ENGLISH VERSION: No churches open for them? Protesters were lucky: they accidentally found the only "sacred refuge" in Moscow
In traditional cultures, a practice of “sacred refuge” was widespread. This is when authorities recognize the inviolability of a church, and persecuted people can take refuge under its saving canopy - it does not matter, by law or by evil libel. Almost the same immunity as modern deputies or judges have. Only this [church] immunity is based on the Divine presence, and not on political conjuncture.
From time to time, it turns out that such an ancient institution “works” quite well for itself in some modern democracies. Most recently, an entire Armenian family took refuge in one of the Hague's churches, trying to escape from deportation. Pastors decided to continue service until the threat of deportation disappears. Royal police waited patiently for several weeks, not daring to interrupt the service and violate the inviolability of the holy place.
In medieval Russian culture, a similar practice also existed. But it was not very stable due to the extreme dependence of the local church authority on the state.
During the Imperial era, the Russian church completely turned into a state political and ideological department, when the law even obliged priests to disclose the secret of confession in the event of a "threat to state security."
Naturally, there was no trace left of any respect for the “sacred refuge” after 1917 in Russia. Nobody wanted to see it in the modern Russian Federation, which is a legal successor of the regime created by the October Revolution and striving with all its might to be proud of its mythological Soviet past.
In addition to that, the “symphony” of the church and state power under Patriarch Kirill reached its historical maximum, surpassing Soviet scales. Then, nevertheless, the Russian Orthodox Church was forcefully crushed by atheistic authorities, and now it voluntarily agreed to justify and support all of the “decisions of party and government”, despite the “duty of church appeal (pechalovaniye)” clearly stated in the church Charter for the oppressed and humiliated.
At this historical background, a return to at least one church of the Russian Orthodox Church (at least for a short time) of a “sacred refuge” status became a real sensation. It happened in the centre of the city of Moscow, in Stoleshnikov Lane, and right in the midst of a confrontation between Muscovites and aggressive security forces on the afternoon of July 27th. Driven into the courtyards and gateways, protesters against the abuse of the elections idea to the Moscow City Duma, ran into a fence of the church of the saints poor doctors Cosmas and Damian. Like an angel from heaven, a priest came out to meet the crowd of people. He helped them overcome the church fence, take refuge in the church, reassured, comforted and served a prayer service “On softening evil hearts”.
Looking at such a touching picture, I have to make a few provisos. Firstly, the church of saints Cosmas and Damian opposite the Moscow City Hall is not quite ordinary. Back in the early 90s, when the democratic reform movement began to manifest itself in the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II decided to create a kind of a ghetto for it: gather all church democrats in one parish so that they would not “stir up the water” in the rest. Alexander Borisov, a priest popular among Moscow liberal intellectuals, was appointed rector of the church of saints Cosmas and Damian, and the backbones of his parish were spiritual children of the murdered Father Alexander Men’. For a long time, the church opposite the City Hall was the only place in Moscow where you could buy all the works of Men’ - a very controversial preacher from the point of view of church conservatives, almost a heretic. At all-night services, S.S. Averintsev, a Russian academician read the exipsalms in his own translation into modern Russian...
Secondly, protesters were hidden in the church on July 27 not even by its “liberal” rector, who is now on vacation outside of Russia. It was an Italian, who converted to Orthodoxy several years ago, - hieromonk John (Giovanni Guaita). Such an exotic status gives father John an additional level of protection against possible repressions of the patriarchy, which an ordinary Russian batushka does not have. At the same time, the hieromonk noted in his interviews after the incident that he received not only protesters in the church, but also riot policemen who used the church toilet.
The Moscow patriarchate, which normally “does not notice” both the protests and the reasons that gave rise to it, tried to immediately discount the events in the church. The head of information department of the patriarchy, Vladimir Legoyda, condemned the “heroization” of father Giovanni: “There have been interpretations that the priest almost hid people and so on. There was nothing like that. People just went into the church. I do not see anything extraordinary in this situation”. Legoyda’s anxiety is explained by a religious expert at the International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies, Mikhail Zherebyatiev: “The patriarchy perceives what happened as a potentially black mark in relations with the authorities... If, say, a catholic priest with a passport of a foreign state did the same, one can, without hesitation, say: he would be deported in 24 hours.”
The church of saints Cosmas and Damian is so far the only one in Moscow, about which, albeit with provisos, we can say that it "sided with the people." The photograph posted on the main page of the official website of the parish is eloquent: a crowd of civilians (mostly young people) and a formidable black cloudy police army pushing against it. And on the left, right on the "demarcation line", is the church of saints Cosmas and Damian.
The paramilitary movement “Sorok Sorokov” (SS), known for its fights with Muscovites at the construction sites of the controversial churches of the Russian Orthodox Church in parks and squares, has already promised its assistance to the security forces in suppressing the Moscow “colour revolution”. Most likely, these "Orthodox fighters" will not stand on ceremony with the "sacred status" of the church, where they have felt themselves as masters, and will not allow anyone to hide there anymore. Unlike - oddly enough this will sound - ordinary police officers who do not yet know what to do with such a form of self-defence of civil society.
"NOVAYA GAZETA", July 30th-31st, 2019
(c) Translated by A. Klees on August 1st 2019