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Russian dissident priest is murdered

09 August 2013


A DISSIDENT priest in the Russian Orthodox Church, described by one theologian as "the last free priest of the Moscow Patriarchy", was stabbed to death on Monday.

Fr Pavel Adelheim (above) was found dead at his house in Pskov, north-west Russia, and his suspected killer has been detained. It is reported that a young man living with Fr Pavel and his wife had murdered him, before turning the knife on himself.

Born in 1938, Fr Adelheim was ordained priest in 1959. He spent three years in a prison camp after he was convicted of slandering the Soviet state.

In recent years, he spoke out against the Russian Orthodox Church's relationship with the state. Of the Pussy Riot protest, he wrote on his blog: "Dancing in the Church of Christ the Saviour was a dys-functional reaction to the illegal activities of the titular religion in a secular state."

Russian websites quoted a blog entry written by the theologian Deacon Andrei Kurayev: "The last free priest of the Moscow Patriarchy has been killed. What priest, es- pecially one with a family to feed, will now be able to say openly and publicly [to the bishop he is reporting to]: 'Your Eminence, you are wrong!'?"

A spokesman said that the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, was mourning Fr Adelheim's death, and praying for his soul.

The Revd Dr Michael Bourdeaux writes: Fr Pavel Adelheim never refused counsel or hospitality to anyone. A few days ago, he invited a young man to spend time in his house in Pskov, and on Monday evening this person seized a kitchen knife, cried out that the Devil had ordered him to kill the priest, and stabbed him in the chest. The ambulance delayed its arrival, and had to be summoned a second time, by which time Fr Pavel had bled to death.

Nothing more is yet known of the circumstances, but Fr Pavel is not the first priest to have been murdered since the collapse of Communism. My Russian contacts have not suggested that the hand of the authorities lay behind this act; yet it is an inescapable fact that Fr Pavel was one of the highest-profile former religious dissidents.

He never knew his father, who perished in Stalin's terror. Born in 1938, Fr Pavel learnt the faith from his mother, only to be expelled from school for his Christian beliefs. After many difficulties, he gained entry to one of the few theological seminaries, and was ordained priest in 1959, to serve under the great Bishop Yermogen, in Uzbekistan. In the remote village of Kagan, he built an Orthodox church, disguising what it was during its construction.

This was too much for the authorities. A life of persecution began. He lost a leg in a fracas in the prison camp, when a logging truck ran over him - probably the first attempt on his life.

In the camp he studied law, in order to help prisoners with their appeals. On his release, he served in the diocese of Pskov. His bishop, Metropolitan Evsevi, took against him instantly, because he wrote a critique of the hierarchy, accusing them of being dictatorial.

In his ministry, he focused on youth work with great success, until the Metropolitan removed him from office. The brakes of his car were tampered with; the resulting crash was the second attempt on his life. He had support from the UK, however, and in particular from the Anglican parish of Tring, Hertfordshire. I met him on one of his visits to the UK, and felt that here was the very essence of all that was good in the Russian priesthood.

Fr Pavel clung on as an assistant priest in Pskov, no doubt protected by the support he received from the thousands he influenced, and from his British friends. The internet is buzzing with shock at the murder of one of Russia's most dedicated priests.

Dr Bourdeaux is the President of Keston Institute in Oxford.

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