05/05/2020, 00.00
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The ordeal of the Russian Orthodox Church in the peak of the epidemic

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Russia ranks seventh in the virus statistics, outperforming China, Iran and Turkey. On May 3, the former metropolitan of Astrakhan, Iona (Karpukhin) Fr. Dmitrij Vetoshkin (from Kuban, south of the country), fell ill with coronavirus by distributing communion to the infected. Many priests are in financial straits, struggling to support their families. Criticisms of Patriarch Kirill.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Over 10,500 cases of Covid-19 have occurred in the last 24 hours; in all since the beginning of the pandemic there have been almost 150 thousand cases, with an epicenter in particular in Moscow, where over 6 thousand people have fallen ill in just one day, out of a total of almost 75 thousand: more than half of the entire nation. After all, Russia has always been a very centralized country. Globally, Russia is currently in seventh place in the virus statistics, also surpassing China, Iran and Turkey.

The Russian Orthodox Church continues its ordeal; on the night of May 3, the ex-metropolitan of Astrakhan Iona (Karpukhin) died in hospital in Moscow, at the age of 78 (photo 1). From 1991 to 2013 he had been parish priest of the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, in the popular Muscovite district of Altufevo, where he had returned in recent years, after retiring from the metropolis. In the female monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God in Kotkovo, a Moscow community directly dependent on the patriarch, another priest died. After the spiritual director Vladimir Veriga, who passed away on April 24, the 66 year-old priest Evgenij Korchukov also passed away, serving at the monastery for over 20 years (photo 2). Sculptor and artist, Father Yevgeny was a devoted family man with five children and nine grandchildren.

A priest from the Kuban region in southern Russia, Father Dmitrij Vetoshkin, fell on coronavirus by distributing communion to the sick. All the priests in the area have been subjected to isolation. The patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundjaev) spread a broad message to the faithful on the third Sunday of Easter, dedicated to the Women who brought the ointments to Christ’s burial: their humble devotion to the body of the Savior, according to the patriarch "is particularly inspiring to us; they didn't want to prove anything to anyone, they just wanted to have the honor of standing at the side of the Lord in his Kingdom." Kirill confesses all his anguish in the face of this "evil opponent", and also invites, in the sadness of the loss of so many loved ones, to remain faithful like them, such as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus next to the Mother of God.

In this difficult period, many priests also find themselves in financial straits. Parish priests must also support a family, which is often quite large, and petitions have been sent from some dioceses to the patriarch for help. The most heated is the letter from the priests of the Samara region on the Volga, which accuses the indifference of the leaders of the hierarchy: “Allow us, simple country priests, to ask a question: since when has hypocrisy ceased to be a sin? ... For many years we have satisfied you and we have also served you in your whims, now is the time for you to support us a little too". Patriarch Kirill proposed "wealthier parishioners" to materially support the priests in difficulty, and welcomed the Moscow government's request not to charge priests for municipal services.

Meanwhile, the patriarch has begun to issue sentences against priests who disobeyed the provisions regarding the closure of the churches for quarantine: the superior of the churches of the Muscovite patriarchal monastic complex of St. Nicholas in Perervinsk, the protoierej Vladimir Chuvikin was suspended. He is also rector of the theological seminary housed in the monastic complex, where the celebrations of Holy Week took place without any limitation, causing numerous cases of infection.

The patriarch also suspended the protodeacon Andrej Kuraev (photo 3), one of the best-known commentators on Orthodox current affairs in Russia, for expressing himself offensively against his father Aleksandr Agejkin, the parish priest of the patriarchal cathedral who died of coronavirus. Kuraev had used very critical terms towards the deceased on his hugely popular blog, on the day of his funeral, and severely criticized the reticence of Kirill himself, whose centralist leadership he termed a form of "Russian papism".

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