Russian church leader rejects criticism over state ties

Thu Aug 16, 2012 7:20am EDT
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has called President Vladimir Putin's rule a "miracle of God", defended its close ties with the state on Friday against criticism fuelled by the trial of three members of the Pussy Riot punk band.

In remarks published a day before a court issues its verdict in the trial over the band's protest against the Church's political role on a cathedral altar, Patriarch Kirill said the Church and state were merely bound by a "common agenda".

The patriarch did not refer directly to Pussy Riot. But his comments amounted to a firm rejection of the band's criticism, which has triggered debate in Russia about whether the country's dominant religion should play any role in politics.

"In Russia, possibly for the first time since the (1917 Bolshevik) revolution, the rule of the Church's separation from the state, proclaimed as a result of the October Revolution, is being followed quite closely," Kirill said in an interview with Polish media before a visit to Poland.

"This means that the state, the authorities and the Church are autonomous from each other. We are truly autonomous, we do not interfere in one another's dealings and we cherish this autonomy. The Russian Orthodox Church very much cherishes this freedom and this autonomy that exists today."

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, burst into Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21 and sang a protest urging the Virgin Mary to "Throw Putin out!"

The protest united many Russian Orthodox believers in outrage, but their trial has exposed deep rifts over the Church's role in politics.