The premises of the 14th-century Sretensky Monastery in central Moscow have been found to house a hard-working brothel. To the best of my knowledge, the holy fathers provided only their blessing and administrative support, leaving the workaday activities to several young ladies.
This sort of thing is hard to explain even in a Russian context. Perhaps the monks confuse missionary work with the position of the same name, I really don’t know. Those things are sometimes hard to keep apart. Or else they think it their duty to cater to the physical, not just spiritual, cravings of their flock.
The monastic answers to vestal virgins charge £35 an hour, which suggests that the brothers have faith in a low-cost, high turnaround operation. Then again, as men of God they can’t be seen favouring the rich.
It’s good to see that the concept of monasticism continues to evolve in Russia, mostly in the direction of getting in touch with lay life, as it were. But then, as the Russian saying goes, ‘like priest, like parish’.
The vicar of Sretensky Monastery, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), is Vladimir Putin’s confessor, while Patriarch Kiril is the monastery’s superior. His Holiness, code name ‘Mikhailov’, is a career KGB operative, but then of course the secret police isn’t the mammon that can’t be served in parallel with God.
Nor is he unique in this respect: the entire hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate can boast a similar CV. The recently published reports of ‘Mikhailov’s’ (and other hierarchs’) KGB handlers to their superiors are a good read, detailing as they do the zeal with which His Holiness, then merely a metropolitan, carried out his tough assignments. The prose is deadpan, everything stripped to the bare bone of facts.
While I haven’t seen any documents that Tikhon too is a KGB man, this isn’t beyond the realm of the possible. After all, only a trusted comrade can be allowed to hear Col. Putin’s confessions.
You must remember that Russian Orthodox priests are obligated to divulge to the state secrets vouchsafed them at confession. Solzhenitsyn rightly fumes about this in his Gulag, but he forgets to mention that this fine tradition goes back to Peter the Great (d. 1725).
Now imagine a confession that proceeds along these lines: ‘Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I ordered that Col. Litvinenko be poisoned with polonium in London. Then I’ve also used proxies to amass a pilfered $50-billion fortune. And let’s not forget all those uppity journalists I had knocked off…’ This wouldn’t do, would it? Unless, of course, the confessor is bound by an oath that supersedes the one he took at his ordination.
You may argue that Putin is the state, so no danger there. However, the pack of Russian leaders has often been reshuffled in the past, and there is no guarantee that it won’t be again in the future. So better safe than sorry – Col. Putin didn’t get where he is by ignoring this folk wisdom.
Jesus famously drove money-changers and mendicants out of the Temple. I wonder how He would react to one of Moscow’s oldest monasteries housing a knocking shop. There wouldn’t be one stone left upon another, this is an ecclesiastical certainty.
The Russian Orthodox Church claimed that the monks had no knowledge of the den of iniquity, and I’ll leave you to decide how likely that is. I am however curious whether Putin combined his forays to the confessional booth with a quick stopover at the adjacent facility. That would be in keeping with the image of unbridled virility that the national leader likes to project. Also, at this austere time, why waste a trip to another part of town?
How sincere Christians can still accept the authority of the Russian Church is hard to understand. But then we all know Churchill’s pronouncement on the enigmatic nature of Russia.
P.S. Just two days after I wrote about HMG winding nuclear power stations down and favouring instead the useless wind farms, came two important announcements. First, no more onshore turbines will be built. Second, a Japanese firm has been contracted to construct a nuclear power station. Far be it from me to claim that my diatribe had anything to do with this. However…