KIEV, Ukraine — The rough-looking young men brought clubs and brass knuckles to the Pechersk Monastery in Kiev , one of Orthodox Christianity’s most important pilgrimage sites, apparently seeking to disrupt worship. Police spread-eagled them against a wall decorated in faded centuries-old frescos of solemn saints, then hauled them away.
On the other side of the dispute, at a small church in the center of Kiev, a dozen men organized round-the-clock guard duty, worried that nationalist radicals might make their third attempt in a year to seize the place of worship.
The incidents a week ago underline the tensions in Ukraine as it prepares to establish a full-fledged Orthodox church of its own. The planned religious rupture from the Russian Orthodox Church is a potent — possibly explosive — mix of politics, religious faith and national identity.
The imminent creation of the new Ukrainian church raises deep concerns about what will happen to the approximately 12,000 churches in Ukraine that are now under the Moscow Patriarchate.
“The question of what will happen to the property of the Orthodox churches existing in Ukraine after the emergence of a single local church is key and could be one of the most painful” issues of the Orthodox split, said Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at the Ukrainian think-tank Penta.
Since the late 1600s, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine had been a wing of the Russian Orthodox Church rather than ecclesiastically independent — or “autocephalous.” Many Ukrainians chafed at that arrangement, resenting its implication that Ukraine was a vassal state of Russia.
Schismatic churches formed under their own Ukrainian leaders, but they were not recognized as canonical by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the so-called “first among equals” of leaders of the world’s Orthodox Churches.
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