There is something gleefully Father Ted about the story of the intoxicated Russian priest crashing an ambassadorial BMW in Moscow the other day. (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/clergyman-crashes-sports-car-with-maltese-diplomatic-plates/466547.html) While the official story of what happened is pending an internal investigation, there is a sense of supreme irony hanging in the air, especially with the news that Russian deputy Prime Minister, Vladislav Surkov, has just been appointed the Orthodox church’s new PR man.
It’s not been a great year for the Orthodox Church in general. A few months ago Patriarch Kirill, the spiritual head of the church, was caught up in a row involving a disappearing watch from one of his press shots. The watch, a lavish Breguet costing between 28 and 36 thousand euros, was edited off of his holy wrist, but was caught reflecting in the polished surface of a table to the embarrassment of his press department.
|(1)Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - scene of the "Pussy Riot"|
A distinctly less funny episode in the church’s recent history is the on-going trial of Pussy Riot – the Russian punk band/ feminist-political art group. Their performance, a warning to the church not to get too comfortably in bed with current government, has been portrayed as a near satanic act. Kremlin spin doctors are attempting to enrage Russia’s huge Christian population and cast the band as enemies of Christianity. The trumped-up charges of religious hatred are an obscenity and can only damage the Church’s reputation under western eyes.
|(2)Patriarch Kirill (right)|
The appointment of Surkov, to sort out the Church’s dreadful image, is itself indicative that the Russian government is worried about this. The Orthodox Church has always been closely linked to Russian patriotic feeling, after all, it’s a uniquely Russian faith. Thus, chaining it closely to a government is to essentially put Christian voters into a difficult position. Russian Christians are right to be outraged at religious hatred, but with Pussy Riot this is clearly not the case. Russian Christians need to understand that spirituality exists beyond earthly politics and should equally abhor any attempt to lock their faith to a regime. Pussy Riot don’t hate Jesus and aren’t sluts from the pit. Their performance inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was pure provocation and probably pretty insulting but it was not an act of arson or vandalism – it should be forgiven and not result in a jail sentence. Surely religion should only be used as a force for good?
Oh dear, well if there is one other religious organisation that knows a lot about bad PR, it’s the Catholic Church. This week, although seeing a scandal involving a Papal butler, sees the current Pope making significant motions towards reforming policy on birth control. Surkov is not facing a particularly easy job, especially in the wake of Father Jack’s drunken joy ride, but the problems he faces are surely not as large as those that the Vatican has been dealing with. The good that needs to come from this should not only be justice for Pussy Riot but also justice for Russia’s Christians who, at the moment, are being cast in the same unfortunately negative light as their church – old fashioned, choking on wealth and at the disposal of a controversial government.
IMAGES: (1) Courtesy of Argenberg, taken under creative commons (2) Courtesy of acor-cannes, taken under creative commons