The Russian Orthodox Church has sustained a well-thought strike aimed at testing how deep its followers’ faith is, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill said on Sunday.
As of late the Russian Orthodox Church has come in for unprecedented criticism both at home and abroad over the punk group Pussy Riot case and the perceived luxurious lifestyle of its leading figures.
“I can’t get rid of the thought that it was a certain exploratory attack to check how deep is the faith and devotion to Orthodoxy in Russia,” he told the Vesti Nedeli weekly news program on Russia’s state-run Rossiya TV channel.
Three Pussy Riot punk group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were sentenced on August 17 to two years in prison over a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s largest cathedral in a trial that attracted both mass media attention and sharp international criticism.
Lawyers for the group say their clients were protesting open Church support for Vladimir Putin ahead of the March 4 presidential polls that returned the former KGB officer to the Kremlin. Patriarch Kirill called Putin’s first two presidential terms a “miracle from God” in a televised meeting less than a month before the elections.
The patriarch described the issue as an aggression not only against the Russian Orthodox Church but also as an attack “against our cultural nucleus.”
"In the past 20 years our church, which has earlier been accused of inaction, of being unable to carry out its mission in the modern world, has reached impressive results in educating our people. Our people are getting Orthodox,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said.
He also said that the rumors about the deepening ties between the Orthodox Church and the Kremlin were “a deliberate provocation.”
“How can we make a conclusion about the merging [of the church and state] only based on the fact that the president or the prime minister pray together with the patriarch once or twice a year? Why should those people, who are believers, be deprived of the right to pray, including with their patriarch?” he said.
Patriarch Kirill came under fire in April after he insisted in an interview with a Russian journalist that he had never worn a $30,000 Breguet watch that he received as a gift. He suggested that any photographs of him wearing the watch must have been doctored.
However, attentive bloggers quickly discovered a photograph on the church’s official website of Patriarch Kirill with the expensive watch on his wrist. Less than 24 hours later, the timepiece had been airbrushed out of the photograph. Unfortunately for the church, the inattentive editor left intact the telltale reflection of the luxury wristwatch on a varnished table, sparking weeks of online mockery.
And there was more unwanted publicity for the Orthodox Church in mid-August when the abbot of a downtown Moscow church was accused of being drunk behind the wheel after the Maltese diplomatic vehicle he was driving ploughed into another vehicle. Witnesses said Hegumen Timofei’s eyes were “glazed and crazy” after the crash, but the abbot refused to take a breathalyzer test, the online Gazeta.ru newspaper reported.