Moscow, the coronavirus ploughs through churches and monasteries
by Vladimir Rozanskij

The clergy of the patriarchal cathedral subjected to medical controls: the protodiacon Yevgeny Trofimov has died, after the parish priest Aleksandr Agejkin. Days earlier they had concelebrated the liturgy with Patriarch Kirill and other bishops and priests. The spread of the infection in the Lavra of St Sergius, in the Kiev Caves. For some faithful this is a "punishment from God"; for others, the dead are martyrs.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Another member of the clergy of the patriarchal cathedral of Elokhovo, the protagonon Yevgeny Trofimov (photo 2), died on April 25 due to coronavirus infection. The first among the cathedral deacons was 61 years old and was a professional nurse by training; in 1990 he had been ordained a deacon by the patriarch Aleksij II (Ridiger), shortly after his election to the patriarchal throne, and since then he was the most recognizable voice in the solemn catholic church liturgies.

The death of the parish priest of the cathedral, Father Aleksandr Agejkin, which occurred a few days earlier, aroused much emotion and great concern about the fate of the Russian Orthodox clergy. His funeral took place in the same patriarchal cathedral behind closed doors on April 22nd. The patriarchate of Moscow issued a condolence statement, recalling the great suffering of the 48-year-old priest in Lapino's clinic before his death. Until the last minute, however, all news about his coronavirus infection had been denied.

At the beginning of April, Agejkin himself had given an interview to the website in which he affirmed his confidence in divine assistance in the event of an infection. On April 3 he had celebrated together with Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev), before the patriarch completed the "purifying" procession with holy water on the streets of Moscow by car. Several other bishops and priests had concelebrated on the same day, and almost all of them are now struggling with virus infection.

The news on the priests affected by the pandemic are now decidedly hidden, so as not to impress the faithful too much, to whom very few priests remain available for celebrations in the churches of the capital. On April 23, a special commission was formed at the patriarchate, but in the last few days it has stopped publishing of information on the number of infected priests. A statement from the patriarchal spokesman Vladimir Legojda denies any censorship, and affirms the patriarchate's willingness "to coordinate with all the other information agencies".

In the meantime, another close associate of the patriarch, the 71-year-old protoierej Vladimir Veriga (photo 3), also died from the coronavirus. Veriga was the director for the distribution of humanitarian aid to the patriarchate in the 1990s, and spiritual director of the Aleksandria iconographic school. He also served as a spiritual father to the nuns of the Kotkovo Protection monastery, where the epidemic has infected almost all the nuns.

On April 24, the first collaborator of the patriarchal administration, Metropolitan Dionisij (Porubaj), who also directs the coronavirus committee, was urgently transported to the hospital from Novospassky monastery. The remaining members of the committee ensure that Dionisij continues to lead the group also from the hospital. In the monastery many have tested positive for the virus, as there is also a strong spread of the infection in several other monasteries, especially in Lavra of St Sergius (the main Russian monastery) and to that of St. Seraphim in Diveevo, which houses the remains of St. Seraphim of Sarov, the most famous 19th century starets. The Moscow Theological Academy, which is located in St Sergius, has been placed under strict quarantine.

Even more disturbing news comes from the Ukrainian monasteries of the Moscow Patriarchate, starting with the Lavra of the Kiev Caves, and from those of Belarus, where the virus is denied by President Aleksandr Lukashenko himself.

The Minsk Theological Academy is also under the strictest quarantine. The general feeling is of apocalyptic bewilderment; the many declarations on divine protection from infection now make one think of a "divine punishment" on the Russian Church, as commented by several faithful on social media: "We must have done something wrong, if the Lord has decided to intervene so severely" . Other voices instead invoke the proclamation of deceased priests as strastoterptsy, "martyrs of the passion" for the coronavirus.