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Wave of Clergy Killings in Russia

Twenty-six Orthodox priests murdered since 1990, including 39-year-old Alexander Filippov on Tuesday

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Peter Fedynsky

The second murder of a Russian priest in as many months has prompted a call by the Orthodox Church for Russians to think about their country's spiritual and moral condition.  The killings follow more violence this year directed against Muslim clerics in Russia's troubled Caucasus region.

Tuesday's shooting death of 39-year-old priest Alexander Filippov is alleged to be the act of two intoxicated men in the village of Satino-Russkoye near Moscow.  His widow is quoted as saying Filippov had reproached the suspects for relieving themselves at the entrance of their apartment building.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, called Filippov a bright and clean-living individual who leaves behind three daughters.

Kirill says the priest was killed because he was not indifferent to disgusting human behavior and took a principled stand against it in accordance with his calling.

The Interfax News Agency says a total of 26 Orthodox priests have been murdered in Russia since 1990.  Many others have been assaulted.  They include Vitaly Zubkov, who was kicked and beaten last month, just days after the murder of his friend, Father Daniil Sysoyev in Moscow.  Sysoyev had received death threats for his outspoken criticism of Islam and attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity.

News reports quote Orthodox Church Spokesman Vladimir Legoida as saying that recent events show Russians must think of the spiritual and moral situation they live in.

The head of the Religion and Law Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Roman Lunkin, told VOA many Russians call themselves Orthodox Christians but have no idea about the obligations required by organized religion.  He says Russian spiritual leaders themselves often set the wrong example by mixing church-state relations.

Lunkin says church leaders send a signal that to call oneself an Orthodox, it is enough to maintain close ties with the state or government officials and to participate in official ceremonies.  He says this reveals an absence of true faith, adding that priests often begin with the construction of a church building, instead of first organizing a community of believers.

Lunkin says communism stripped many Russians of religious faith, and with it any respect for priests and churches.

Lunkin recalls an incident several years ago when a priest began building a church in the Ivanovo region north of Moscow and arrived one morning to find that local residents had dismantled the structure for its bricks because there was no organized community in that village and no one knew what Orthodoxy was.  He adds that local hooligans who killed the priest considered themselves to be Orthodox.

Russia's Islamic community has also been rocked this year by several high-profile killings of Muslim clerics in the Caucasus.  They include Akhmed Tagayev, deputy mufti of Dagestan, and Ismail Bostanov, rector of the Islamic Institute in the southern Karachai-Cherkessia region.

Some observers link those murders to Islamic militants who are fighting pro-Kremlin authorities.  The deputy head of Russia's Mufti Council, Damir Khazrat Gizatullin rejects any connection. He told VOA he attributes the violence to incivility throughout Russia stemming from 70 years of communist rule.

Gizatullin says people in Russia do not know how to listen to one another, to give others the right away on the road, or to understand the foundations of spirituality and religion.   This, he concludes, leads to current situation, which follows 70 years of alienation from the spiritual roots and traditions of Russia.  He says people now fail to realize that members of the clergy and all others are protected by the Almighty and by the law.

He says Communists also made the mistake of focusing on the construction of buildings at the expense of community.

Gizatullin says Soviet authorities wanted to construct more living space for people, but toilets and other communal structures were forgotten.  He says there was no time, no energy, and no resources for such things, and now Russia is reaping those elements of Soviet life.

Murders of prominent Russians are not limited to the clergy.  Investigative journalists and political activists have also been victims.  Most of the killers remain at large.

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