Saturday, June 15, 2024

    Story of “kiosk temple” on Tithe Church site: “sacrifice” or provocation?

    Overnight Friday, May 17, in line with a court warrant, the Tithe Church outside the Museum of Ukrainian History was demolished. It had been erected illegally, and therefore the court gave time to the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate) to dismantle it to later reinstall the building in another, legal location. However, UOC (MP) bishop Gedeon (Haron), the abbot of this monastery, left for the USA at the outset of the Russian invasion and never intended to obey the court’s ruling.

    After the UOC (MP) lost all appeals in courts (of which there were many), the clerics took out the most valuable items from the building while doing nothing to dismantle the latter, only in order to once again draw a picture for the media, claiming “persecution of Orthodoxy”.

    So ultimately, the church was demolished – before the break of day. But why do this at night? That’s because officials decided to treat believers as respectfully as possible given that the UOC (MP) would use as them as human shield as this had already happened before. In this case, these people could be arrested for obstructing warranted demolition.

    Of course, such events are usually a tragedy for every Orthodox Christian, regardless of denomination. But the UOC (MP) deliberately brought the situation to such a sad end, although it had the opportunity to dismantle the temple and rebuild it in another location, thus leveling the conflict.

    The editorial board of the Spiritual Front of Ukraine is aware of these wasted chances from reliable sources. In particular, Tetiana Sosnovska, chief of the National Museum of Ukrainian History (2015-2020), helped us clear the story out. She told us how the so-called kiosk temple, run by the Moscow Patriarchate, appeared on the museum’s premises in the first place.

    Quick facts

    After the kiosk was erected right by the museum’s side, cultural facility’s leadership confronted the clerics from the Moscow Patriarchate. At first, the priests led by Bishop Haron tried to convince Tetiana Sosnovska of the “legality” of their presence, referring to some letters allegedly signed by the previous director. However, Sosnovska insisted on seeing the actual permits for constructing the church.

    “I often suggested that they contact the Kyiv City Council to provide them with a land plot somewhere in the city but in another location so that they could move there,” the ex-director recalls.

    In 2016, there was an opportunity to move the illegal kiosk in a civilized manner, at the expense of public donations.

    “One donor said he was ready to increase the costs, to carefully disassemble and reassemble the building on the new territory so that violations are not even visible,” says Sosnovska.

    With the assistance of the then deputy mayor Oleksiy Reznikov, another land plot downtown Kyiv was supposed to be allocated for the UOC (MP) community.

    “Reznikov said he would talk to (Mayor) Klitschko, but it was first needed to get the consent of the religious community,” Sosnovska recalls.

    However, community representatives rejected this proposal. “Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed in convincing them,” Reznikov said at the time.

    That is, in 2016, they had a chance to move quietly and get all permits elsewhere. But they declined,” says the former director.

    Tetiana Sosnovska explained why the court hearings to free the territory of the museum from the illegal building run the UOC (MP) turned out to be extremely challenging and lengthy. The museum filed a lawsuit with the District Administrative Court of Kyiv (DACK). “The lawsuit was being heard for quite a long time. There were several hearings,” the former director recalls.

    Public activists insisted on decisive actions against the illegal building, but Sosnovska sought to act exclusively in the legal field. “We must frankly say that public activists demanded that we simply bring in an excavator and wipe that thing off. I convince them that things should be done legally,” she explains.

    During the final hearing, when all the evidence seemed to be in favor of the museum, the religious community’s lawyer claimed the judge was biased, which led to all previous hearings being nullified. In the end, the court shut the case down altogether, refusing to consider the museum’s legal arguments.

    According to court papers, the case concerned three kiosks 20 square meters each, hence the colloquial name for the church – the kiosk temple.

    On April 8, 2024, the National Museum of Ukrainian History launched a fundraiser aiming to fund the execution of the court warrant of October 2, 2023 on the demolition of the building. The clerics were given time to voluntarily comply with the court decision.

    Reaction to demolition

    Sosnovska expressed her opinion on how the demolition of the illegal kiosk led to no physical confrontation. She believes that the right timing and limited circle of those aware of the plan allowed for avoiding conflicts. “It was done quietly, without any confrontation, without giving propaganda anything to feed off,” Sosnovska concluded.

    She is sure it is God that did not allow a large temple to be built on the foundations of the Tithe Church and to legitimize the presence of the Moscow Patriarchate on this territory.

    This can be considered as God’s will, she believes. After all, when the project of the bigger temple saw no success earlier, it means that God did not bless it. And now that the building structure was finally removed “quietly”, it can be stated that “it was God’s will that this be done”, although in reality it was simply about “correctly calculated steps”.

    She speculates why the demolition took place during curfew hours: “The fact that it should be done at a time when there is no heavy traffic so that you can drive in and out calmly is understandable to absolutely anyone.

    Speaking about the reaction to the dismantling, the museum chief categorically rejects the statement that the effort is due to the reluctance of the UOC (MP) to merge with the OCU: “This is total nonsense!”

    According to her, the reason was purely that the court ruled that building as illegal, regardless of religious affiliation: “That illegal building had no permits to be built, no reason to be there, in the historical area, in the UNESCO (buffer) zone, so whatever denomination it is, it was built illegally.”

    The museum chief also recalls that back in 2015, when the former Metropolitan Filaret of Kyiv visited the museum, he categorically refused a joking proposal to build a chapel on the hill nearby: “No, we will not do it in a gangster-like, illegal way. God will rule, and the truth will reign.”


    From a legal perspective, the court-warranted dismantling of the UOC (MP) “kiosk temple” in the UNESCO buffer zone is formally a destruction of a religious building, which is already being portrayed by some representatives from this organization as an infringement on religious feelings, because something “sacred” was affected. However, the blame for what happened lies with the clerics from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) who committed illegal acts by arbitrarily erecting a sacred building in violation of the law in the protected zone, thereby artificially creating a challenge and provoking the public and government. At the same time, representatives from the UOC (MP) rejected any proposals for a peaceful settlement of the case, “sacralizing” the site where the illegal building had been erected. When it became clear for the UOC (MP) that the ruling on the forced demolition is irreversible, “acceptance” came as they evacuated the most valuable movable property. However, immediately after the news about the dismantling came out, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) claimed the “murder of the temple” and even held a vigil ceremony.

    The “sacred site” was spiritualized, flowers were carried to the foundation, as to someone’s grave.

    How does this correspond to Orthodox ecclesiology? Probably it’s for theologians to address. But from the media point of view, the “sacred site” was turned into a “sacrifice” in yet another public claim of “persecution”.

    The narratives, currently being spread among the Ukrainian audiences, that the situation of the kiosk temple would eventually affect all UOC (MP) churches are false and baseless. Statements by some representatives from the OCU that the demolition took place due to the reluctance of the UOC (MP) to join the OCU are “utter nonsense.” An illegal building is subject to demolition in any case, regardless of its religious affiliation.

    Complaints within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) that this happened due to “insufficient paperwork” cause indignation. After all, it was initially wrong to capture territory, start illegal actions, and then try to “legitimize” what has been captured. Why impose your sacred agenda on the whole society in an illegal way, and demand respect only because the issue is related to that “sacred” thing? This situation vividly illustrates the systemic problem of how individual representatives of the Orthodox hierarchy fail to abide by laws and even express contempt for them.

    As for the religious community, emotions have been boiling for several days already, and the split line, regardless of jurisdiction, is between people’s liberal and conservative worldviews. It is really sad that for an adept of a conservative worldview, the media bubble around this topic will be actively filled with theses from the “Russian swamps” as another argument in justifying the war of the self-styled “catechon” against the “decaying West”.