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Russia Orthodox Church in Crisis Part Two


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Continuation of Crisis in Russian Orthodox Church

And then came the case of the disappearing wristwatch. In early April, bloggers and journalists noticed the watch on Kirill's wrist in one of the protocol photos on the patriarchate's website. The next day, the watch in the photo had been edited out, but its reflection on the table surface remained, causing an even bigger scandal.

"It was a stupidity that shouldn't have happened," church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said of the edited photo. He said the watch was a gift from a believer.

"People have always brought to priests and bishops the most precious things they had, and I see nothing bad in the fact that the leader of the largest confessional in Russia receives expensive gifts from the people."

Soon after the watch episode, the patriarch, who is a monk by status and is not supposed to own real estate, was recently found to have a lavish apartment worth millions overlooking the Kremlin and Christ the Savior Cathedral.

The patriarchate defended Kirill's having an apartment.

"Many monks even living in monasteries keep their housing just in case their situation may change and they may need it again," Chaplin said. "The patriarch lived for 15 years in Moscow without having his own apartment and then he got it. His relatives live there and there is nothing bad in it."

Chaplin said these brouhahas, and several recent acts in which churches and icons were defiled and at least one priest was beaten, were part of an ugly campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and the state itself, and may also be sponsored and influenced from abroad.

"I am convinced that this is an orchestrated campaign which is in its turn part of a bigger campaign aimed to destabilize the situation in the country which is also aimed against the people, against the army, the police, against the government and so on," Chaplin said. "At the core of this campaign is a small group of pro-Western Muscovites, and residents of other big cities, the pro-Western part of Russian financial circles, political establishment and media elite."

Orthodox priest Edelstein refuses to take part in the Sunday show of support, saying he won't ask his parish "to come to a rally to protect the church, which needs no protection."

Edelstein, who lost four fingers and an eye when thugs tried to rob him and pushed him under a passing train in 1948, said he doesn't believe there is any campaign against the church.

"The church throughout its entire history has never been afraid of any enemies outside it, as the latter have never succeeded in moving even a small stone in the basement of our church," the priest said in his small wooden hut in the middle of the village, which doesn't even have a road sign with its name on it. "Our main enemies are inside the church."

The priest knows something of dissent. Of Jewish heritage, he had to fight to become an Orthodox priest in the 1970s and was suspended for almost two years in the '80s for "politically motivated dissent," until a visiting President Reagan met with him in Moscow and the Kremlin decided it was too scandalous for the priest to stay out of service. "Thus Reagan blessed me for my work," the old man said with a laugh.

Today, his elder son, Yuly, is a minister of information and diaspora in the Israeli government, but Edelstein still preaches here in the wild forests of central Russia. He said he has learned to distinguish between "the mother church and its Soviet-type leadership."

As the Friday afternoon was coming to a close and the rain was drumming on the gilded iron cupolas of his church, the priest was still saying his prayers, his face rigid but his only eye burning with the fire of his soul. "We are praying for our father, Patriarch Kirill."

sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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