The Priest Who Beat Pussy Riot: The Orthodox Point Man with the Kremlin

The sentence and verdict against the feminist punk band is further evidence of the dangerous erosion of Russia’s constitutional separation of church and state

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Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Father Vsevolod Chaplin speaks during a rally in support of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill in Moscow on July 22, 2012

Long before the punk band Pussy Riot was formed last fall, Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior clergyman of the Orthodox Church, had made himself an icon for conservative Russian values, sort of like what you might get if Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson squeezed into the cassock of an Orthodox priest. In 2010, while campaigning for a nationwide “dress code,” he proclaimed that women who wear revealing outfits are guilty of inciting rape. He later lobbied for legislation to ban Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita and suggested that all Russian intellectuals should be condemned for the “sin of Russophobia.” Such pronouncements always made plenty of noise in the Russian press, but outside the tiny demographic of czarists and Orthodox fundamentalists, they were usually dismissed as the ramblings of a radical on the fringes of the Russian culture wars. That was, at least, until the case against Pussy Riot revealed how far the government has shifted in Chaplin’s direction.

On Friday, a district court in Moscow sentenced three members of that feminist punk band — founded on opposition to the rule of President Vladimir Putin — to two years in prison on charges that amount to blasphemy.

(PHOTOS: The Cry Heard Around the World: ‘Free Pussy Riot!’)

Their crime was embodied in a piece of performance art called “Mother of God, Chase Putin Away.” It involved four of the band members dancing around near the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral and posting a video of it online. The prosecutors charged three of the Pussy Rioters with a felony hate crime — “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility” — even though the young women insisted that their motives were purely political. In her verdict, Marina Syrova, the presiding judge of a secular court in a secular nation, used language akin to the edicts of a religious tribunal. She described Pussy Riot’s “demonic twitching” near the altar, their tight clothing and the incorrect way they crossed themselves, all of which “offended the sensibilities of Orthodox believers.” Citing the opinion of a psychologist (who did not show up to testify), the judge’s verdict also described the defendants’ “mixed disturbances of personality,” such as their “active position in life,” their “determination to self-develop,” their self-confidence and a “tendency to express their opinions categorically.” All of these were named in justification of their “isolation from society.”

Chaplin, who heads the Orthodox Church’s department for relations with society, was one of the leading cheerleaders for the prosecution from the start. In April, about a month after the Pussy Riot members were arrested, he said the group represented a campaign of “literally satanic rage” that the Russian opposition movement had unleashed against the church. He called on all believers to fight this “heresy,” including through the use of force, “so that there be no more temptation to equate Christianity with pacifism.” As it turned out, the faithful had no need to fight the heretics, because the machinery of the state was persuaded to do it for them.

A few days before the verdict against Pussy Riot was announced, Chaplin met with me at his base of operation in the center of Moscow — the poetically named Cathedral of St. Nicholas Under the Three Hills. He blustered: “The religious neutrality of the state is a fiction. It has no basis in reality.” Breathing in deeply from an inhaler he uses for asthma, he went on to describe the separation between church and state as a “myth” of the 20th century that would be vanquished in the 21st. “I think the West made a mistake when it tried to completely separate these spheres,” he said. “They are completely inseparable. The same people act in the sphere of politics and the sphere of religion.”

(MORE: Russia’s Pussy Riot Trial: A Kangaroo Court Goes on a Witch Hunt)

As if to prove the point, Chaplin’s secretary knocked on the door and brought in a thick stack of letters from the Orthodox faithful to the Kremlin. It was one of his daily chores, Chaplin explained, to lobby Putin’s office on behalf of church members — sort of like U.S. Congressmen might lobby on behalf of their constituents. Chaplin would place his signature like an official imprimatur on the letters and send them on to the government bureaucracy. The Kremlin, he says, is usually “quite responsive to our requests.” The letters, however, have little to do with religion, and in effect, they put the Orthodox Church in the role of a government bureaucracy. One of them complained that a clinic had been built too close to a residential building. Another said that the balcony of one house was ruining the view from another.

I asked him about the Pussy Riot case. Had the church written similar letters to the Kremlin to make sure they were thrown in jail? “Absolutely not,” Chaplin said. “That would be amoral.”

But even if the priests and congregants hadn’t written any letters, senior clergymen had made no secret of their desire to see Pussy Riot sent to prison. On Aug. 2, while the trial was in full swing, Dmitri Smirnov invited one of the lawyers working with the prosecution, Larisa Pavlova, as a guest on his talk show. A corpulent cleric with a long white beard, Smirnov is the church’s liaison with the Russian army, police and security services (including the investigators who built the case against Pussy Riot), and he told Pavlova that only a guilty verdict would prevent copycat heretics. “This was a political, antistate action committed in a Christian state,” he said, apparently ignoring the fact that Russia is a secular state under its constitution.

(PHOTOS: Protesters Rally in Opposition to Vladimir Putin’s Rule)

More alarming, however, is the fact that the state has begun to forget this as well. On Feb. 8, a month before Putin was re-elected to a third term as Russia’s President, he made the unprecedented statement that the separation between church and state is a “primitive notion,” which both institutions should abandon in favor of “partnership, mutual help and support.” That is what inspired Pussy Riot to hold its protest in the cathedral two weeks later. It was with the intention of “provoking a dialogue,” says one member of Pussy Riot who has not yet been jailed. “We wanted make this issue part of the public debate,” she says, giving only her nickname, Mother. And that goal has clearly been achieved.

The case of Pussy Riot has brought the church’s role in the affairs of the state to the center of the national discourse. But so far there has been no evidence that Chaplin is on the side of the majority. In a survey released on Aug. 14 by the state-run pollster VTsIOM, 75% of respondents said the church should stay out of politics. But that has made little difference to some of the senior clergy and their allies in the government. When he had finished signing his letters to the Kremlin, Chaplin took a phone call from a senior official who had just returned from the London Olympics. After some warm congratulations for Russia’s place at the medals table, Chaplin began to lobby for various legislation, which he said the parliamentary committee on culture must turn to as soon as it returns from the summer holiday. Hanging up the phone, he turned to me with a smile and said, “It’s important to keep them moving, you know.” And they seem to be moving in his direction as the wall between church and state breaks down.

MORE: Why Vladimir Putin Needs Higher Oil Prices

87 comments
Paul Gerek
Paul Gerek

Resulting political damage caused for the Asshole(Putin's) reputation is much more - versus the mentioned above "15 day option"(given for say "breaking a window").

18235
18235

thirty years ago, whatever crook was in charge of russia/ussr would have given pussy riot a medal for having done the same thing.

cm6096
cm6096

Even in the US you go to prison for threatening the President.  What this really is about is girls going to jail.  If guys had done this, and went to jail for it, it wouldn't even be news.

Nicholas Sampsidis
Nicholas Sampsidis

Quoting from the ABC article by Philip Jenkins: “Pussy Riot and the

Militant Godless”

 

...Through the 1920s, the Bolsheviks

systematically wiped out the church's leaders. Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev

perished in 1918, shot outside the historic Monastery of the Caves, while

Bishop Hermogenes of Tobolsk was drowned in a Siberian river. Archbishop

Andronicus of Perm was killed the following year, followed by most of his

clergy. In 1920, Bishop Joachim of Nizhni Novgorod was crucified upside down

from the iconostasis in his cathedral. In 1922, a firing squad executed the

powerful Benjamin, Metropolitan of Petrograd/St Petersburg. The repression was

indiscriminate…

Persecution claimed many lives at lower levels

of the church, among ordinary monks and priests. We hear of clergy shot in

their hundreds, buried alive, mutilated, or fed to wild animals. Local Red

officials hunted down priests as enthusiastically as their aristocratic

predecessors had pursued wolves and wild boar. The number of clergy killed for their faith ran at least into the tens

of thousands, with perhaps millions more lay believers.

The regime also rooted up the churches and

monasteries that were the heart of Russian culture and spiritual life.

Officials wandered the country, vandalizing churches, desecrating saints'

shrines and seizing church goods, and murdering those who protested the acts.

Militant atheist groups used sacred objects to stage anti-religious skits and

processions. Between 1927 and 1940, active Orthodox churches all but vanished

from the Russian Republic, as their numbers fell from 30,000 to just 500.

In the process of dechristianization, the

crowning act came in 1931 with the obliteration of the Cathedral of Christ the

Savior. For the Bolsheviks, it was the ultimate proof of the Death of God. But,

of course, Resurrection did come, so that a new cathedral would stand to mark a

new century. The long nightmare was over.

Yet Russia's new religious freedom is a very

tender shoot, and the prospect of future turmoil has to agonize those believers

who recall bygone horrors. These fears are all the more pressing when modern-day activists seem to reproduce

exactly the blasphemous deeds of the past, and even in the precise places.

When modern-day Orthodox look at Pussy Riot,

they see the ghosts of Alexandra Kollontai and her militiamen, or the old

Soviet League of Militant Godless. Are they wrong to do so?

I just offer an

analogy. Imagine a dissident group opposed to the current governments of Poland

or Hungary. In order to grab media attention, they take over one of those

countries' recently restored synagogues, and frame their complaint in the form

of a pseudo-Jewish prayer. Horrified, the authorities arrest them and threaten

harsh criminal penalties. Not only would international media fully support the

governments in those circumstances, but they would complain bitterly if police

and courts showed any signs of leniency. However serious a group's grievances,

there is absolutely no justification for expressing them with such

mind-boggling historical insensitivity, and in such a place. Anywhere but there!

So no, I won't be giving to any Pussy Riot support

groups.

 

Read the full article: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashe...

Morgan C Faulkner
Morgan C Faulkner

Oh, MACDONALDBANK, you poor, poor troll.  

You do know that the "open-minded" riche you portray is spouting the very hatred you claim to oppose, right?

Naiad Lyne
Naiad Lyne

As far as I know some Ukranian chicks in the name of Pussy Riot destroyed cross and promised to come to Russia to destroy crosses there. Some idiots wrote  slogans for Pussy Riot on the ancient churches in Russia and there was attempt to set one church on fire. These acts are either in the name of or clearly inspired by Pussy Riot . So yeah those  vulgar girls got what they deserved as they provoked religious hatred along the way.

real fact
real fact

 all this exaggerated lie and provocation! You are information bandits, you think of ordinary people who live in this country? Leave them alone!

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

their punishment was right!! maybe too harsh and certainly not worth of 2 years in jail but it was right because of the place they elected to stage their protest in. a church is a holy place in the eyes of the christian believers and the punisment  is about respect to other people's beliefs even if you don't agree with it. same it would be for a muslim mosgue, a jewish synagogue or a national shrine either. unless you think that every believer is a fool and you are superior and clever for not believing in anything. but even that dont give you the right to mock the faith of others 

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

you dont "make a point" or "speak your mind" inside a church!! it is considered holy place by other faithfull people. unless you think that they are stupid to believe in God and that you are superior and very intelligent to believe not. it is about respect in other people's belief with no regard if you agree with them or not. Pussy Riot should have staged their performance in the Red Sguare or outside a church but not inside it. what they did maybe not worth going to jail for 2 years but it was clearly wrong

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

It

is written; so therefore it shall be? We are the chosen people? Such a wicked

fantasy. 

To see the religious lunatics manipulate government

and our lives is shameful.  According to biblical law, a father can sell his daughter

as a slave.

Bibles and the torah which includes

leviticus -- should be immediately banned … for promoting hatred against

minorities … namely the gay community and the crosses removed from all schools

and churches. One

should appreciate each day of life and not expect another. By enjoying their tax exempt status and benefits

from the state it also puts churches at the mercy of the state; to be forced to

adhere to the human rights laws. Religion is thriving like a cancerous growth

on society that should be stopped in its tracks; outlawed amp; banned. This holier than thou – written so there it shall

be -- fallacy; must be stopped!

 It is a criminal offence to cause harm onto

others physically or with written items … the bible and torah have been getting

away with this for ages.

This

bogus religious filth should be banned. 

It exists as a tax exempt structure which discriminates against human

rights.  The pope, bishops and mormons are cult members promoting discrimination

against minorities. Perhaps

religious establishments have pushed too far from San Francisco to Canada --

and it may backfire to such a degree that the churches should be shut down! 

Ernestpxj
Ernestpxj

Gloria said I am inspired that a single mom can earn $6424 in one month on the network. have you seen this(Click on menu Home)

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

Religion and the churches

should now be exposed as a bigoted structure that gets away with hate

mongering. It is a criminal offence to cause harm onto others

physically or with written items; bibles have been getting away with this for

ages.  How would you like it … if hate

speech was directed to your brother or sister as you sat in the pew; spewed by

some better than thou religious lunatic with a hateful black book about

Leviticus -- under his arm? Tony Perkins and his The Family Research

Council's opposition to gay rights have landed the outfit onto a list of

"hate groups,” like the KKK. Christian

colleges should be classified as hate groups and shut down.  UK Prime Minister Cameron is facing the issue of religious

extremism; as we speak … regarding homophobia -- being taught to children at

churches and schools.

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

Father Dmitri Smirnov; should be committed -- to an insane asylum!

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

The pope and churches fully

aware that Leviticus 18:22 applies to priests only … refuse to remove this

stigma … maliciously persecuting gays.  Kids are being bullied into

suicide …! 

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

Being black or left-handed

or being gay is just as natural.  It is a

sometimes rare occurrence to fall in Love and to hold that person in your heart

and be loved in return ... it is something that should be celebrated!   If it’s between two guys or two girls -- all

the better.  It takes even more courage

to defend that LOVE!

 

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

The Right Honourable Prime Minister of Canada

Jean Chretien told the Vatican that there was to be no cross erected over the

Canadian Parliament buildings figuratively speaking; when the Pope demanded the

Prime Minister go against gay rights.  An

Alberta bishop had the audacity to say that The Canadian Prime Minister would

go to hell for going against the church. Such outrageous evil threats. The

Right Honourable Prime Minister in return; basically told the Pope to go to

Hell!  The Honourable Irwin Cotler,

Canadian Minister of Justice, stood for equal rights for the gay

community.   With reference to protecting

the children: The Honourable Hedy Fry, member of the Canadian Liberal

Parliament, who happens to be a doctor who delivered many babies; spoke

eloquently to defend the rights of babies being born and stated that she was in

fact defending their rights by speaking on behalf of equal rights for the

children and youth of the future -- defending their integrity and dignity.   

funkzillabot
funkzillabot

I guess he feels like a BIG MAN now, sending 6 woman musicians to prison for....nothing, but speaking their minds about the inequality going on in their country. Hmm...he totally proved them right, actually.

Naiad Lyne
Naiad Lyne

It was 3 women, not 6 and it was not for nothing. Speak your mind as much as you like on the streets but do not turn places of worship into political circus. If you do so, do not pretend then it is free speech, for freedom and blah, blah, blah.

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

Tell them to take that cross

and shove it where the sun don't shine and pay their taxes along the way before

they take that cross down forever with its final station; extinction.

The Vatican basically supported Hitler and religion

is responsible for more corruption and violence in the world.  The

Pope with his blatant witchcraft related to the bible and its hateful beliefs;

tries to rule with extreme prejudice against a world … that may fall victim to

religions' absolute evil.  Many

theologians state quite correctly that the birth; crucifixion; resurrection and

other elements of christianity actually didn’t even happen!  The

pope is running a bigger fraud than Madoff’s $20 billion ripoff.   Today’s evangelical

extremists are like the nazis who cast others into ovens amp; are actually

supremacists - who practice their bogus hocus pocus - and are trying to

suppress and deprive others of their happiness and their legal rights in an

open and proud society.

Einstein

stated in a letter recently auctioned that the bible was a collection of

primitive legends. He said believing in God was childish and he as a Jew is no

different than another person and are not chosen by God. 

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

There is no scientific evidence to prove any of the

cross related bogus elements of christianity and other religions. Our early

human ancestors; on this earth … go back more than 6 million years … 5,996,000

years before the Greeks, Romans and the Jews. 

Christianity is basically a 2012 year old fictional cult.

In

the year 300 AD when Emperor Constantine, who to some was the first pope; went

on to fabricate amp; market Christianity - a fantasy - which turned out to be

one of the most hateful amp; evil concoctions ever perpetrated on the world.  

JackThomas1991
JackThomas1991

"

Emperor Constantine, who to some was the first pope"

wooooooooooow

Angelo Lombardi
Angelo Lombardi

I've said this many times:

Religion... the root of ALL evil!!!

billsimpson
billsimpson

He looks as mean as Khomeini did.  

Nicholas Sampsidis
Nicholas Sampsidis

Standard, liberal western press, "Blah, blah," and anti-Putin bashing. For a breath of fresh air ("yes, it's still possible, in the West), strongly recommended reading can be found in an article on ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashe...

 

CleanFun
CleanFun

I see the MSM is still villainizing Christianity and embracing Islam.

Twenty years ago these girls would have been tortured and killed. Remember Socialist Russia? All Religion Banned. The USSR, Eastern Bloc, Cold War, Nuclear Bomb Drills instead of Fire Drills? How quickly we forget.

litesp33d
litesp33d

 Wheras now they are merely imprisoned for TWO years!  For what is a prank.

Things may have improved somewhat in Russia (however given all the corruption at every level of society, that is open to debate) but that does not mean there is not a long way to go.  BTW religion was never banned in the USSR it was just not given the strangle hold on power that it still has in the West.  However the US population was told that it was by the religious leaders, to get more power and, of course, more money out of the pockets of the credulous.   This Pussy Riot affair, condemned  by no less an organisation as Amnesty International, is an example of why letting religions have this power and influence is a VERY bad idea.

Apparently Religion cannot be mocked.  Which is the very reason it must be.  Now, religious leaders, we are wise to your game.  As Seneca said more than 2000 years ago

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful" this, thus proving his point once again.

'Villainizing xtinaity AND rejecting ALL religion is not embracing Islam. it is just showing xtianity as the lair of villains and home of the delusional it undoubtedly is.  As are ALL religions.

Plumbline
Plumbline

Unfortunatley, that same state that condems an immoral group in the name of righteousness, can quickly crucify the Son of God.........

.........Matthew 27:26Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

IronBaby11
IronBaby11

Russia is going backwards! Their country serves as a good warning...

Morgan C Faulkner
Morgan C Faulkner

Wait, huh?

They were charged because they made comments against Putin.

As a matter of fact, their EXCUSE was that the inflammatory remarks were intended for the church. You guys are turning this into Church amp; State issue.

Naiad Lyne
Naiad Lyne

They were charged because of insulting place of worship but the girls tried to pretend that was because of Putin. 

Lastrova
Lastrova

I'm sure these women knew what they were doing.  The Russian Orthodox Church is a very powerful presence in Russia, and has been for a very long time.  What I am surprised about is that a couple of these women were mothers.  Pretty risky.  I hope the risk pays off in the future.

Naiad Lyne
Naiad Lyne

It didn't prevent the so-called mother to participate in an orgy in some Russian museum in front of the children who came to museum. It was a couple of years before their affair in cathedral. And good mothers do not insult places of worship btw. If they have brains of course.

oneStarman
oneStarman

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever" - 1984  George Orwell 

PUTIN is the Personification of KGB schooled Totalitarianism.

Danyz
Danyz

All very Russian. The Czar was the head of the Orthodox Church - Caesaro-papism. Will Putin take on this role in the not too distant future? Will he lead the next crusade to take back sacred-to-the-Orthodox-Church Constantinople? (Istanbul) Who knows. History is rapidly losing familiar moorings... 

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

He can't attack Turkey without having to fight all of NATO, as we let the Turks into the alliance. That said, reclaiming Constantinople would be a long overdue event, if a horribly impractical one in today's world.

Danyz
Danyz

Yeah well, I just kind of threw that out there - not really a serious idea.