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Russian Orthodox Church denies plans to create private army

MOSCOW, November 21 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Orthodox Church is not creating its own private army to help maintain order on the streets, a senior church official said on Friday.

Kommersant, a Russian business daily, reported in an article on Friday that the church had proposed setting up Orthodox vigilante teams to help police patrol the streets and fight crime in Russian cities.

Russian human rights activists immediately criticized the initiative saying that these vigilante teams would mean that police are incapable of maintaining order and keeping criminals off the streets.

"The church is not setting up a private army and would never attempt to do so. It is nonsense. The Russian armed forces already consist of 80% Orthodox believers," said Dmitry Smirnov, who is in charge of the Moscow Patriarchate's military relations department.

He also denied rumors that the Russian Orthodox Church had held talks with the Interior Ministry on the issue.

"It could be a private public initiative put forward by local parishes. If they want to patrol the streets - let them do it. If they want to sweep the streets - even better," the cleric said.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and has seen a resurgence in activity and vitality since the end of Soviet rule. Up to 90% of ethnic Russians identify themselves as Russian Orthodox, although the identification is sometimes more of a cultural nature rather than a religious one.

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