Russian Orthodox Church Girds for Battle
Another Fundamentalist church running its version of a culture war.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”