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MOSCOW, April 9 (Itar-Tass) —— The Russian Orthodox Church, whose leadership found itself in the focus of several media scandals lately, has declared a war against “anti-Church forces.” Some suspect that a real witch hunt is on, triggered by the row over an act of hooliganism, committed in Moscow’s main Orthodox Cathedral by a group of young women from the punk group Pussy Riot.
On Sunday, as he demonstrated the holy shrines of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Patriarch Kirill, of Moscow and all Russia, once again condemned the outrageous escapade.
“We all know that just recently an act of blasphemy, of spiritual villainy was committed,” Patriarch Kirill said. “Blasphemy of that scale cannot be left unnoticed, and its effects, unfelt by those who committed it.”
On the same day in the Cathedral of the Epiphany, which before 1991 had been the patriarchal cathedral, a man stripped himself to his underwear and tried to get onto the ambo. The abuser was detained by police.
The head of the ROC, experts believe, is in a no easy position. Of late, several rows involving the Russian Orthodox Church drew the public’s attention. In February, five young women from the group Pussy Riot staged a ridiculous punk prayer inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior “Our Lady, Make Putin Leave for Good.” Several days later a criminal case over the act of hooliganism was opened against them. If found guilty, they may get up to seven years in jail. At the moment three members of the group are under arrest, effective till April 24.
Emotional discussions over that incident have continued unabated ever since. Society – both the Orthodox Christians and the non-believers – have split up into two camps. Some believe that the guilt of the feminists is so great that they well deserve criminal punishment. The others believe that a fine would be enough, the more so, since the arrested have little children. Also, they call on the Church to remember the Christian values and the need for forgiveness.
Also, the media have been widely discussing court hearings on a lawsuit against the neighbors of Patriarch Kirill. The litigation is over a 20-million-ruble compensation for damage caused as a result of repairs in their apartment to Patriarch Kirill’s suite in a VIP building on the Moskva river overlooking the Kremlin, and the affair of the Patriarch’s wristwatch (presumably a Breguet), which had been erased from a photograph of the Patriarch before the picture was placed on the ROC’s official website.
The ROC has decided to launch a counter-offensive. On April 8, the Palm Sunday, marking the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, a message from the Supreme Church Council of the Russian Orthodox Church was read out from the ambos of Orthodox churches. The critics of the Church were called the enemies of faith and supporters of “anti-Russian forces.” On Sunday the message began to be read out at all Orthodox Cathedrals in all dioceses of the ROC, including those abroad.
The ROC called on believes to struggle with “anti- church forces” and “false values of aggressive liberalism.” The Supreme Church Council believes that in Russia there are “anti-church forces,” which do not rule out the active role of the church in the country’s life and its ability “to unite millions of people.” These forces are accused of discrediting the clergymen, of splitting society and of making Russians turn their backs on the Churches.
The ROC has likened the current situation to the events of 1918, when the Bolsheviks unleashed a campaign of persecution against the Church and the clergymen, many of whom were repressed.
The anti-Church groups, the Supreme Church Council believes, have launched campaigns against the church and been discrediting the clerics and hierarchs: “The archpriests and priests are in the focus of close attention of the discontent, who create a filthy media flow.”
The Supreme Church Council has called upon “all hierarchs, priests and laymen” to attend a prayer on April 22 “in defense of faith, the defiled holy shrines, the Church and its good name.”
The chairman of the Synodal department for Church-society relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, Vsevolod Chaplin, is quoted by the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying that inside the ROC itself there are people who have been calling for “staying quiet, for forgiving, for nearly approving the blasphemies and attacks against the Church, who have been making attempts to make it yield to aggressive liberalism.” Chaplin said the believers “should not repeat the mistake of the post-revolutionary years, when they were too complacent about the attacks on the Church.”
Experts believe that this document is clear evidence the ROC leadership is nervous.
The Supreme Church Council’s message “indicates that the Patriarch is in a very grave position, close to panic,” says former ROC priest Gleb Yakunin, quoted by the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. “The Patriarch feels insulted by the fact that after the young women’s escapade inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was aimed against Putin and against himself, the episcopate has kept quiet. Several hundred bishops preferred not to meddle in the affair, and they did not share his anger. Patriarch Kirill is at a very dramatic moment in his life. To find an excuse for the current situation he has only one way out: to keep telling one and all that there really exists some sort of conspiracy against the Russian Orthodox Church. To hunt for witches…”
A member of the science council of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Alexei Malashenko, believes that the ROC made several wrong moves lately and now it has been trying to shift the focus of attention to the Opposition. “Aggressive liberalism from the standpoint of the Church comes from Putin’s opponents, anti-statists, and pro-Western people with bad liberal values,” Malashenko said.
“I do not know whether busfuls of people will be brought in,” Malashenko said about the April 22 prayer. “I do not rule out, though, that the task has been set to make the prayer a massive event, and that the goal will be achieved. It is most important to show that the ROC is the church of the people, and that the liberals are anti-popular types,” the analyst said.
MOSCOW, April 9