KYIV: A top Ukrainian cleric from a church with alleged Moscow ties appeared in a court hearing on Saturday over accusations that he glorified invading Russian forces and stoked religious divisions.

The hearing was adjour-ned to Monday after the cleric, Metropolitan Pavlo of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), complai-ned of ill health.

The court appearance came after Pavlo was questioned by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which presented the cleric with a series of accusations on the same issue shortly before.

The UOC has been accused of maintaining links to the pro-invasion Russian Orthodox Church, which used to be its parent church but with which the UOC says it all broke ties in May 2022.

The UOC is Ukraine’s second-largest church, though most Ukrainian Orthodox believers belong to a separate branch of the faith, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, formed four years ago by uniting branches independent of Moscow’s authority.

Sixty-one UOC clergy have had criminal cases opened against them since the start of 2022, according to the SBU. Of the seven found guilty, two have been traded for Ukrainian POWs in prisoner swaps with Russia, the SBU said.

Pavlo, a senior UOC official, is the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a 980-year old monastery complex which the government said earlier this week the UOC must leave. The church has thus far refused to do so.

In a video posted to the UOC website earlier in the day, Pavlo said he condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“People can think differently about what’s said of me. I await God’s judgment. I am not scared,” he told worshippers on Saturday morning.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2023

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