THE Russian Orthodox Church has said that it is being persecuted by “anti-Russian forces”, after a female punk-rock band stormed a cathedral to perform a “punk prayer”.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow was the scene of a brief surprise performance, in February, by a band called Pussy Riot, who were protesting against Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency.
Band members burst in and performed their song “Holy Mother, throw Putin out” at the altar, wearing short skirts and masks. The lyrics of their song attacked the close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and president-elect, Putin.
Three band members remain in police custody, and face up to seven years in jail on charges of hooliganism. Police have since arrested a man who threatened a judge with an axe if she did not release the band members.
Church leaders say that the band’s actions were part of a concerted attack on the Church by “persecutors”. They have called for tough sentences for the three, whose actions, they say, have sparked a wave of desecration of icons and vandalism.
The Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow Kirill I, said that the Church was under attack from “enemy forces”. Tens of thousands of Christians responded to his call to pray outside the cathedral last Sunday as a show of support for the Church.
The prayer service was described by the Church as “in defence of the faith, of desecrated shrine, the Church and its good name”.
The controversy has divided Russian society, and has focused attention on the part the Church plays in politics.
The Patriarch has also come in for criticism for having a lavish lifestyle. He has retaliated by branding clerics who have asked for leniency for the band members as “traitors in cassocks”.
Mr Putin’s spokesman this week called for an end to attacks on the Church. He said: “The processes linked to the growth in activity of civil society are basically positive, but there are also ugly side effects, such as disrespect and aggression to the Church.”