A Russian Orthodox bishop has advised the faithful not to vote for Vladimir Putin when he stands for re-election in March, a nearly unheard of occurrence in the loyal church.
The angry statement marked the first time an acting bishop has spoken against supporting the current president, according to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, but it was motivated by Mr Putin’s perceived impiety rather than political differences.
Bishop Yevtikhy Kurochkin of the epiphany cathedral in the Siberian city of Ishim wrote on his page on VK, Russia’s most popular social network, that he could no longer follow his “desire to vote for Putin” following “blasphemous” remarks by the president.
“’If the light that is in you is darkness, how great is your darkness!’ are the words of Christ,” Mr Kurochkin wrote. “And will I go against Christ to vote for darkness or advise anyone to do this? No, no and no!”
The bishop was angered by comments in a state television film about Valaam, an island of monasteries and churches in Lake Ladoga where the president has a holiday home. Mr Putin had argued that the Soviet regime had “adapted” Christian ideas for its communist ideology, including in its mummification of Vladimir Lenin, whose body remains on display on Red Square.
“They put Lenin in the mausoleum. How does this differ from the relics of saints for Orthodox believers or Christians in general?” Mr Putin said. “When they tell me no, there is no such tradition in Christianity, how is there not? Go and look in Athens, there are the relics of saints there, and we have the relics of saints here too.”
While the Russian Orthodox church has been growing increasingly influential in recent years, it has usually been supportive of the ruling regime. This goes back to a tradition of loyalty in tsarist times, when the official ideology was “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality”.
Mr Putin has promoted conservative values during his 18 years in power and frequently appears at religious events. On Thursday, he was photographed taking a dip in an icy lake as part of an Orthodox ritual observed by many Russians.
Also on Monday, a court shut down the foundation of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has sought to challenge Mr Putin for the presidency but was barred from the race. He has called for protests around Russia on Sunday.
Mr Navalny has used the foundation to pay campaign workers and organise rallies.
The authorities “want to transform our finely tuned electoral machine into a chaos of volunteers” by banning the foundation, Mr Navalny told The Telegraph in an interview last week.
He said his campaign would devise other “partisan methods” to continue its work.
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