Patriarch hits out at clerical big spenders

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The Independent Online
RUSSIAN PRIESTS, a hunted species in the days of the old Soviet Union, have been rebuked for their increasingly lavish lifestyles.

The chastisement from the clergy's own spiritual father came just over a week before the faithful celebrate Christmas, which most Orthodox churches mark in the first week of January.

The Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksy II, told a church meeting that too many priests were addicted to expensive cars and mobile phones at a time when many parishioners were struggling to stay alive, a newspaper reported yesterday.

The Patriarch compared some of his clergy to "new Russians", the unpopular nouveau riche mafiamen and businessmen notorious for vulgar displays of wealth.

Some priests were out of touch with ordinary Russians, who are struggling to make ends meet as the economy goes through its worst crisis since the Soviet collapse, Patriarch Alexy said.

"Impoverished people see that they are not needed by anybody," he said. "Neither the state nor society is taking care of them, and now the church, too, shows that the rich and not the poor are closer to her."

The Patriarch complained that some priests were forming ties with dubious and even illegal businesses to obtain money. Parishes had "business contacts with representatives of private companies, banks and the shadow economy", he said. "This does not correspond with Christian ethics."

The complaints are an illustration of just how far the Orthodox Church has travelled since the Communist era, when churches were closed, the nation was force fed with "scientific materialism" and believers were the butt of constant harassment and imprisonment.

Today in Russia, as elsewhere in the Orthodox world, the church has undergone an astonishing revival, the beneficiary both of disenchantment with Communism, the rise of nationalism and a general feeling of contempt - or despair - about politics.