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Protest in church most sensational religious news

SOVA, 14 March 2012

On 6 March 2012 an open letter of believers to Patriarch Kirill was published, which contained a request that he petition for closing the criminal case regarding the "Pussy Riot" group.

The text says:  "We, the authors of this letter, are believing people. The majority of us consider such conduct in a church impermissible. But we consider yet more impermissible the reaction to the events that occurred, criminal prosecution and imprisonment, as well as the harsh outcries against participants in the 'punk prayer' by members of the Orthodox church. . . . Your Holiness, we ask you to manifest a Christian attitude toward members of the 'Pussy Riot' group and petition the court for closing this criminal case."

The author of the letter is the manager of a children's program, the "Vera" Foundation for Hospice Aid, a parishioner of a Moscow church, Lidia Moniava. In two days, more than 1,500 people signed the letter, including Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and protestants.

On 7 March 2012 Vladimir Legoida [spokesman for Moscow patriarchate—tr.] commented on the letter. In his opinion, this text "gives evidence that a part of society has formed the false opinion that allegedly the hooligan girls are being detained under guard at the insistence of the church." He is convinced that the actions of  "Pussy Riot" in the church of Christ the Savior "are not an innocent prank and they have nothing to do with either freedom of speech, or human rights, or an other democratic values."

On 12 March 2012 the letter was delivered to the chancellery of the Moscow patriarchate. By this time it had been signed by 5,739 persons, of whom about 2,000 are Orthodox persons (23 clerics, church choristers, icon painters, restorers, choir directors, and other believers).   (tr. by PDS, posted 14 March 2012)

Interfax-Religiia, 14 March 2012

A Moscow city court left in custody "Pussy Riot" members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, who were arrested for a hooligan action in the church of Christ the Savior. As an Interfax correspondent reported, the judicial college thereby turned down the appeal of their attorneys in which they asked that the arrest be ruled illegal and rescinded.

N. Tolokonnikova's attorney, Nikolai Polozov,  declared at the session that it is not necessary to apply to his client such an exceptional measure of punishment as detention. He thinks that the Taganka court judge ignored the fact that N. Tolokonnikova is the mother of a young child who needs "her attention every minute."

N. Polozov also expressed the opinion that the judge had a personal dislike for N. Tolokonnikova. The attorney told how the girl participated in an action in support of the organizers of the "Forbidden art" exhibit who were tried in the Taganka court last year. "At the time of sentencing, my client along with other young people brought cockroaches to the court and released them in the hallways of the building, calling the action a 'Cockroach court,'" he said. In N. Polozov's opinion, the judge remembered his client "and could well be offended at her and therefore could not make an objective decision."

In court the prosecutor requested that the measure of punishment of N. Tolokonnikova be left without change, since in his opinion the Taganka court's decision was legal and correct. "She does not reside at her place of permanent registration in Norilsk and she has a social card from Canada, to which she could at any moment depart, and this means that she could escape the investigation," the prosecutor explained.

As the press secretary of the Moscow city court, Anna Usacheva, told reporters, the judicial college that rendered the decision acted on the fact that both women are accused of committing a crime for which the established punishment is a term of more than two years.  "In addition, the crime was committed by a group of persons and the other participants have still not been identified," A. Usacheva explained. She said that investigators have presented to the court information that M. Alekhina, after committing the crime, changed her place of residence, thereby hiding from the investigation agents.

Thus the judicial college of the Moscow city court found the decision of the Taganka court of Moscow regarding detention of N. Tolokonnikova and M. Alekhina to be correct. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 March 2012)

Representatives of various religions on crime and punishment
By Viktoriia Riakhoreva
Afisha, 14 March 2012

"Afisha" asked an archdeacon of the Orthodox church, a Catholic father, an imam of a Moscow mosque, and a Krishna leader to comment on the sensational case surrounding the "Pussy Riot" activists, who face up to seven years for a hooligan art action in the church of Christ the Savior.

On 6 March, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, two girls of the "Pussy Riot" group, were arrested. At the end of February they performed a "punk prayer" before the altar of the church of Christ the Savior. This was a production that included the phrases "Holy crap" and "Mother of God, drive Putin away." Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have denied participating in the performance at the altar, and although they have housework to do (both have young children) they are being held in custody until 24 April. A criminal case against them has been opened on the "hooliganism" article, and theoretically for a not very clever art trick they face up to seven years. A representitive of RPTs, Vladimir Legoida, chided the girls, stating that "Pussy Riot" is even worse than the bolsheviks, but he made it clear that he does not see a reason for their detention. Yesterday bloggers published a letter to the patriarch in which they ask for Tolokonnikova and Alekhina's release, and now there are already more than 5000 signatures on it. Today a prayer service was held in the church of Christ the Savior in support of the girls in custody, and near the building at Petrovka, 38, a one-man demonstration in their defense was begun. It is possible to sign a petition for their release there.

What do representatives of various confessions think about this?

Andrei Kuraev, Archdeacon of the Russian Orthodox Church and cleric of the church of the Archangel Michael in Troparevo

"I think that people are detained so that they will always be available and cannot depart somewhere. This is not so much a measure of punishment of actions committed by the suspects as a means of prevention of aggression by some extremely excited Orthodox activists, who in thousands of voices have cried out that they would deal physically with these girls. Their photographs and home address have already begun circulating about the Internet, and thus it seems to me that here a normal government has only two choices—either provide the girls state protection or resettle them in a place secured by the state. And it is the second that has occurred. That is, we are not talking here about punishment but prevention of a lynching. It has often happened in Russia that the alternative to a state trial was not forgiveness but a vigilante mob. For example, when at the end of the 19th century criminal penalties for witchcraft in the Russian empire were repealed, then throughout the country there arose a wave of popular reprisals against those women whom Christians suspected of witchcraft. I cannot prejudge the course of a trial, but it is quite possible that in the debate it would become clear that these particular people had nothing to do with this prank. As far as I know, they are now denying their participation and, perhaps, they will be able to prove it. I have a negative attitude toward this protest, but I think that the church should strictly remain in the position of a victim and not in the position of an avenger."

Renat Aliautdinov, Imam of Moscow Memorial Mosque

"Their goals and motives are not completely clear to me. What did they gain by offending believers' feelings? It seems that the girls were drunk and out of control of themselves, and their action can be called pure hooliganism. For this reason we should ask the question about the moral education of youth. Hooliganism should be punished. If they had committed hooliganism on the street, that would be one thing, but offending the feelings of believers is another. Any temple is not an ordinary place but a place where people are enlightened and receive the foundations of their moral values. But the girls challenged all that is good and creative. We Russians should understand that the values of our nation, which are shown in the Old Testament and Quran, are one and the same and we should protect them. Of course, such an action could not happen in a Muslim mosque, since they would simply be too frightened. There are few Muslim mosques in Moscow and every day in every one of them five services are performed where there always are at least 150 persons. Thus round the clock the mosque is busy and surrounded by people—not just old women but also young men. In general, temples should be protected by police, but still the church is a structure forming a state."

Kirill Gorbunov, Director of the Information Service of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow

"I have a negative attitude toward this action because it is very crude. It is clear that the girls could have been sick at heart, but there are things that are not very appropriate in any place, and in a church they are blatantly obscene. I do not doubt that they really had the intent to seriously offend both the church and believing people. However I think that they should be punished proportionately to what happened, which still is petty hooliganism. Hooliganism can be offensive, sometimes even more offensive than, for example, theft. But this does not mean that it is necessary to whip someone for it, much less, reap vengeance. In my view there is no need to isolate these girls from society and somehow persecute them. And there is no need to keep them in custody until 24 April. I can talk about the experience of the Catholic church, which now throughout the world is facing such actions.  Some places they have a more or less socially acceptable character—that is people just come into a church and begin shouting slogans, displaying banners, and interrupting the service. In other places they have a more threatening character—for example in Rome activists of the Occupy Wall Street movement broke into a church and smashed a statue of the Theotokos, actually desecrating the church. There are also more threatening things that are happening in Asia, in the Near East, in Africa, where churches are broken into in  order to beat up Christians. In every case it depends on the specific approach how they are handled and what kind of juridical consequences they have. If we are talking about petty hooliganism, often the decision is to forgive. But the main thing the church says is that everything that happens should lead to dialogue. When someone is not trying to offend the church or make it an object of scorn, it is necessary to talk with these people, because protecting the church from such things is not persecution of these people. It is necessary that in society the church be treated as a sacred place where such things are impermissible in principle. Where any person has the right to expect respect, understanding and forgiveness. And it is through the attempt at mutual understanding that this is possible. If one tries to solve the problem through prosecution, with the passion of legal wrath, this will lead to the opposite result."

Mahabharata das Adkhikari, Priest of the Moscow temple Sri Sri Daial Nitai Shachisuta Mandir

"The 'Pussy Riot' action is one of the most sensational news of several days back. In the age of the Internet, such news spreads much more quickly than something that is good and worthy. A lively debate is going on in church circles and among the secular intelligentsia. These opinions are multipolar: some demand harsh resistance to such situations and others offer liberal approaches. From the point of view of the Vishu philosophy, based on sacred shastras and scriptures, temples are places for the worship of God and altars are places for bowing to God. A neglectful attitude toward such sacred things, whether it be an Orthodox church, Catholic cathedral, synagogue, or Hindu Mandir, is a sign of the demonic or sore crisis of human civilization. I understand the feeling of believers who were in the church at the time and the feelings of the clergy of the church who had to view this insult. The conduct of these girls is extremely unpleasant to me. I am completely unconvinced by the arguments that this is supposedly the manifestation of some useful critical view of the world and that the girls supposedly did not wish to offend anybody, or that this is the way they were brought up, or that this is some original way to express their love for the Lord.

"What is so special about 'Pussy Riot'? Who are they really to consider themselves appropriate judges? If one needs to express his criticism of someone or something, then do it so as not to hurt the feelings of others. Then they will understand you and you will not offend anyone. And if you express to the Lord some desire, why turn it into some kind of political show? Punishment? Indeed they already have been severely punished by having such a relationship to God.  Perhaps their shame has still not been shown and has still not burned them. But the bravado will necessarily evaporate with time and their relationship to God will change. I would not prosecute them strictly. They need to be weaned from such pranks by instruction. On the other hand, the state is obliged to protect the feelings of believing people regardless of their confessional affiliation."  (tr. by PDS, posted 14 March 2012)

Russian original posted on site, 14 March 2012

Interfax-Religiia, 14 March 2012

An attempt to sprinkle hold water on one of the defenders of the "Pussy Riot" punk group led to a scuffle near the building of the Moscow city court. 

"An Orthodox missionary, Andrei Kaplin, sprinkled baptismal water on one of the female supporters of 'Pussy Riot.' In response she began some kind of madness; she began waving her arms and throwing something on surrounding people," one of the participants in a picket organized outside the court building, who is a member of the Council of Orthodox Public Associations of the synodal Department for Relations of Church and Society, Dmitrii Pakhomov, told an Interfax-Religiia correspondent.  He said that at that moment an outsider, who was not participating in the demonstration, walked past the opponents of "Pussy Riot" who had assembled near the courthouse and the girl who had been sprinkled with holy water pounced on him. The director of youth projects of the Congress of Russian Societies, Alexander Bosykh, who was participating on the side of the punk group's opponents, intervened. He tried to stop the activist. As a result, police arrested both A. Bosykh and this girl and took them to the Preobrazhenskii Department of Internal Affairs.

As D. Pakhomov noted, he and other Orthodox activists went to the police station, where they gave their evidence. Representatives of the opposite "camp" also gathered there. "One of the supporters of 'Pussy Riot' began a scuffle in the police station and started insulting police officers and he was taken away," the news agency's source said.

Today in Moscow city court there was a review of the question of the arrest of two group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, who are suspected of conducting a hooligan action in the church of Christ the Savior. Supporters of the action and their opponents gathered at the building. The court found the arrest of the two to be legal. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 March 2012)

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Debate over punishment of church demonstrators

Interfax-Religiia, 13 March 2012

Federation Council member Mikhail Kapura called for the prosecution of members of the punk group "Pussy Riot," who staged a performance in the church of Christ the Savior, but he noted that secular events also are conducted in the church and this also could be the occasion for action.

"These actions are pure hooliganism, and therefore they should be punished. Otherwise we will be turned into a country where anarchy reigns," M. Kapura told Interfax; he is a member of the Committee on Legal and Judicial Matters of the upper house of parliament.

Along with this he added that the measure of punishment should be determined by the extent to which these girls themselves understand internally what they have done. "At the same I am not calling for putting them up against the wall or sending them to Kolyma. But the measure of punishment should be proportionate to what they did," M. Kapura emphasized.

However he called attention to what, in his words, people prefer not to talk about. "The point is that the church of Christ the Savior nowadays has been turned into a kind of secular institution, where various kinds of banquets, conferences, organizing congresses, and the like are conducted," he explained.

In the senator's opinion, members of the action knew very well that secular events are constantly being held in the church. "This is the other side of the coin, about which little is said. And it is this kind of event in the church, along with others, that provoked such aggressive behavior on the part of these girls," he thinks.

Another senator, vice-chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, Valerii Shniakin, told Interfax that he is surprised by the position of ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, who came to the defense of the feminists. "In this case such a position as Mr. Lukin's evokes extreme amazement, since we are talking about hooligan pranks and about the offense and abuse of believers' feelings," he stressed.

In V. Shniakin's opinion, if these girls are not punished, it will serve as a "dire example," and it will certainly lead to such "crazy girls" beginning to act in such a way in other churches. He said it was strange that only girls were arrested and those who arranged this action remain outside the field of vision of law enforcement agencies. "It is obvious that this action was well planned, and the film was professionally done. The question remains of who is behind all of this," the agency's interlocutor said. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 March 2012)

Interfax-Religiia, 12 March 2012

The assessment of Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy [MDA] Professor Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev of the scandalous action of the "Pussy Riot" group in the church of Christ the Savior did not find support among his colleagues.

As was stated in a resolution of the Academic Council of the academy as a result of its session on Monday, the Professorial and Pedagogical Corporation of MDA is unanimous in the opinion that this action "is sacrilege and a violation of the feelings of believing Christians."

"While not calling for vigilante justice and revenge, we cannot agree with the initial hasty judgment by Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev of this outrageous action as normal and acceptable," the document, which was released by the press service of the academic institution, says.

At the session of the Academic Council, Father Andrei himself spoke and described "the reasons that prompted him to issue a number of hasty comments without adequate information."

"While taking into account the true intentions of Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev to ward off possible extreme aggressive reaction, we remind him in a brotherly fashion that the title of professor of Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy imposes a high responsibility for the form and content of public statements, since on the basis of them both the academic institution and the whole church are judged," the resolution says.

On 21 February the feminist punk group "Pussy Riot" staged a performance at the entrance to the altar of the church of Christ the Savior. Participants in the protest reported that their performance was a "punk prayer." A criminal case under the "hooliganism" article was initiated. Recently three members of the group were detained and two of them were held under arrest. They declared a hunger strike in protest. A Moscow city court will review the appeal of the arrest on Wednesday.

Immediately after the incident, Archdeacon A. Kuraev told Interfax-Religiia that there were mitigating circumstances surrounding the girls' behavior and it should be taken into account that this happened at the time of the celebration of Maslenitsa and "this is a time when, according to the canons of Orthodox and ancient Russian culture, the norms are violated and the social cosmos is upset; a person dresses like a beast and animals are dressed in human clothing, a peasant like a tsar and a drunkard like a priest, and so forth."

Archdeacon Kuraev wrote in his [blog?] that he would feed the members of the group pancakes in the sacristy and give them a cup of mead and invite them to come again to the ritual of forgiveness. Later in a conversation with youth, Father Andrei explained that "to feed a bit and talk a bit is our only reaction, which they did not count on, but it is the one that could be successful." In his opinion, if Orthodox people would conduct themselves just that way, they would have the right "to ask God for the miracle of softening these hearts." (tr. by PDS, posted 13 March 2012)
Interfax-Religiia, 13 March 2012

The leader of the "Yabloko" [party], Sergei Mitrokhin, has called Patriarch Kirill to act mercifully toward members of the "Pussy Riot" group, who staged a hooligan action in the church of Christ the Savior.

"I call Patriarch Kirill to suggest to law enforcement agencies mercy for these prodigal children," S. Mitrokhin said. In his opinion, the church should forgive the girls for their hooligan act. He suggested punishing the girls in the form of a fine.

"Christianity teaches to forgive, and therefore the church should display Christian mercy here and forgive these girls. In their turn, law enforcement agencies could assign them a fine for hooliganism. This would be the better measure," the oppositionist emphasized. . . . (tr. by PDS, posted 13 March 2012)

Interfax-Religiia, 13 March 2012

A famous Muslim attorney, Dagir Khasavov, thinks that members of the feminist punk group "Pussy Riot" do not need to be tried but to be treated.

"If one looks through the prism of the Holy Quran, it is impossible to call the action of this group a good deed; they are considered fallen, sick in the head, and irresponsible," D. Khasavov told Interfax-Religiia.

Speaking of how the members of the group would be treated if they had desecrated a mosque and were tried in accordance with shariah law, he recalled that both in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence and in accordance with secular jurisprudence, "it is impossible to judge psychiatrically ill people and their action is not considered sinful because this is a condition of their spirit."

"An insane person, with a distorted intellect and consciousness cannot rightly control himself and behave appropriately, respecting the faith and the sanctity of temples. This is a manifestation of a lack of a culture of conduct in society and evidence of the clouding of reason as well as moral degradation," the attorney declared.

He also considers what happened as "the worst manifestation of the underground culture in an immoral society of consumerism and obscurantism, which is supported by a part of society and aims for the unbounded freedom of the individual."

In conclusion, the agency's interlocutor expressed the opinion that this incident "is another convincing evidence that the question of the creation in Russia of ecclesiastical (for Muslims, shariah) courts and their incorporation into the system of appellate courts is more than critical."

Previously D. Khasavov told the news agency that he plans to establish a nationwide Russian rights advocacy center, "The Muslim Union," which will engage, inter alia, in establishing in the country shariah courts with appellate status, recalling that in prerevolutionary Russia there existed courts for religious matters. . . . (tr. by PDS, posted 13 March 2012)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Political opposition in Moscow backs punk demonstrators

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin:  "Orthodox Christians challenged; challenge boorish, arrogant, aggressive"
by Vladislav Maltsev
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 12 March 2012

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin has called believers "to demand of the state" exemplary punishment of "pussy cats," and leaders of the street opposition have expressed support of girls suspected of a provocation in the church of Christ the Savior.

Attorney Nikolai Polozov, who is defending Maria Alekhina (she and another participant in "Pussy Riot," Nadezhda Tolokonikova, were arrested last week by decision of the Taganka court), explained to "NG" yesterday that at the present time "the girls are using article 51 (article 51 of the Russian constitution permits one not to give evidence against one's self—NG) and they are not confirming nor denying  what happened there, but they are simply refusing to give evidence," while, according to him, in court "the investigation has not produced any evidence that they participated in the events in the church of Christ the Savior."

Polozov reported that he himself and Tolokonnikova's attorney, Violetta Volkova, think "the case is politically motivated."  "In the first place, Vladimir Putin personally expressed this when he asked of all Orthodox Christians for forgiveness, and in the second place the activity of the group 'Pussy Riot' also had political overtones and their songs mentioned Putin in a negative context," the attorney said. "Thus I do not rule out that the efforts that law enforcement agencies have thrown into this case—an investigative brigade is working on it and the girls were arrested by around 20 agents—this is not the investigation of an ordinary criminal case, let alone just hooliganism—political will is driving them," Polozov thinks. The attorney says that he has still not received information from the court about a date for the next session of the court on this case, but in accordance with procedural norms it should be held at the beginning of this week.

The attorneys for the arrested girls appeared among the speakers at the 10 March opposition rally on New Arbat. "Girls sang 'Mother of God, drive Putin away,' and Putin was offended at them."  "Free the political prisoners" declared Polozov under the rally's banner. Two days earlier, in front of the building of the Chief Directorate of MVD for Moscow (Petrovka, 38) there was a series of solo pickets in support of the "Pussy Riot" participants. Photo reporters identified among the picketers Aleksei Navalny and one of the leaders of the unregistered PARNAS, Boris Nemtsov. In addition, one of the attorneys of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is a member of the policy council of the "Solidarnost" movement, Mark Feigin. Tolokonnikova is a well known opposition activist (she was previously an active participant in the "Voina" art group), and she addressed the rally on Bolotnaia Square on 10 December 2011.

In turn, on 9 March the head of the synodal Department for Relations of Church and Society of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, stated his position in the "Pravoslavnaia politika" collective blog. He said, "We Orthodox Christians have been challenged; the challenge is boorish, arrogant, and aggressive." "Challenging dances and songs were staged on the sacred pulpit of the church. No kind of repentance has yet been heard, neither from the 'protest' participants themselves nor from their supporters and defenders. In such conditions the Orthodox Christian must protect his sacred items. Protect them by all legal means, that is, condemn blasphemy and demand of the government that it do its job," Archpriest Chaplin wrote, adding that "the church does not intend to yield to the pressure of an aggressive group calling now for mercy." (tr. by PDS, posted 12 March 2012)

Russian original posted on Interfax-Religiia site, 12 March 2012

Interfax-Religiia, 7 March 2012

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issued his apologies to believers for the protest that was conducted in the church of Christ the Savior by participants of the "Pussy Riot" group. Responding to an "Interfax" question he noted that he was not aware of what these girls did.

"But if they violated the law, I apologize to both clergy and believers, said V. Putin, who on Wednesday spoke with reporters of the government pool, congratulating its feminine portion for the upcoming holiday. "I give my apologies to all believers and clergy for them if they have not been able to do so themselves. I hope that this will not be repeated any more," V. Putin added.

On 21 February the feminist punk band "Pussy Riot" staged a performance at the entrance to the altar of the church of Christ the Savior. Participants in the protest stated that their performance was a "punk prayer." When church security tried to arrest them, they fled. A criminal case was begun on the "hooliganism" article. Maximum penalty for this article is imprisonment of up to two years.

A few days ago three participants of the band were detained. One of them, along with an activist of the "Voina" art group, Peter Verzilov, was released after questioning with a summons to appear before an investigator on 6 March. Two others, Maria Alekhina and Nedezhda Tolokonnikova, were arrested by the court. They declared a hunger strike in protest. (tr. by PDS, posted 12 March 2012)

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Ukrainian metropolitan maintains visibility

RISU, 12 March 2012

The primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Vladimir, thanked believers for prayers for his recovery and he explained the situation in current inter-church relations in Ukraine. He did this in an interview with the "Era" television channel.

"The church helps everybody and wishes for all to come to the truth, but the question that divides us remains. Relations with the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev patriarchate) are very strained because a rupture occurred. I would not wish to go deeply into the political details, but politics cannot be far away from us—we must understand them," Metropolitan Vladimir explained.

The metropolitan also told how UPTs has tried several times to hold a meeting with UPTsKP, in order "to hasten the time of mutual understanding," but these meetings did not have an effective result. "We shall hope that in the near future that people of the same faith and the same blood will understand the essence—the goals and tasks on this sinful earth—of the church thoroughly," Metropolitan Vladimir noted.

To the question why nowadays friends so frequently betray one another, not only in secular but also in church circles, the metropolitan answered that "this is the nature of sin that hangs over the world and with which each Christian must fight."  Because Christ said:  "Everybody says that they love me or one another, but the reality is quite the opposite to this statement," Metroolitan Vladimir noted.  (tr. by PDS, posted 12 March 2012)

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