An unholy war has broken out over a church in Moscow Region, with the congregation of Holy Trinity in Balobanovo saying police seized their place of worship.
Following this sudden coup, long-serving priest Nikolai Koshelev was transferred to another parish amid allegations of corruption – prompting suspicious worshippers to think impious thoughts about land-snatching.
Senior clergy in Moscow and local police chiefs deny these claims, but the congregation fears they are facing a crusade aimed at grabbing their holy land.
Machine guns and priests
Church-goer Sergei Arsenin told RIA Novosti that at 6 am on Wednesday a private security company, accompanied by several priests “under the protection of machine-gunners in police uniform” sawed through locks and barricaded themselves in the church.
Several women were injured during the coup; some of them were taken to hospitals, say congregants. A member of the congregation council Tatyana Vorontsova said there were videos showing the congregants beaten up by people dressed in police uniform.
The injured already passed medical examination and received certificates of their injuries and will apply for a criminal case to be opened. Letters were also sent to patriarch Kirill.
“Bewildering” transfer of the head priest
Worshippers had earlier flocked to the parish church to demand the truth about reports that Father Nikolai had been abruptly replaced .
Arsenin stressed that Nikolai restored the church practically from complete ruin using the congregation’s donations, but the day before the raid a new priest was allocated to replace him.
The decision “bewildered” the congregants, leading to more than 100 people gathering by the church – only to face resistance.
“A group came to the church and threatened to capture it with the help of OMON riot police, which forced the congregants to set a cordon for the whole night, until the priest’s arrival and until at least some information was issued,” Arsenin said.
In my Father’s house are many mansions – and dachas
Desirable local real estate is being blamed for the conflict.
“In the last year the high-placed officials (including former interior ministry employees) have often applied to the parish with a request to pass on a part of the land for building cottages… The congregants think that the land issue is the main reason behind the removal of father Nikolai,” Arsenin said.
The congregants say that before father Nikolai was removed, a complaint was filed against him that he was “extorting money for a baptism”, said leader of the congregation Tatyana Solomatina.
Officials deny any conflict
Moscow’s diocesan department is not officially commenting on the issue, but archpriest Alexander Ganaba noted that in Moscow diocese priests are often transferred from one place to another and there have never been “groundless” transfers, RIA Novosti reported.
Ganaba also confirmed that the eparchy received a complaint that “a man came to a baptism, but they asked a lot of money from him in a rude manner.”
A source in law-enforcement said that there were no violations recorded in the conflict over the church.
“The church of the Holy Trinity was given a new priest, but preliminary data suggests that the old priest refused to leave the church and pass the keys,” the source said. “In the morning of October, 27 police had to saw off the locks to allow the new priest to take his parish. There were no private security employees. No violations were recorded,” RIA Novosti reported.