St. Peters­burg de­fends trans­fer of land­mark to church

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - RELIGION - By IRINA TITOVA

ST. PETERS­BURG, Rus­sia — In the lat­est scan­dal in­volv­ing the pow­er­ful Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church, au­thor­i­ties in St. Peters­burg on Thurs­day de­fended a con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to give a city land­mark cathe­dral to the church.

Mu­seum ex­perts and lo­cals in Rus­sia’s for­mer im­pe­rial cap­i­tal were rat­tled by the gover­nor’s an­nounce­ment this week that he was trans­fer­ring St. Isaac’s Cathe­dral to the church. An on­line pe­ti­tion against that de­ci­sion had tens of thou­sands of sig­na­tures by Thurs­day.

The neo­clas­si­cal church, com­pleted in the 19th cen­tury, has been an im­por­tant mu­seum since Rus­sia’s 1917 Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion and is now the city’s third most vis­ited site. Some mu­seum ex­perts are con­cerned the Ortho­dox Church will ne­glect its ex­hibits, which in­clude a rare Fou­cault pen­du­lum.

Mikhail Mokretsov, deputy gover­nor of Rus­sia’s sec­ond-largest city, on Thurs­day vowed the city will make sure tourists get un­fet­tered ac­cess to the site. He said the city will re­tain its own­er­ship of the cathe­dral and will shoul­der main­te­nance costs while the church will get op­er­a­tional rights.

Church spokesman Vladimir Le­goyda on Thurs­day as­sured the pub­lic that vis­i­tors will not even no­tice the dif­fer­ence when the church be­gins to op­er­ate St. Isaac’s.

“No­body is go­ing to limit the ac­cess to the cathe­dral,” he told re­porters. “It’s in the church’s in­ter­ests to pre­serve mu­seum her­itage.”

Al­though St. Isaac’s was built as an Ortho­dox cathe­dral, ex­cept for a brief pe­riod it was al­ways owned by the gov­ern­ment.

Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers and ac­tivists plan to protest to­day against the de­ci­sion, which they see as part of a growing trend to­ward so­cial con­ser­vatism in Rus­sia.

The Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church has played an ac­tive part in Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s ef­forts to con­sol­i­date Rus­sian so­ci­ety by ap­peal­ing to tra­di­tional val­ues as op­posed to Western lib­er­al­ism.

The church’s at­tempts to ex­pand its in­flu­ence have some­times caused con­tro­versy, how­ever.

On Wed­nes­day, a se­nior Ortho­dox cleric in Siberia, the Metropoli­tan of Novosi­birsk, Tikhon, lashed out at the lo­cal opera and bal­let theater for stag­ing the clas­sic Christ­mas bal­let “The Nutcracker,” which he in­sisted was based on an “oc­cult sub­ject.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Pro­test­ers against the trans­fer of St. Isaac’s Cathe­dral to the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church read out the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion in front of the Cathe­dral on Thurs­day in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia.

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