Pussy Riot, the Judge and the Priest

At the time of writing the women of Pussy Riot are still unconvicted and unsentenced. They’re not still free, of course, since curiously they were denied bail. Two thoughts in particular strike me, one with shame and horror and the other with a sort of amusement.

What is horrible to me as a lawyer is the total failure of the rule of law in this case, the sheer shamelessness of what the judge, whether bought, blackmailed or just ambitious, is prepared to do and to be seen doing before the entire world. As a lawyer her duty is to enforce the law and to ensure that those in her court are treated with fairness, courtesy and justice. That is what judges are for. For her own reasons, at which we can only guess, she has decided not to do that. She is a disgrace to her and my profession.

This woman is called Marina Syrova.

What is sort of amusing is how the Russian government in the way of dictatorships everywhere has got it wrong and is only making it worse. When Alexei Navalny gets bullied everyone shrugs and says, that’s what you get if you have a dictatorship. But when they bully three young, photogenic mothers, everyone sits up and starts talking, rightly, about tipping points. Even dear old Madonna, no doubt after an exhaustive session with her PR people having sat on the fence till the last minute, appeared on her Moscow stage with ‘Pussy Riot’ stencilled on her magnificently preserved back. Even Sting raised his head from his Uzbekistani trough long enough to add his shock and horror to the debate. Of course with a bit of sensitivity and lightness of touch on the part of the authorities it could all have been avoided – but no loyal apparatchik ever got sent to the gulag for overreacting.

But everyone has written about that, and you can find chapter and verse all over the internet. There is another aspect that intrigues me, and that is the proposition that this entire farrago is necessary to protect the dignity of the Orthodox Church and the sensitivities of its members.

The judge has apparently ruled that the song sung by the women, whether in the Cathedral or dubbed onto the video on the internet later, in which they call on the Virgin Mary to Chase Putin out, is not political but simply an attack on the Church – hooliganism aggravated by religious hatred in the words of the charge. Presumably her thinking is that the Dictator is above politics. Or maybe she thinks that he is a saint already.

In general it always seems to me that if God has all the qualities of greatness for which he, she or it is often given credit he, she or it is great enough to rise above lack of respect; and as for the sensitivities of the faithful it is salutary for them to be challenged. Jesus said as much. See Matthew V:10:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And much more similar besides.

More specifically one has to ask whether the Orthodox Church deserves respect. Opinions on this have varied over the years. The building itself which the women are said to have desecrated was converted not that long ago by one of the Dictator’s revered predecessors into a swimming pool, which as hooliganism aggravated by religious hatred goes seems to me to be way up the medals table.

But what of the institution?

My introduction to the Orthodox Church was when I was a student and I went to hear a sermon by Bishop Anthony Bloom. He talked profoundly good sense which I remember well to this day.

Many years later the better half and I decided to get married by the Orthodox Church in London. Father Michael Fortunato married us. He has such humour, humanity and holiness that he is the only person I have ever met who is undoubtedly a saint. He married us in both the English and Russian languages so that I wouldn’t have to promise anything I didn’t understand.

After that it has been downhill.

A Sunday or two later we decided to go back for a service at the same church, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Knightsbridge. I was standing there innocuously when an old woman came up and informed me that it was ‘our’ church and ‘foreigners’ were not wanted. I believe that she also spat, but she was a dry old thing and not much came out.

Soon after that Moscow ordered them to stop using English in the services, even though it was the first language of many of the members of the church, being of the second or third generation in London. English was disrespectful to God, who spoke only Church Slavonic.

(Church Slavonic is the language of the Russian Orthodox liturgy. It is centuries old, rather as if the Church of England carried out its proceedings in the language of The Canterbury Tales – not a bad plan in itself, but one that surely requires flexibility in its execution.)

Then Moscow told the London church to send it all its money.

A theme was becoming apparent: greed, insularity, arrogance, paranoia; but anecdotes are only anecdotes, no institution is perfect in all its elements and if we are to be fair it’s necessary to examine the top.

Crouched over this steaming heap of sanctity is Metropolitan Kyrill, Partriarch of Moscow and all the Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. ‘Metropolitan Kyrill’ is of course a stage name. He is really called – God calls him – V. M. Gundyayev.

V. M. Gundyayev, in addition to the spiritual qualities that presumably encouraged all the Rus’ to declare that he was the only archimandrite for them, has an almost feline discernment for the side of his bread to which God has affixed the butter. When he was young he was apparently on the payroll of the KGB – just like the Dictator but unlike the Dictator with something of a conflict of interest. More recently he has been consistent in urging support for the Dictator and his creatures in the parliamentary and presidential ‘elections’, and he has characterised any opposition, ex cathedra as it were, in language straight out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. ‘Satanic’ is the least of it.

As a result the Dictator permitted him to deal in duty-free cigarettes – for the good of the Church, of course. In due course V. M. Gundyayev acquired all sorts of goodies. You can see pictures of his yacht on the internet. He acquired a luxury flat into which he installed his ‘long-time friend, businesswoman Lidia Leonova’.

He also got himself a lovely watch, a Breguet, apparently, worth £20,000. When people drew attention to this he said it was a lie and the pictures had been doctored. When it was pointed out that the pictures were from his own website, he photoshopped them – or more likely got some monk to do it for him. Unfortunately whilst there is now a flesh-coloured blur on his wrist the great chunky shiny thing is still clearly visible, reflected in the table top.

It’s a miracle, cried the faithful.

This venal buffoon is just the sort of person who rises to the surface in a dictatorship. No doubt many of the gurning generals surrounding Kim Jong Il would display similar character traits if we knew more about them. But that’s not the point. A church and particularly its leaders should stand up for the values that they profess to believe in. That’s what churches and their leaders are for. The Bible is fairly clear on what those values are, even in Church Slavonic. Greed is bad. The denial of charity, hatred of anyone who is not ‘ours’, and cowardice in the face of political repression are also bad.

Just as judge Marina Syrova has betrayed her calling and her duty, so has V. M. Gundyayev betrayed his. While he and his like are in charge, his church deserves no respect at all. I hope that he enjoys showing off his big watch, because I believe that the rich and powerful in his country are impressed by big watches. And I hope that very soon someone takes it all away from him.

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: