MOSCOW -- The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has approved a religious court's decision to strip an ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who took control of a convent in the Urals with help from Cossack guards of his religious rank.
The Russian Orthodox Church's official website announced Patriarch Kirill’s decision on July 24, three weeks after the Diocesan Court in the Sverdlovsk region ruled that Schema-Hegumen Sergiy (Nikolai Romanov) had shown disobedience toward church authorities and therefore must be stripped off his religious rank.
Father Sergiy, the abbot of a men's monastery in the Sverdlovsk region, made headlines in June after he took over the Sredneuralsk Women's Monastery by force with the help of Cossack guards.
He is known for his public praising of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and for denying the coronavirus, which he calls a Western plot.
Father Sergiy also publicly condemned the church's order in April to stop church services to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus. Weeks later, the Yekaterinburg diocese barred him from preaching and launched a probe into his conduct, citing his stance on the coronavirus and his interference with church policy during the pandemic.
Still, he refused to follow the diocese's ruling and continued to preach.
After forcibly taking over the convent in June, Father Sergiy issued several political statements, saying that constitutional amendments offered by President Vladimir Putin "would legalize a slave-owning system."
"That means we will voluntarily legalize the power of the future Antichrist and his slaves. I call on all peoples of Russia -- do not go to voting stations!" he said in one statement in June.
Russian voters overwhelmingly approved the amendments in a vote that ended on July 1.
Among other things, the constitutional amendments allow Putin, a 67-year-old former KGB officer who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 20 years, to stay in power until 2036 if he chooses to run again after his current term ends in 2024.