Prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to sentence an ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank to four years in prison on charges of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide.
Prosecutors leveled the charges at the trial of Father Sergiy (Nikolai Romanov) during a hearing on November 29 at the Izmailovo district court.
Father Sergiy, who was arrested in December 2020, has maintained his innocence.
The priest was arrested after law enforcement raided his convent in the Sverdlovsk region. Parishioners and some clergy skirmished with the police during the arrest of the rogue priest, who was then sent to Moscow, where he has since been held in a detention center.
Father Sergiy made headlines in June last year after he took over the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery in the Urals by force with help from Cossack guards.
He was later stripped of his religious rank by the diocesan court in the Sverdlovsk region for what it called disobedience of church authorities.
Father Sergiy is known for his public praising of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, for calling the coronavirus pandemic a Western plot, and for publicly condemning the Russian Orthodox Church’s order in April 2020 to stop church services to prevent the spreading of the virus.
After forcibly taking over the convent, Father Sergiy issued political statements saying that constitutional amendments proposed by President Vladimir Putin “would legalize a slave-owning system.”
The constitutional changes approved last year allow Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 21 years, to stay in power until 2036 if he chooses to run again after his current term ends in 2024.
With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and RIA Novosti