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Scandals continue bedeviling the Russian Orthodox Church for many long months on end. While the case of the Pussy Riot punk group drags on, the media continue discussing Patriarch Kirill’s luxury wristwatch that disappeared from his official photograph at a certain moment or the Patriarch’s lawsuit against a neighbor who allegedly damaged His Holiness Kirill’s apartment by doing a complete redecoration in his own apartment. And now the time has come for elaborating on the clerics’ outrageous behavior on the roads.
Russian Church hierarchs have no chance of apportioning blame to anyone in the latter situation, as priests have taken on the role of villains of the piece of their own free will. The three road accidents involving clerics that have occurred over the past thirty or so days go on making headlines.
Hearings of a case of hegumen Timothy, the father superior of St. Prophet Elijah’s church on the downtown Obydensky Lane, who is charged with causing a major road accident in mid-August, continue at a court in Moscow. While driving a sports car with a diplomatic number plate belonging to the Maltese embassy, Timothy /Alexei Podobelov before he took the monastic vows/ collided with two cars on the Garden Ring.
Road policemen said he was drunk. When they put him into their car, the odor on his breath was so strong that they could hardly inhale air, they said.
Police in the Leningrad region are conductin an inquiry into the case of protodeacon Sergei Frunza, 34, who got involved in a road conflict in the town of Vsevolozhsk and beat up two retired women.
Somewhat earlier, hieromonk Elijah /Pavel Syomin/ bumped at full tilt into a Gazel truck of a road repairs company while driving his Mercedes Galendwagen. He made a getaway from the spot of the accident, leaving two road repairs workers dead.
Hegumen Timothy, who refused to take a test for the presence of alcohol in his blood, may be stripped of the driving license for a period of eighteen to twenty-four months. Besides, a few bizarre details came into spotlight during the court hearings. The cleric dented two cars while driving a car, which he took away in from a parking lot without permission.
The owner of the sports car did not issue any proxies to Timothy for driving his vehicle and reportedly did not even know anything about the cleric’s plans to tour city streets.
Timothy said before the start of the trial he had never been charged with any administrative offenses before but the judges nonetheless imposed seven penalties on him in connection with the incident.
“It looks like this cleric does not fear God’s wrath and gives false evidence in the courtroom with histrionic piousness,” writes the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid.
On an earlier occasion, Timothy got into the focus of the media attention last spring when a scandal broke out around the baptizing of a daughter of the Russian pop music star Filip Kirkorov. Being the father superior of the church and Kirkorov’s spiritual guide at the same time, he invited the singer to the ambo for greeting the guests who attended the baptism ceremony, although the Church rules strictly forbid the lay to ascend the ambo.
Hegumen Timothy was driving the sport car as a private individual and the Russian Orthodox Church cannot be held responsible for his actions, archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, the head of the Synod’s department for cooperation with the Armed Forces and Interior agencies. “Were he a plumber, nobody would chew fat about the accident but since he is a priest, everyone rushed to mull it over and over again and to use it as a ploy in a campaign against the Church,” the Right Reverend Smirnov said. “Well, there’s nothing new for us in it.”
Deacon Andrei Kurayev, a well-known theologian told the Business FM radio canonical rules forbid clerics to wear secular clothes and to feel as if they are not performing their duties.
The scandal around hegumen Timothy was followed by an awkward situation around protodeacon Sergei Frunza of the St Petersburg diocese. Two retired women claimed he had beaten them up.
Valentina Pavlova, 60, was driving a Volvo and her sister Alla, 66, was riding next to her. They were passing by a church in the town of Vsevolozhsk, close to St Petersburg, when a Hyundai Getz dashed a few inches in front of them. To prevent a collision, the woman used an emergency brake.
Upon getting out of the car, she slapped with the Hyudai’s side glass with her palm. “Well what are you doing?” she asked the man in the driver’s seat. “You’ll know in a moment,” he said emerging out the car and hit her with his fist.
Alla shared Valentina’s plight. Physicians would state later that the two women had sustained cerebral traumas. In addition, Alla got a nasal trauma and Valentina had three seams overcast on her lip.
Sergei Frunza was born in Moldova. Media reports said his page in the V Kontakte social network, which was removed soon after the incident, contained photos showing Sergei in the driver’s seats of expensive cars, as well as some drawings with obscene words.
The 26-year-old hieromonk Elijah, who ran down two road repairs workers on Kutuzovsky Prospekt avenue in Moscow in August and got away from the scene, has been detained and is now kept in a custody center in Moscow.
Following the disintegration of the USSR, the Russian Orthodox Church turned into an instrument of moneymaking for many of its representatives, political scientist Dmitry Travin told the Kommersant FM radio. He believes that many people opt for priesthood out of purely mercantile considerations now.
“Getting a job at a church became a profitable thing in the 1990’s,” Travin said. “While the Church was repressed and at least partly repressed during the Soviet era, now it has turned into a lucrative business and people come there to get an affluent life, the same way they get the positions of government officials or businessmen.”
“These latest stories featuring the priest who drive luxury cars show the Church has turned into a nice place for making money,” he said.
“All these Church people have gotten luxury cars, and all of them are audacious enough to believe they won’t have to respond for their offenses,” Yevgeny Ponasenkov, a historian writes on the Echo of Moscow radio’s blog.
He claims that the frequency of the cases reveals a definite tendency. “They /the offenders/ mar the image of the country and the faith they attribute themselves to while making money on it so as to buy cars.”
MOSCOW, September 7