06/09/2012, 00.00
RUSSIA

Moscow Patriarchate accused of turning cathedral into shopping mall

by Nina Achmatova
The accusation comes from an NGO, the Consumer Rights Protection Society, which claims that the Patriarchate is running businesses from inside Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, symbol of Russia's spiritual renaissance, has become a shopping mall run by the Orthodox Church, a prominent consumer rights watchdog says in a lawsuit against the Moscow Patriarchate. For some commentators, this is but the latest attack against the Russian Orthodox Church, which of late has been caught up in several controversies and media scandals.

According to the Consumer Rights Protection Society, the cathedral hosts numerous businesses, including jewellery and souvenir stands, an eatery, dry cleaner and car wash.

In a report, it says the cathedral has become a de facto mall, but is not identified as such. What is more, its tenants do not comply with various regulations for commercial enterprises. For this reason, the consumer watchdog wants all violations remedied.

Equally, it noted that whilst religious organisations enjoy various tax breaks in Russia, those do not include their commercial operations not directly related to religious services.

Khamovnichesky court in the capital has accepted the lawsuit, but has not yet set a date for a hearing, Ria Novosti reported.

The cathedral does not belong to the church, which only rents out space on the premises, Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Vladimir Vigilyansky told Ria Novosti.

"Now the lies propagated by the media, which say that the church is running commercial operations at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, will hopefully be finally disproven," Vigilyansky added.

After making this statement, Vigilyansky resigned as Patriarch Kirill's press agent.

According to Kommersant, he quit because he could not also act as rector in a church near Moscow to which he was recently appointed. Others tie his resignation to a number of scandals that have hit recently the Russian Orthodox Church, which Church leaders say are an "attack from anti-Russian forces".

Lately in fact, the Church has been embroiled in several controversies, including Kirill's reaction to a provocation by a punk group called Pussy Riot, a picture on the Patriarchate's website showing the patriarch himself wearing an expensive watch that was later photoshopped out as well as reports about his luxury homes, including a prestigious flat in front of the Kremlin.

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