Suspended by his bishop, the hegumen has attacked the Patriarch and Church leadership for closing churches during the pandemic. For the monk, the Church is now "led by the doctors of the national health service". Many believers have come to his defence, some wearing Cossack uniforms, at the monastery of Verkhoturye. The row has taken an apocalyptic element.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The clash between Shihigumen Sergey (Romanov), head of COVID-denying Russian monarchists, and Church authorities has reached disturbing levels. A few weeks ago, Metropolitan Kirill (Nakonechny) of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye, bishop of the Diocese of the Urals, suspended him because of his "curses" against the quarantine.
Two days ago, the Hegumen (picture 1) attended the hearing of the Church court, to which he had turned to have his suspension lifted. He did not however wait for a ruling, and right after addressing the court, left for his monastery.
Speaking before the court, Sergey did not apologise for his verbal excesses; instead, he went further. “Patriarch Kirill decided to close the Orthodox churches for fear of death . . . The patriarch, the Synod, [and] the episcopate have no power over the Church, which is currently led by the doctors of the national health service, and always bow to civilian power. I consider the attitude of our leaders a sacrilege before the Holy Spirit, and a betrayal of the true faith of the Orthodox Church.”
The Hegumen with the great skhima, who considers his authority above that of the patriarch, added: “I am not the one causing a schism, but the episcopate that does not have the courage to defend the faith, and is afraid of losing its power.”
The court issued a statement on Tuesday saying that since Sergey refused to answer questions and simply read a statement, a new hearing will be held on 26 June. It hopes that “Shihigumen Sergey will find in himself the spiritual strength for a lively and sincere conversation, and the ability to discuss his behaviour with serenity, [so that he can] rethink what has been done and correct himself.”
Shihigumen Sergey, who appears to have no intention of repenting, can expect to be the subject of a police investigation for "extremist behaviour”. Meanwhile, he has released a new video, in which he says “he is confident of the advent of a truly Orthodox tsar, who will judge everything with true justice.”
Sergey's position is the same as those held a few years ago by a Russian bishop, Diomid (Dzyuban) of Chukotka, whose conflict in 2008 with the then Patriarch Aleksey II led him to leave the Russian Orthodox Church. Later Diomid was shunned by conservative Orthodox as well.
Sergey however is confident that he has the support of many of his spiritual followers. In fact, many followers of the starets went to his monastery in Verkhoturye, 10 km from Yekaterinburg, to express their solidarity with him (pictures 2 and 3). A large group of them set up a security detail around the monastery, wearing traditional Cossack uniforms, "defenders of the faith” since the Middle Ages.
Volunteers only allow pilgrims inside the monastery, roughing up journalists and even some priests to keep them away, including Father Georgi Viktorov, who was sent by the local metropolitan, Kirill, to ensure that celebrations took place after Sergey was prohibited from leading them.
So far, the Hegumen has refrained from celebrating in front of outsiders in the monastery’s four churches, but he is evidently preparing to do so, comforted by the presence of his Cossacks, who are also ready to resist the police. Some young followers are awaiting baptism, in the famous ceremony in which Sergey pours three litres of ice water on the newly baptised to drive out demons.
The situation seems to be out of control. Shihigumen Sergey is treating the monastery as his property (some have called it Sergey’s Vatican), and has even dismissed the abbess, Hegumenia Varvara (Krygina) along with some nuns, who supposedly advised the starets to show greater moderation. In an odd twist, Mother Varvara’s fault appears to be her defence of the Hegumen at a meeting of the clergy. Other nuns have stayed behind with their spiritual father.
Sergey also controls three other monasteries of a certain importance, covering more than 100 hectares, in Yekaterinburg’s province, all close to the site of the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II. The monasteries also hold other assets such as houses, farms, and even businesses. In the north-eastern part of the province an entire village depends on the Hegumen for all intents and purposes.
As often is the case with Russian mystics, the conflict between the Church hierarchy and the Shihigumen has acquired an on apocalyptic element, i.e. "the advent of the Antichrist". Whatever happens, the outcome of this struggle will mark the future of the Russian Orthodox Church.