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16915Bid to Excommunicate Patriarch Enflames Russia’s ‘Holy War’

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Sep 10, 2012

      Bid to Excommunicate Patriarch Enflames Russia’s ‘Holy War’

      MOSCOW, September 10 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti)

      Near boiling-point tensions between Russia’s major Christian faith and
      the “creative class” it says is waging a war against it were racked up
      even further on Monday after the head of a rights group launched a bid
      to have powerful Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill excommunicated.

      “There are at least six arguments for Patriarch Kirill’s defrocking and
      excommunication from the church,” wrote Mikhail Anashkov, the head of
      Russia’s Consumer Rights Protection Society, on his Live Journal account.

      Anashkov said on Monday he had forwarded a request to have the patriarch
      excommunicated to the Council of Bishops, the only church body with the
      power to defrock and remove the patriarch from his post.

      A statement by the rights organization said the 65-year-old patriarch
      was guilty of violating church law cited by the prosecution in the
      recent Pussy Riot trial. Three members of the group were jailed for two
      years each last month after a protest in Moscow’s landmark Christ the
      Savior Cathedral over Orthodox Church support for Vladimir Putin ahead
      of the March 4 elections that returned him to the Kremlin.

      The organization, which unsuccessfully sued the Orthodox Church this
      year over the sale of religious items on the territory of the Christ the
      Savior Cathedral, said the patriarch was guilty of violations of church
      law including “covetousness and trading in the House of God.” It also
      said he had broken canon law on cohabitation with a woman who was not
      his mother, sister or aunt. Orthodox Church law has not been updated
      since the 8th century.

      Church officials were not immediately available for comment.

      Patriarch Kirill has come under fire from opposition figures in recent
      months over allegations that he shares an elite Moscow apartment with a
      woman known only as Lidia Leonova. Orthodox Church officials have said
      she is his “cousin twice removed.”

      He also came under unprecedented criticism in April after he insisted in
      an interview with a Russian journalist that he had never worn a $30,000
      Breguet watch he had been given as a gift. Any photographs of him doing
      so had likely been doctored, he suggested.

      But eagle-eyed bloggers quickly discovered on the Orthodox Church’s
      official website a photograph of Kirill wearing the watch in question.
      Less than 24 hours later, the watch had been airbrushed out.
      Unfortunately for the Orthodox Church, the inattentive editor had left
      intact the tell-tale refection of the luxury timepiece on a varnished
      table, triggering a storm of online mockery.

      “The patriarch has the right to wear any watch he wants,” insisted
      leading Orthodox Church official Vsevolod Chaplin in an exclusive
      interview earlier this year with RIA Novosti.

      Some 70 percent of Russians regularly identify themselves as Orthodox
      Christians in opinion polls. But a survey conducted in August by the
      independent Levada Center pollster found that 30 percent of Orthodox
      Christians in Russia did not believe in God. The poll had a margin of
      error of 3.4 percentage points.

      Attack by ‘Creative Class’

      Anashkov’s bid to force the patriarch’s excommunication came less than
      24 hours after the patriarch told worshippers in the Christ the Savior
      Cathedral that the church’s opponents were “testing the people’s ability
      to protect their holy places.”

      Without mentioning the Pussy Riot case by name, he later told a
      state-run television channel that “This was some kind of exploratory
      strike to test the depth of faith and commitment to Orthodoxy in Russia”
      by what he referred to as “the so-called creative class.”

      "Creative class" is the term traditionally used to describe those
      members of Russia's nascent urban middle class who are seeking a greater
      say in the way the country is run.

      Patriarch Kirill, an alleged former KGB agent, also denied allegations
      by the anti-Putin opposition that the constitutional separation of the
      church and state was under threat, saying that Russia was instead seeing
      “the Christianisation of society.”

      "That is what frightens our opponents,” he added.

      The aftermath of the Pussy Riot verdict, which drew sharp international
      criticism, saw four wooden crosses chopped down in Russia’s regions last
      month by a shadowy group who said it was “revenge” for the ruling. A
      senior Moscow priest, Dmitry Smirnov, said the act amounted to a
      “declaration of war” against the Church.

      The Pussy Riot row has also sparked a rise in Orthodox militancy, with
      fringe groups announcing plans to patrol near churches to protect them
      from “desecration.” In high-profile incidents in Moscow last month,
      Orthodox activists in Moscow tore a Pussy Riot T-shirt off a member of
      the public and harassed staff at a downtown museum of erotica. In a
      further indication of religious strife, a suspected drug user was found
      murdered with an Orthodox religious icon placed on his face in St.
      Petersburg, investigators said.

      The rising tensions have seen a sharp division of battle lines.

      Influential United Russia lawmaker Vitaly Milonov told RIA last month
      that “today’s liberals are exactly the same as the Bolsheviks were a
      century ago. They are extremely aggressive toward those who don’t agree
      with them. They are ready to hang us all.”

      In a letter published in Russia’s opposition-minded newspaper Novaya
      Gazeta last week, jailed Pussy Riot members insisted they were not
      enemies of religion and urged their supporters to restrict themselves to
      “peaceful” acts of protest.