Friday, June 14, 2024

Russian Orthodox Church suspends priest who prayed at Navalny's grave

A Russian Orthodox priest who led a memorial service last month at the grave of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been suspended from clerical duties and ordered to serve three years of "penance".

Dmitry Safronov has prayed several times at the Moscow grave of Navalny and conducted a service there on March 26 to mark 40 days since Navalny's death in an Arctic penal colony.

His suspension was announced by the Moscow Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, which said he would be demoted to the role of psalm-reader.

No reason was stated for the punishment, the latest in a series that the Church has imposed on priests deemed sympathetic to the opposition or not sufficiently supportive of Russia's war in Ukraine.

"At the end of the period of penance, based on feedback from the place of obedience, a decision will be made on the possibility of his further priestly service," the diocese said.

Reuters was unable to reach Safronov. A man who answered the phone at his Moscow church said all questions should be directed to the office of Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The March 1 funeral of Navalny, the best known domestic critic of President Vladimir Putin, brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets - a rare event in Russia, where nearly 20,000 people have been detained in the past two years for protesting against the war.

The Kremlin denied accusations by Navalny's supporters that it had had him killed. His death certificate said he died of natural causes.

Speaking at the grave, which was piled high with flowers, on March 9, Safronov said that Navalny had urged Russians not to give up.

"Evil can be defeated only by one thing, by good. If we try to defeat evil with evil, then we multiply evil. So we will indeed remember Alexei, remember his testament to us and we will pray for him and hope he will pray for us at the throne of the Lord," he said.


Ksenia Luchenko, an expert who writes a blog on the Russian Orthodox Church and is critical of its leadership, said Safronov was "a real hero" for performing his priestly duties at the grave despite the risks of associating himself with Navalny.

She said the Church hierarchy was sending a clear message by suspending him.

"They just need the priests to be obedient and to support publicly the point of view of the Patriarch on this war and to support the Russian state, to support Putin. And if somebody refuses, he will be punished."

She said the likely formal reason for the priest's suspension was his refusal to read a prayer asking God to lead Russia to victory in Ukraine, which Patriarch Kirill introduced in 2022 and has made compulsory at church services.

Dozens of other priests have been punished for defying the Church's line on the war - for example, by reading out prayers for peace instead of victory. The most prominent was Aleksiy Uminsky, who was expelled from the Church in January and has now left Russia.