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Russian Orthodox Church Girds For Battle

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April 21, 2012
The Russian Orthodox Church will hold a nationwide mass on April 22 to counter what is describes as a campaign against its churches and clerics. (Video by RFE/RL's Russian Service)

The Russian Orthodox Church will hold a nationwide Divine Liturgy to counter what is describes as a vicious campaign against its churches and clerics.

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Video Orthodox Believers Stand Up For Jailed Anti-Putin Punk Rockers

Thousands of Russians are rising in support of two women jailed for staging an illegal anti-Kremlin performance in Moscow's largest church. The video of the caustic performance has gone viral on the Internet and has deeply divided Russians.
By Claire Bigg
In early March, a man broke into a church in Veliky Ustyug, 700 kilometers northeast of Moscow, and hacked more than 30 icons into pieces with an ax.

Two weeks later, another church was vandalized in the southern Russian town of Nevinnomyssk. The assailant smashed icons, beat up the priest, and ended his rampage by planting a hunting knife into a cross on the altar.

The Russian Orthodox Church says the incidents are the latest in a string of attacks against the church, which clerics claim is under assault from unspecified "enemies of the faith."

In a strongly worded statement earlier this month, the church said it was the victim of a coordinated "anti-Christian" campaign and called for a nationwide Divine Liturgy on April 22 in defense of the Russian Orthodox faith.

Patriarch Kirill himself has complained of being the target of an "information attack."

The campaign, the statement claims, began in February when the all-female dissident punk-rock group Pussy Riot staged an unsanctioned anti-Kremlin performance in Moscow's largest church.
The "punk prayer" performed at Christ the Savior Cathedral, in which Pussy Riot denounced the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties to the Kremlin and called on the Virgin Mary to "drive out" President-elect Vladimir Putin, has deeply polarized Russians.

VIDEO: Pussy Riot stages a "punk prayer" in Christ the Savior Cathedral

Many backed the arrest of three Pussy Riot members over the performance, which caused outrage among churchgoers. A court in Moscow this week extended the trio's pretrial detention until June 24.

"I felt sick to my stomach," Taisya, an elderly churchgoer in the village of Bystritsa in the Kirov region, told RFE/RL. "I think God will punish them very severely. And the people shouldn't forgive this either; they shouldn't."

Her church, like hundreds of others, will hold a special liturgy on April 22 in line with the patriarchate's instructions.

'Let Them Make Penance'

Nikolai Fedko, the local priest, agrees that the authors of the "punk prayer" should not get away lightly.

"I would forgive them, but maybe some kind of physical punishment is necessary," Fedko says. "Let them make penance; let them fast. If they want to clean their souls, if they want to save Russia, they won't achieve anything by shouting. Churches and monasteries are being built. Let them go and help out."

But the punks' harsh treatment has also sparked indignation, including among believers, many of whom are upset that church leaders have called for harsh sentences.

The women -- two of whom have small children -- face up to seven years in prison on charges of hooliganism and inciting religious hatred.

Some suspect the alleged campaign against the Orthodox Church was merely thought up by the patriarchate to limit the backlash over its unforgiving stance toward Pussy Riot.

A combo photo shows three members of Pussy Riot -- Ekaterina Samusevich (left), Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), and Maria Alyokhina -- in a Moscow court on April 19.
A combo photo shows three members of Pussy Riot -- Ekaterina Samusevich (left), Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), and Maria Alyokhina -- in a Moscow court on April 19.
Nikolai Mitrokhin, a religion expert with the Research Center for East European Studies at Germany's University of Bremen, says there is no indication that attacks against Russian Orthodox churches have intensified in recent weeks.

"The church has been feeling much too confident recently. It felt the need to have Pussy Riot prosecuted, although such a performance would have gone unnoticed 10 years ago," Mitrokhin says. "And when public opinion started strongly condemning the church for its ruthless response, the church, with its leadership's mentality, claimed it was the victim of a conspiracy and started a real PR campaign."

Deflecting Attention

Others accuse clerics of using Pussy Riot's controversial performance to deflect attention from a series of scandals that have hit the church of late.

The church has been criticized for a recent court ruling forcing a children's hospital outside Moscow to hand over half of its complex to the Russian Orthodox Church, which wants to set up a monastery there.

Then, the patriarchate was forced to apologize after being caught airbrushing a $40,000 Swiss watch from Kirill's wrist in a photograph on its website.

Perhaps the most damaging scandal, which further fueled anger at Kirill's ostentatious lifestyle, was a court ruling ordering former Health Minister Yury Shevchenko to pay a staggering 20 million rubles ($690,000) to the keeper of an elite apartment in central Moscow owned by Kirill.

The court said dust from the renovation of Shevchenko's apartment had drifted upstairs and ruined the patriarch's furniture.

'Explosive' Incident

Yakov Krotov, a priest who hosts an RFE/RL program on religion, believes it was this incident more than the others that really lies behind the church's current efforts to rally believers to its defense.

Patriarch KirillPatriarch Kirill
Patriarch Kirill
Patriarch Kirill
"This apartment incident proved explosive. A villa on the Canary Islands is beyond the cognitive horizon of average Russians, but any person can compare a 150-meter flat in the city center with his own 40 square meters, in which he lives with his two children, his mother-in-law, his grandfather and his great-grandmother," Krotov says.

"I think this is precisely why the patriarch got scared. This discredits him a lot more than any bank account in Switzerland."

Kirill also came under fire for calling Putin's 12-year rule a "miracle of God" ahead of the March 4 presidential election.

His brashness and his coziness with the Kremlin has much to do with what religion experts describe as mounting anticlerical feelings in Russia since his inception in 2009.

"A large portion of educated Russians had expected Kirill to steer the church on a more intellectual path, to bring the church closer to today's realities," Mitrokhin says. "Instead, Kirill has distinguished himself only with measures in support of the authorities and is exerting increasingly crude pressure on civil institutions. Kirill also likes to display wealth and luxury. He and his allies actively defend the idea that the church must be rich. All this has prompted a barrage of criticism."

And in another indication that the Russian Orthodox Church is in no mood to forgive detractors, a court outside St. Petersburg this month gave a blogger a suspended sentence for saying that "God is a myth."

The court confiscated his computer as further punishment.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 20, 2012 19:18
Being here in the Danube Valley I am no expert at Russian liturgy or attempts at ecumenical cooperation, but perhaps someone can provide some guidance as to whether Kirill is expected to blame Russia's jewish population for the Orthodox Church's various troubles, as his flock rightly expects him to do.
In Response

by: Bradgate from: England
April 20, 2012 21:30
There is a lot of disgraceful anti-semitic hysteria in the Russian Orthodox Church.
In Response

by: Frank
April 21, 2012 11:48
Cut the crap Bradgate.

That charge can be levied on elements within the Muslim, Protestant and Catholic denominations.
In Response

by: Bradgate from: England
April 21, 2012 18:01
OK, Frank, so it is in order for a supposedly Christian body to peddle antisemitic filth? Come on, man, tell me.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
April 22, 2012 01:17
judging by the culture of lies in US media and politics, any honest person has to be antisemite
In Response

by: Frank
April 22, 2012 11:45
Bradgate, if you can, be specific on your claim.

Like the above article, your comments are hypocritically applied.

You can find anti-Jewish comments among followers of the Croat Catholic, Ukraianian Greek Catholic and Muslim denominations.

I see no contemporary evidence of anti-Jewish commentary being supported by lead elements within the ROC.
In Response

by: Frank
April 21, 2012 01:57
A more balanced overview of the ROC:

RFE/RL is hypocritical in its presentation of the ROC versus what can be negatively said of some other denominations.

Among other denominations, there's a good deal of negativity that can be written about the Vatican, some evangelical Protestants, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarachate, headed by Filaret.

FYI, based on what has been reported, there's good reason to believe that someone in the ROC acted on their own to air brush out a watch worn by Kirill. Once this became known, that individual was apparently reprimanded.

by: john from: canada
April 20, 2012 21:43
What is so interesting about American commentator in Moscow, Tim Kirby, so totally supports the Pussy Riot band against the harsh treatment meted out so far by the Russian state, is that otherwise, Kirby is a pro-Putin guy!

Here is Kirby on his RT youtube rant:

In Response

by: Frank
April 21, 2012 21:24
John, making tyhe Pussy Riot misfits into heroes is demagogic.

They committed an act that many consider to be offensive. Have they apologized for that charade?

The ROC isn't calling for their deaths. Consider that thought relative to how some in other denominations have carried on.
In Response

by: john from: canada
April 22, 2012 13:12
Kirby isn't making PR into heroes as he admits in video that he doesn't like their music and that his support of them is based solely on a principle he sees that if what they do on the street is ok, its also ok in a church. This might be rather far-fetched, as most would agree that there should be a privilege accorded any private property to control ingress and actions within its bounds.

Given that Kirby is otherwise pro-Putin and rather anti-activist, I don't think his attitude might be best labeled as demagogic. Perhaps Kirby is an atheist or humanist who does not agree that a religious cult should enjoy any special status? However, it is interesting that some of the PR women profess to being members of the same cult and that their action was prompted by a desire to see Kirill be outed for his support of Putin.

If the cult had called for a death penalty for such an action, it would serve as a signal to the civilized world about the debased cruelty inherent in the cult. Merely calling for prison terms should be a signal that the cult should be isolated from society and to reduce its influence on society.
In Response

by: Frank
April 23, 2012 10:30
As you describe, Kirby doesn't come across as such a great analytical source.

by: Joe from: Ireland
April 21, 2012 12:13
At Easter the Orthodox Church sings a hymn saying "In the light of the Resurrection let us forgive all things". Patriarch Kirill should extend this forgiveness to the young mothers of "Pussy Riot" who face years in prison. He refuses to do so. No wonder people feel contempt for him.

And people are being forced against their will to attend the "prayer service" tomorrow and 14,000 police and soldiers will make sure they attend and pray.
In Response

by: Alex from: Russia
April 22, 2012 20:26
People do not feel contepmt (the majority of Russians avoid black PR like this). People are not forced. This is indeed a ridiculous thing to say. please do not say things you are not sure about

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
April 21, 2012 13:58
The gods of communism failed; Kremlin leaders today are thieves and crooks, the police, army and security services are extortion rackets, and the intelligentsia is demoralized. Surely moral leadership can be found in the RoC! Hardly. There may be individual clerics who have embraced Christ, but the organization has become a holy façade for a corrupt regime. Salvation lies within the recognition of each individual Russian who struggles for a justice and truth.
In Response

by: Frank
April 21, 2012 21:21

Waght you say is overly hyped and hypocritical bunk for the reasons mentioned in the above piece.
In Response

by: Matvei from: USA
April 22, 2012 13:33
Overly hyped, you say? I have not seen a more clear-headed response on this website in ages than Ray's.
In Response

by: Frank
April 23, 2012 10:23
Such is the freaky and hypocritical world that you seem to embrace Matvei.

On the contrary, Ray is giving credence to an overly biased piece for reasons mentioned in this thread.
In Response

by: Matvei from: USA
April 23, 2012 15:53
Actually, the freaky and hypocritical world I embrace is called Christianity, Frank. Its essence is to forgive those who have wronged you, which, I agree, these young ladies did to the Orthodox Church. Would that they lived up to the Creed of our Lord.
In Response

by: Frank
April 21, 2012 21:28
Ray, as an add on to my last set of comments, the greater corruption is evident in how venues like RFE/RL cover such issues.

Then again, note how Brian Whitmore (one of the better RFE/RL journos) links to the La Russophobe crank.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 22, 2012 19:00
It looks like the three girls on the picture above have achieved their goal: they have attracted attention of a lot of males both in Russia and internationally :-)).

by: James from: Nebraska
April 23, 2012 00:42
The last line is telling too: you get your computer confiscated for expressing an opinion about religion. At least the USA hasn't made atheism illegal (yet).
In Response

by: Frank
April 23, 2012 10:27
Like US involved law hasn't involved itself in confiscating computers of folks deemed as being extreme in one form or another.

The above article and some of the comments at this thread confirm a hypocritically inaccurate bias against the ROC - in line with a number of biases exhibited against Russia and Russians.

by: some anarchists from: america
April 24, 2012 00:47
"It Came From The Internet!"

To Pussy Riot. You're doing it right! It takes courage to do something like that in front of any group of people. It takes extra courage to do that in a place of the elderly and bigoted.

no state religion!

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