A PROMINENT Russian Orthodox monk, Sergei Romanov, who was excommunicated for insubordination after denouncing lockdown restrictions on religious services, has been charged with inciting suicide, after he urged followers to be ready to “die for the faith and Russia”.
“He publicly called on nuns living in his monastery to commit suicide,” the Moscow court said in a statement. “Realising later that his calls could reach a wider number of people, with socially dangerous consequences, he published a speech on the internet. This also showed signs of exhorting believers to commit suicide under the guise of Christian religious ideology.”
The statement was issued after riot police arrested Romanov last week in the industrial city of Yekaterinburg, amid clashes with his supporters at Sredneuralsk convent.
Romanov’s lawyer, Ivan Mironov, however, said that he had rejected the incitement claims, with accompanying charges of violating religious freedom and “arbitrariness”, and had merely appealed in a sermon for “patriotism and a spirit of sacrifice”.
He had seized the Sredneuralsk convent with followers after being unfrocked for dismissing coronavirus restrictions as a “satanic plot” in a widely viewed video, and urging Orthodox parishioners to defy church and state leaders by reopening their places of worship.
He was excommunicated in September after ignoring a preaching and officiating ban, but refused to vacate the convent.
Russian prosecutors said that they were also investigating claims of child cruelty against the rebel monk, who accused Moscow Patriarchate officials in a separate sermon last April of “working with forerunners of the Antichrist, covering up their shallowness and cowardice with offers to communicate with God online”.
The case is the latest to challenge the authority of Patriarch Kirill and Orthodox fellow leaders in Russia, where another prominent church critic, Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev, was unfrocked last week after defying a May ban on participation in religious activities.
Metropolitan Evgeny (Kulberg) of Ekaterinburg told the Interfax news agency that the arrest of Romanov was “the state’s decision”, and said that he was “not gloating at all” at the prospect of his eparchy’s regaining control of the Sredneuralsk convent.
The Russian Church’s foreign-relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), confirmed this week that public liturgies would go ahead for Christmas on 7 January, but urged elderly parishioners to stay away from churches and watch services live on TV instead.
Russia had reported 3.23 million coronavirus infections and 58,000 deaths by Monday, although some independent sources put the numbers much higher.