Vsevolod Chaplin: ''Why does the country need Isaac's Cathedral? To feed the museum bureaucracy?''

A column about scandals around Saint Isaac's Cathedral in Petersburg and presidential administration that is keen on ruling over heads

Vsevolod Chaplin: ''Why does the country need Isaac's Cathedral? To feed the museum bureaucracy?'' Photo: gazeta.a42.ru

In Saint Petersburg, the transition process of Saint Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church is getting new details. Recently a message about the non-compliance of this transition with the Kremlin shocked the media space. In a column written for our online newspaper, Realnoe Vremya's columnist Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin tells about backstage details of the scandal defending the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.

''Those who are used to use backstage ties and lobby mechanisms are losing''

It is great that the discussion around the Saint Isaac's Cathedral in Saint Petersburg is taking place not only on backstage but also in the streets and on the Internet. Those who are used to use backstage ties and lobby mechanisms are losing. It seems that many people in the Church just recently thought that they needed to act that way – by calling, face-to-face talks, calculations, bureaucratic discussions like ''pass-no-pass''. A blessing in disguise: people who opposed the existence of the cathedral in the cathedral sent thousands of people to the streets and activated information forces. Orthodox Churches had to accept this challenge and failed.

At first the ''progressive'' intelligentsia controlling several political and media structures was sure about the victory. It understood a long time ago that functionaries are afraid of a public action the most. They are afraid that people who write reviews of the media and blogs that are on the table of senior functionaries will mention a lot governors, ministers, deputies who have a link with the ''scandals'' even if a clearly expressed social position that did not come to the ''best people'' from the liberal environment is meant. Functionaries are more afraid of street strikes: here one can lose a post and do it quickly. It was the idea. As well as backstage opinions of ''experts''.

''People who opposed the existence of the cathedral in the cathedral sent thousands of people to the streets and activated information forces. Orthodox Churches had to accept this challenge and failed.'' Photo: regnum.ru

Together with oppositional campaigns ''in the streets'' of the northern capital, a survey was held. 57,1% participants were against the transition of the cathedral to the Church, 17,8% of people supported the idea. The research was done by some Political Culture Fund CJSC. It is unclear what streets questions were asked in. For instance, in Moscow, opinions of people who visit fashionable cafés will be completely different from the views of suburban residents. Questions can be formulated in a way that Orthodox Christians will account for 70% in the country as well as in a way with a zero percentage. The very question on the ''transition of the cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church'' sounds repugnant. In addition, Patriarch Aleksiy asked journalists not to use this awful abbreviation that the Church never uses. And the respondents were probably not reminded that the cathedral would remain as the city property and be used only by the Christian community.

''Placement of cases in holy space desecrates the cathedral''

In fact, I admit that there will be at least 1/3 of opponents of Saint Isaac's Cathedral to religious people in Saint Petersburg, which still remains Leningrad in terms of its spirit. Yes, people got used to the museum. Not everybody understands that the placement of cases in holy space desecrates the cathedral. Not everybody knows that the museum's director earns more than Governor Poltavchenko. And director of Hermitage Mr Piotrovsky allows to dedicate cathedrals to a new religion saying: ''Saint Isaac's Cathedral is a cathedral that glorifies Peter. It is Peter's birthday. People go to Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral to look at emperors more than to just pray to God.'' However, emperors built cathedrals for Christ, not for themselves and museum directors.

The opponents of ''clericalisation'' of cult buildings started to celebrate a victory when an anonymous author claimed that Poltavchenko ''did not talk'' to the president of Russia about the transitions of the cathedral. It is possible that actually a ''talk'' with some workers of the presidential administration who are keen on ruling over regional heads even if they are twice older, ten times more experienced and skilled was meant. However, the anonymous author was reminded that this issue is within the city administration's purview. Moreover, the transition of the cathedral to religious people completely corresponds to the Federal Law.

''Yes, people got used to the museum. Not everybody understands that the placement of cases in holy space desecrates the cathedral.'' Photo: museum.ru

''The consequences of the bad times must be finally overcome''

By the way, the topic that supporters of the liberal opposition are speculating about (because communists did not support them) and obviously liberals who are close to the president was discussed in detail a long time ago and was ''approved''. It happened when a law On Restitution of Religious Property in State or Municipal Ownership to Religious Organisations was created. An uneasy compromise was reached. The Church almost refused the ''non-religious'' property – revenue houses, fields, woods (it all was given back in Central European and Baltic countries). But the country undertook to return all buildings erected for religious purposes. What does it need them? To feed the museum bureaucracy that, by the way, lies that it pays state taxes? Actually, there are only social payments from the salary fund, that is to say, it receives treatment, pensions and social insurance for museum workers.

From 8 to 15,000 people (according to different data) who participated in a procession in Saint Petersburg on 19 February gave the answer to the backstage intrigue. It is great that nobody in the Church and city takes a step back and was not afraid to hold this procession, did not listen to anonymous authors whose power to rule – on backstage or in public – are doubtful. Actually it is not very easy to understand the logic of the Soviet era remaining in some heads as well as the logic of progress supporters who are afraid of a stronger conservative origin in the people the most.

Should not a cathedral be first of all a cathedral? Like a theatre should be a theatre, a stadium should be a stadium and a museum should be a museum? Some Soviet journalists urged to destroy Saint Isaac's Cathedral. In 1922, valuable objects were taken from the cathedral, they measured their value by their weight. It seems that they were sold abroad. In 1928, atheistic propaganda materials were placed in the cathedral. Times have changed, of course. But the consequences of the bad times must be finally overcome. Even if somebody wanted to go back to 1917 or remain in 1990.

By Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin