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What's Wrong With The Russian Orthodox Church?

Op-Ed: The Russian Orthodox Church seems more concerned about criticism of its top leaders than about physical attacks on its clergy. Is it suffering a post-Soviet identity crisis?

Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Moscow (Lodo27)
Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Moscow (Lodo27)
Vladimir Tikhomirov

MOSCOW - It has not been a good couple of months for the Russian Orthodox Church.

A protest concert held, without permission, by a female punk band in February started a much broader national discussion about the role of the Church in public life -- and the Church has not come out looking so good.

The Russian Orthodox Church has amassed wealth and substantial political clout in the past decades. Its cozy relationship with the Kremlin came under fire during protests against Vladimir Putin's candidacy for a third term as president, especially when the Church endorsed his candidacy.

Most recently, the controversy caught fire when, in early April, the Church photoshopped a snapshot of the Patriarch Kirill I to erase a wristwatch on his arm thought to be worth at least $30,000. When bloggers discovered the doctored photo, critics of the Church erupted on the web.

On April 22, the Church tried to fight back. Some 65,000 people attended a service called "for the defense of faith" at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The stated reason for the service was two recent acts of vandalism in Orthodox churches.

The first act of vandalism happened in a small town in northwestern Russia on March 6. A 36-year-old man who was already under observation at a psychiatric hospital destroyed approximately 30 Orthodox icons in the local cathedral (Church spokespeople equated the fate of the desecrated icons to that of the Our Lady of Kazan icon, a famous icon that was destroyed by Bolsheviks). Then, on March 20, a 22-year-old man who was high on drugs in a small city in southern Russia broke into a cathedral. Once inside, he stripped off his clothes, approached the altar and stabbed the cross.

But were these isolated incidents the real reason Church officials felt compelled to rush to their own defense? It's clear that the Russian Orthodox church has lived through far worse in recent history: the forceful seizure of places of worship, robberies and attacks on, even the killing of, priests.

Priestly risk

Father Yoann Vlasov was brutally attacked last June in central Moscow while on his way to a Sunday service, but still managed to record a video of the attack on his cell phone. Last year another priest in a town near Moscow was attacked for speaking out against what he considered excessive drinking among the local people. There have been at least two other attacks on clergy members in the past year.

It turns out that after decades of Soviet repression, execution of priests and restrictive KGB sanctions, the biggest threat to the Russian Orthodox Church is criticism from a couple of bloggers and the mass media.

This is after two decades of enormous growth in the Russian Orthodox Church. Just consider: in those two decades, thousands of places of worship were returned to the Church, and the number of people who have been baptized also increased substantially. Schools even teach basic religion courses now.

But now there is a quality problem. In a recent interview, Father Georgii Mitrofanov talked about the problems that still lie ahead for the Russian Orthodox Church. One of them is the soulless mentality of consumerism that most ‘believers' have towards religion. According to a recent study, a third of those who consider themselves Russian Orthodox do not even know the Ten Commandments.

The ignorance and professional incompetence extends even to the clergy themselves. The Church also lacks the resources to properly keep up the many buildings it now owns.

And then, there is also a major image problem. During the interview, Father Mitrofanov put it this way: "Orthodox belief is no longer understood as a belief in Christ, but as a totalitarian ideology, that mixes nationalistic ideas with zero-tolerance for internal and external critics, and a need to feel like a part of a powerful community."

Read the original article in Russian

photo - Lodo27

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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