Western Europe. A lot of books were printed.
How did the Russian Orthodox Church become interested in the Pochaiv Lavra, and why did it arouse such interest?
The monastery was included in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1831. The Russian state tried to integrate the included territory, using the means of the church. The Greek Catholic Church was in the way here. In 1839, the union was dissolved in this territory. The region had to be Orthodox, and at that time, the formula “Orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality” already existed. The strengthening of the Russian Empire was also done by means of the church. Therefore, during this entire period, when it belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church, the process of de-Ukrainization was taking place.
Was the process violent?
Yes, it was. When discussing the transition of the brothers to the union in 1712, it was the brothers’ desire and no one was evicted, so they remained in the monastery. However, in the 19th century, they were all evicted, accused of supporting the Polish uprising, and court cases were opened. Orthodox monks from other monasteries throughout the Russian Empire were then settled there. This was not an easy task because there were no monks of the level that the king demanded who met the requirements that had already been established in the Pochaiv monastery in terms of their level of morality and education. The procedure for the transfer of the monastery was violated because there was a Greek-Uniate spiritual college in St. Petersburg at that time, and the tsar noted in his decree that in the transfer of the monastery from the Basilians to the Orthodox, representatives of the Greek-Uniate Church, the Orthodox Church, and social persons should be present. However, the Greek Catholics were not warned, and they did not take part in the commission. The commission worked secretly, and within a month, all property, finances, and church things were handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church.
What unique relics are there on the territory of the Pochaiv Lavra?
There are two relics that have been attracting pilgrims from all over the world for hundreds of years: the Miraculous Icon of the Mother of God and the footprint of the Mother of God, which testify that the Mother of God visited this area.
In the previous interview, we discussed changes in the religious environment of Ukraine during the war. You mentioned that you cannot ban the Moscow Patriarchate. How can we regain control of the Pochaiv Lavra?
To return the Lavra to nationally oriented churches, that is, our national Ukrainian churches, it is necessary to terminate the lease agreement.
Which denomination should have control of it?
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has claimed its right to the Lavra, and the Greek Catholic Church, in particular the order of Saint Basil the Great, has also claimed it. It is necessary to find a solution that goes beyond the “either-or” approach. The mechanism for solving this problem will not be quick, and it is important to approach the issue with care. The criterion for decision-making should be interfaith peace in Ukraine.
Do you think this issue should be decided now, during the war, or is it better to wait?
This issue should not be postponed, as the churches are raising it, and it is time to address it. The Moscow Patriarchate should not have control of the Lavra. However, it is important to note that the Transfiguration Church was built on Pochaivska Gora, which is not part of the nature reserve, and this issue also needs to be resolved.
Do you think there should be any public discussions on this issue?
There will inevitably be public discussions, which are already happening informally on social networks. It is important to note that there are different points of view, some of which are quite radical, which can exacerbate the issue.