MOSCOW -- The Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch Kirill launched a personal page over the weekend on a popular social-networking site to better engage with Orthodox Christians.
But the online foray was overshadowed by a flurry of sarcastic comments posted on the page by atheist and Muslim trolls, apparent fans of the Devil, and Russians disgruntled by the opulence of the church.
By the end of the first day, May 24, the feed's curators were reportedly banning individuals from the page.
Patriarch Kirill opened the personal social-networking page on VK -- the Russian answer to Facebook also known as Vkontakte -- to mark the Day of Slavic Literature and Culture, which commemorates saints Cyril and Methodius, who founded the Cyrillic alphabet.
"In essence, the creation of a page on a popular social network has the same goal as the missionary work of Slav teachers -- conveying the Word of God by using the most understandable modern means of communication," Vladimir Legoida, an Orthodox Church spokesman, explained in comments to TASS.
According to Legoida, the VK feed is curated by the Sinodal Information Department of the Russian Orthodox Church that he chairs. Legoida said that selected questions and commentaries posted on the page by VK users would be passed on to the patriarch.
It was unclear if Legoida informed Patriarch Kirill how his first day online went.
Patriarch Kirill's page in Vkontakte
VK does not offer a function for moderators to cull derisive posts before they appear in the comments section, and the patriarch's page was quickly inundated with scathing comments -- ranging from the reasoned to apparent praise for the Devil -- much to the dismay of thousands of subscribers to the new account.
In one post, VK user Alik Bogoedov derided the Orthodox Church for enjoying opulent luxury and building lavish new offices across the country while neglecting to help the poor: "I see priests in expensive foreign cars, new churches that aren't really needed, but I see no help for people nearby," he wrote.
'Where's Your Conscience, Guys?'
Several commentators attacked the Orthodox Church for its opulence and for the way roads are closed to make way for corteges with church officials.
"How can I get a job at the Russian Orthodox Church?" asked Nikita Likhachyov drolly.
The attacks appeared to echo the online furor in 2012 when a photograph of Patriach Kirill wearing a $39,000 wristwatch was edited before publication with the watch blatantly edited out.
"This is what the people truly think about you, this is not the Levada Center [pollster], this is the truth, although you are unlikely acquainted with this concept," another VK user quoted by Newsru.ru wrote.
"The patriarch failed to make me believe in God, but he has managed to make me believe in the devil," wrote Sergiy Yarema.
The comments were met with dismay by subscribers, almost 60,000 of whom had joined up by early on May 25.
"Where's your conscience, guys?" asked Pavel Scherbakov. "If you're atheist then be proud of it somewhere else."
"Orthodox people, pay no regard to the flow of muck on Patriarch Kirill's page," wrote Sergey Ignatenko. "Everything is bad for people who are bad!!!"
"Stop it," implored Anastasia Spok. "Our deeply respected Patriarch Kirill isn't managing to delete the comments in time. Stop writing all this nonsense."
It was unclear how many comments were removed by curators. The deleted comments appeared to embolden some critics of the patriarch.
"Now I really am disillusioned with religion and the patriarch," wrote VK user Leonid Sinyakov. "People are asking entirely normal questions even if they are provocative. If truth really is on your side, then surely it isn't difficult to answer these questions."
"Why should he have a page on VK if the comments are closed -- that is to say, people can't communicate with him!" asked Vladimir Shapovalov.
Yevgeny Feldman, a prominent Russian photojournalist, wrote on Twitter that one of his friends had been blocked from Patriarch Kirill's page for a "lowly" comment.