Moscow (AsiaNews) - Excess wealth, as well as the extreme poverty among the clergy should be viewed as both bad for the Russian Orthodox Church, this according to Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Coordinating Church and Society. He spoke as the controversy over the lifestyle of Russia's Church hierarchy heated up following a series of accidents involving clergymen driving luxury cars.
"Of course, most emphatically, the clergy mustn't succumb to the consumerist notion that we see today," Chaplin said at a public meeting on the public perception of the Russian Orthodox Church's image in society.
"Affluence and access to material goods can cause stratification within the clergy, dividing them into rich and poor. This is very bad," he warned. Indeed, ordinary people "internally rebel when they see an affluent clergyman", he added.
At the same time, however, Chaplin doesn't believe that "it's beneficial to the Church if the clergy become marginalised outcasts". This might lead to the "diminution of the clergy's status" as is the case among Catholics and Protestants, due to the fact that "secular forces squeezed them out and made them social outcasts."
"The same thing could happen with us... . It'll drive priests crazy or force them into the labour market if we allow the notion that clergy should live in miserable poverty to settle amongst us."
"In Russia, Greece and all Orthodox territory," he explained, "priests had a standard of living usually slightly higher than the average of the working class."
According to Chaplin, a priest living in need constantly forced to beg brings "shame to his flock and to the community of the faithful."
The meeting, held last Friday, also saw the presentation of survey results from the independent 'Sreda' centre indicating that most Russians believe that the Orthodox clergy lives in luxury and that they would prefer to see their priests more open to their fellow man, and less attached to material things.
On Saturday, a day after Chaplin spoke, Pope Francis told a meeting of thousands of seminarians from around the world that "It really hurts, I tell you, when I see a priest or a nun in the latest model car. That cannot be!"
There are, within the Orthodox Church hierarchy, growing fears that the 'lifestyle' of the clergy might be to the Patriarchate what the paedophile clergy issue is to the Vatican, anonymous sources told AsiaNews.
Still, Pope Francis's calls for a more sober lifestyle have appeal in Russia. After he was elected many in media wondered when Patriarch Kirill might pronounce similar words.