Orthodox priests 'selling prayers', claims Russia's Patriarch Alexey

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The Independent Online

Russia's "everything and everyone is for sale" culture has infected an unlikely and venerable institution - the Orthodox Church.

Russia's "everything and everyone is for sale" culture has infected an unlikely and venerable institution - the Orthodox Church.

According to Patriarch Alexey II, head of the Russian Orthodox church, some priests have embraced Western-style capitalism with a little too much relish, and have gone as far as drawing up fixed-price lists for miscellaneous religious services such as christenings, blessings, confessions and prayers.

"I know of instances when priests have shown parishioners specific price lists," Patriarch Alexey told Moscow clergy just before Christmas. "For example, if asked to bless a new car, they take between one and five per cent of the purchase price."

Russia's churches and cathedrals were gradually being turned into commercial enterprises selling comfort for the soul to the highest bidder, the patriarch complained, obstructing the serious business of "saving people".

The Saviour drove the money lenders out of a Jerusalem temple with a whip, said Patriarch Alexey, "and we are forced to act in the same way when it comes to the hawkers of holiness."

He painted a bleak picture of priests losing a grip on the spiritual and becoming obsessed with material things. The phenomenon, he warned, risked weakening the Church. "It's not for nothing that greed for money is regarded as a vile murderous passion, amounting to a betrayal of God," said the Patriarch. "It is an infernal sin." He was concerned that such un-Christian practices were alienating the youth, whom he is particularly anxious to attract to Orthodoxy.

Patriarch Alexey said "vulgarity" had seeped into the flesh and blood of thousands of Church workers who collect money from the faithful in exchange for the lighting of candles in front of icons.

But the Patriarch recognises he has a dilemma. Ruthlessly suppressed by the Communists, the Orthodox Church is gradually reclaiming buildings and land confiscated by the Bolsheviks in 1918. But the Church is in desperate need of funds for restoration and maintenance.

"We can and must explain to people that cathedrals are the property of all godly people, and that Christians must make big sacrifices for their restoration and maintenance," he conceded, stressing that such requests should not amount to blackmail.

Bishop Arseny, a senior cleric, told the gathering that some priestswere drunk when they conducted services, while others smoked, swore and took drugs. He said: "In their free time some clerics ... appear in church wearing jeans and a ... T-shirt, [but] such an appearance may tempt the believers. It is essential that the ethics of behaviour and communication be taught."