The Rise as well as Fall of Russia’s Coronavirus-Denying Rebel Priest

In a woodland outside Yekaterinburg, pilgrims chant and also wave banners in their yearly twelve o’clock at night procession in honor of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia and also a saint in the Russian Orthdox Church.

This year’s trip to the place where the emperor and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks on June 16, 1918, was unlike any that have actually gone in the past. Regional Church authorities led one group, while others complied with Father Sergei Romanov, a rogue cleric whose rejection of the coronavirus as well as seizure of a monastery this summer have actually cost him his priesthood.

” I prepare to offer my life for every of you,” Father Sergei informed his followers. “Are you sure that those that run the nation would certainly do the exact same?”

With his lengthy, snow-white hair and also beard, piercing and flowing black robes glare, Father Sergei reduces a striking, daunting number.

A controversial yet prominent figure within the Church, onlookers state his charm and plain talking draw people to him, making his radical, ultraconservative vision of Christianity as well as espousal of conspiracy theory theories tasty.

Church officials hope Father Sergei’s power and influence are fading in the wake of his obstacles to the authority of the Church as well as President Vladimir Putin. While the renegade priest is now defrocked, reproached as well as shedding allies, he states he has no intention of tipping down as well as giving up the monastery.

‘ Satanic plot’

The coronavirus pandemic separated the Church this springtime, when its leaders enforced safety and security policies within sanctuaries and urged its clergy to relocate solutions online– but not everybody did the same.

The argument over the coronavirus and its extent has triggered “a procedure of decentralization” within the Church, with its most conventional circles avoiding the public-health steps, according to Ksenia Luchenko, a reporter who focuses on church affairs.

” Refusal to obey government rules on the closure of churches is seen by some as a new type of affliction,” she composed in a commentary for Carnegie.

In the Sverdlovsk region, which currently has the nation’s second-highest rate of brand-new coronavirus cases, Father Sergei has actually been one of the loudest voices of dissent, calling coronavirus restrictions a “hellish story” as well as blasting those that seek to close basilicas.

” By shutting churches,” he said in April in a now-deleted video clip, “our spiritual management is working with the leaders of the Antichrist, covering up their shallowness and also cowardice with a deal to interact with God online.”

Russian authorities charged him of sharing hate speech with the video clip, and the Yekaterinburg diocese outlawed him from public ministry right after.

Siege at Sredneuralsk

After being banned from preaching, Father Sergei set his views on the Sredneuralsk women’s monastery, which he established in 2005.

In June he collected his supporters along with a military of Cossacks and also Donbass battle professionals and also surrounded the monastery, displacing its head abbess, Mother Superior Varvara, as well as disallowing agents from the Yekaterinburg diocese from entering.

The abbey is now house to 530 males, kids as well as females who follow Father Sergei’s spiritual management, according to his spokesperson Vsevolod Moguchev. Neighborhood media records have actually said figures like star Dmitry Sokolov and hockey star Pavel Datsyuk are amongst them. Various other worshippers and also explorers come from throughout Russia to hear his lectures, in which he outlines his visions of an upcoming divine war preceding completion of the world.

Under Father Sergei the monastery operates under a shadow of secrecy, barring journalists from getting in and treating prospective observers with hostility.

He publishes normal addresses on YouTube, describing conspiracy concepts such as his idea that the coronavirus was made to implant “security chips” right into the population. Exorcisms happen in the monastery on a daily basis at 6:00 a.m. while he resides there, a press reporter for The Independent composed in a 2017 eyewitness account. A report from BBC Russia outlined declared mental and physical misuse of kids within the abbey, allegations currently being investigated by government authorities.

” The abbey runs as it did before– it offers God and also looks after kids, aids cancer cells patients, supplies food for the poor,” Moguchev, an Orthodox blog writer that started benefiting Father Sergei to “tell people the fact that is being concealed by several media outlets as well as by Church authorities,” informed The Moscow Times. “No legislations are being gone against.”

The Yekaterinburg diocese differs.

” Father Sergei continues to do divine solutions which are rude and also illegal, as well as is attempting to take care of the convent instead of its lawful abbess Varvara,” claimed Yekaterinburg diocese agent Anzhela Tambova. “This is a testament to his profound spiritual ill-being as well as is increasingly estranging him from the Russian Orthodox Church.”

This month, a clerical court ruled to defrock Father Sergei over his rejection to follow coronavirus limitations, a decision verified by Patriarch Kirill last Friday.

” When he began to broadcast his nonsense to millions, the Church’s persistence went out,” spiritual scholar Roman Silantiyev told The Moscow Times.

The disgraced clergyman as well as his followers have actually compared the ecclesiastical court’s judgment to a show test and also continue to inhabit the monastery.

From prison to the parish

In his former life, the guy who transformed his nonreligious name to Nikolai Romanov in honor of Russia’s last judgment dynasty, was a law enforcement officer in Moscow suburban area.

While offering a 13-year jail term for murder as well as heist, to which he begged guilty, he started establishing a credibility as an Orthodox activist. After he was released from prison in 1997, the Church permitted him to come to be a priest, regardless of his criminal record. The details of just how he climbed via the ranks are uncertain.

For many years, he took a ball of notoriety within the Church. The face of the cult-like tsarebozhniki, or “tsar worshippers,” movement that checks out Nicholas II as a co-redeemer of the Russian people together with Jesus Christ, he has actually come to be a controversial for executing exorcisms on youngsters, applauding Soviet leader Josef Stalin and also embracing Judeo-masonic conspiracy theory concepts.

Photos of Father Sergei’s home in the Sredneuralsk abbey program wall surfaces lined with icons of Nicholas II as well as pictures of Stalin. He utilizes a coffin as his desk, calling it a “reminder of death.”

Andrei Pertsev, a special contributor for the Meduza information internet site who has reported from the Sredneuralsk monastery, stated Father Sergei’s “self-esteem and also radicalism” attract individuals to him.

” People assume his radicalism is evidence that he means the reality,” he claimed. “Men are brought in by his intransigence as well as brutality; Women coincide.”

Once people are drawn in, commentators claim the renegade clergyman uses emotional adjustment to make them stay.

” This is a common trickster,” Silantiyev said. “Using different controls, these types of people require individuals to depend on and also believe them entirely. They begin to regulate people’s lives as well as obtain authority over them.”

The Independent record claimed he has powerful backers that enabled him for many years to lead his fans with unlimited freedom. He was commonly reported in Russian media to be the confessor of noticeable political and social numbers including Russian lawmaker and also previous Crimean prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya, though this was never ever verified.

Because his coronavirus rejection this spring, his assistance appears to be diminishing, nevertheless, with Poklonskaya distancing herself from the abbey as well as the priest’s locals starting to leave permanently. Forty individuals have left the abbey thus far and an unidentified number of worshippers and also explorers have left from the bordering reclusive neighborhoods, said Tambova.

‘ Spiritual battle’

Father Sergei has actually continued to test the Church’s authority since the siege at Sredneuralsk. He has actually called on Patriarch Kirill to surrender and stated that Metropolitan Kirill, the head of the Yekaterinburg diocese, will need to take the monastery back forcibly.

” How could the Yekaterinburg diocese practically get rid of Father Sergei from it? They have no separate, legitimate army that might capture negotiations or monasteries,” Moguchev said. “They have been trying for a very long time to make numerous justifications that could eventually include law enforcement agencies. … So much, say thanks to God, they have had no luck keeping that.”

Along with challenging the Church, Father Sergei has in current weeks called on Putin himself to tip down as well as transfer power to him rather.

” Otherwise, I’ll declare a major spiritual battle against you personally,” he said in a video clip published on Moguchev’s YouTube channel.

Despite Father Sergei’s increasingly intriguing declarations, the Church is taking a hands-off strategy, really hoping that with time his base of fans will diminish and allow the Church to take back the abbey in harmony.

” The Yekaterinburg diocese has no doubts that the Sredneuralsk abbey will be gone back to the breast of Mother Superior Varvara,” Tambova said. “The Lord will place every little thing in its area, as has actually happened consistently in the background of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

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