Riot in the Cathedral


A review of The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics, by Irina Papkova.

Oxford University Press, 2011.

By Sean Guillory

In late February, four members of the Russian feminist punk group, Pussy Riot, performed a “punk prayer” on the altar of Christ Our Savoir Cathedral, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Their action, which included singing the song, “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin Drive Putin out!” targeted the Church’s support of Putin. “The head of the KGB is their main saint / He leads protesters to prison under guard . . . Patriarch [Kirill] believes in Putin / It’s better to believe in God, bitch,” they sang. Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” has since become an international scandal as three members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhin, and Ekaterina Samutsevich, are facing a possible seven years in prison for “a premeditated hooligan act based on religious hatred.” Responses from Church officials have been varied. Some, like Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, have called for extremism charges to be filed against the group for their “incitement of hatred against Orthodox Christians.” Patriarch Kirill referred to the action as “the Devil laugh[ing] at all of us.” Others within the Church have called for leniency. Archdeacon Andrei Kurayev argued for the women’s exoneration, stating that a severe punishment allows the church to “cling to the shoulder of the government,” undermining the Church’s independence from the Russian state. A petition, allegedly drafted by the Church’s fundamentalist wing, has been circulating in Moscow churches urging General Prosecutor Yuri Chaika to investigate Pussy Riot for extremism. A small protest of Pussy Riot supporters even devolved into fisticuffs with Church supporters outside a Moscow court. The relevance of Pussy Riot’s action goes beyond the legality of profane speech. These multi-vocal responses from inside and outside the ROC speak to contests over its place in Russian society and politics. Continue Reading →