Rival Orthodox churches clash over treasured monastery in Ukraine

Kiev, Ukraine - Rival Orthodox Christian churches clashed on Thursday over the handling of a treasured 11th-century monastery, with a Kiev-based church accusing a rival loyal to Russia's main church of destroying a landmark arch.

In an angrily worded statement, the Kiev Patriarchate alleged that the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church had dismantled the 19th-century arch because it was hampering construction work, calling it a "blatant insult of the history and culture of the Ukrainian people."

The golden-domed Kiev Pechersk Lavra that dominates the Kiev skyline is controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate, which answers to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II. But it is considered a sacred symbol by both rival churches.

Archbishop Pavel of the Moscow Patriarchate denied the accusations, saying the arch was brought down in order to prevent an accident after parts of it collapsed, according to his press office. He said the arch would be restored soon.

Archimandrite Yevstratiy of the Kiev Patriarchate also accused the Moscow Patriarchate of pursuing commercial rather than spiritual aims, and endangering the holy monastery by allowing its officials and parishioners to drive cars on its grounds and using heavy construction equipment.

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"I estimate that soon the number of shops on the grounds of the Lavra will equal the number of cathedrals or even be higher," Yevstratiy was quoted as saying by the Unian news agency.

The Kiev Patriarchate split from the dominant Moscow Patriarchate after the 1991 Soviet collapse. Since then, the two churches have fought over control of parishes, influence and property in the mostly Orthodox Christian nation of 47 million.