Prime Minister of Ukraine Finds Office “Easier to Breathe in” After Orthodox Blessing

Here’s one I missed from a couple of weeks ago – the new Prime Minister of Ukraine has had a religious blessing on his office; from this description, it seems to have served the purpose of an exorcism:

Before entering his new office, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov invited an Orthodox priest, Father Pavlo from Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, to bless it, Azarov said at a briefing in Dnipropetrovsk on Friday.

“It was really difficult to breathe there. After the blessing I entered the office and felt better,” he said.

Azarov, it is perhaps worth noting, is supposedly a man of science, with a PhD in geology.

Details of “Father Pavlo” are scarce, but he is perhaps the same person as Archbishop Pavlo, who is the superior of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (a famous monastery in Ukraine). The Archbishop is a politicised figure; a highly critical article by Yuriy Chornomorets from 2004 gives some details of Pavlo’s activism on behalf of the Party of Regions, which is now in power:

During the 1998 parliamentary elections, the UOC provided support to the Party of the Renaissance of the Regions of Ukraine (now the Party of the Regions of Viktor Yanukovych). One of the closest assistants of the leader of the UOC, Bishop Pavlo (Lebed) even joined the top five of the list of candidates and appeared in TV advertisement from which one remembers assurances that he was “blessed” for participation in elections.

Further, in 2008 it was reported that

Archbishop Pavlo (Lebid) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate, has become a deputy of the Kyiv City Council… The hierarch announced his decision to run as a Party of Regions’ candidate on 16 April.

One can see how a bit of religious theatre suggesting that previous prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko had left demons behind in her office might be politically advantageous.

The previous government in Ukraine was keen to emphasise Ukrainian Orthodox distance from Moscow – thus President Yushchenko supported the Kievan Patriarchate, which is regarded by Moscow and by pro-Russian Orthodox Ukrainians as “schismatic”, and made links with Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. Tymoshenko, meanwhile, received an award last October from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus (I’ve blogged on him here), and invited him to Ukraine.

Archbishop Pavlo’s support for the Party of Regions has not been 100 per cent consistent; in 2008 he originally planned to stand for election as a Communist candidate:

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko… explained that, in the current expansion of non-traditional religious denominations, Archbishop Pavlo’s task during his work in the city council will be to return to Kyiv the status of a New Jerusalem.

This may seem odd, but Symonenko has enjoyed support from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchiate) for some time; in 2003 he was given an award for services to Orthodoxy, to the dismay of the rival Kievan Partriarchate:

“It is a pity that we Ukrainians allow such events to take place in the very heart of Ukrainian spirituality, the Kyivan Monastery of the Caves,” said Bishop Paisii [of Odessa and Balta]. “I believe all who were involved in awarding the Communist Party leader are disgraced.”

The Communist Party is now part of the ruling coalition.

Incidentally, it is not only pro-Moscow Orthodox Christians who are backing the new regime of President Yanukovych and Prime Minister Azarov; Charisma reports that:

Prominent Ukraine pastor Sunday Adelaja, whose God’s Embassy church participated in the Orange Revolution, said Yanukovych received significant support from Christians. Adelaja said late last year God showed him in a dream that Yanukovych would be the next president.

“While some of the churches supported [Prime Minister] Yulia Tymoshenko, we had a good number of churches who believed in the revelation and voted for Yanukovych,” Adelaja said.

He said [Vladimir] Shushkevich, [an MP] who is a member of Adelaja’s church, arranged for him to meet with Yanukovych before the election and the two discussed a law Yanukovych’s Party of Regions had proposed that would restrict the work of the evangelical church.

“They immediately responded, and in a matter of days the law was withdrawn from the parliament,” Adelaja said.

I blogged on Sunday Adelaja here and here. Tymoshenko is reported to have occasionally attended his church in Kiev.