Tea and sympathy with Pussy Riot
A Russian missionary sat down to talk with the recently freed members of the feminist punk band
By Sophia Kishkovsky. Web only
Published online: 15 January 2014
A missionary in the Russian Orthodox Church, who has said that the feminist punk band Pussy Riot should have been shown mercy instead of jailed for their 2012 performance in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, publicly sat down this weekend to speak with the recently freed members of the band, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.
The meeting was held on Saturday 11 January at Masterskaya, a Moscow cafe and performance space that is known as a gathering spot for activists that oppose the Russian government. Snob, a local magazine that is critical of President Vladimir Putin’s rule and the Russian Orthodox Church, organised the conversation.
According to a transcript of the talk on Snob’s website, Deacon Andrei Kuraev said that Pussy Riot had a dramatic impact on the church. Although he continues to condemn the form of their protest, in which they sang a prayer to the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin and Patriarch Kirill I, Kuraev said they should have been treated with mercy, adding that he would have served them blini and talked to them.
Kuraev said that the aggressive reactions of the church and state to Pussy Riot’s performance alienated a significant part of the urban intelligentsia and divided the church. “You pushed the patriarch up against the Kremlin wall,” he said.
During the discussion, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said they had attended church when possible in prison and that among the issues that they would raise in their campaign to defend inmates’ rights is the frequent lack of access to worship, even when there are churches on prison grounds.
“What do you think of the fact that some prisoners are not able to go to church?” Tolokonnikova asked Kuraev. “They spend all of their time working, and if they go to church… they might be beaten up.”
Kuraev is a controversial figure who has been known to preach to youth at rock concerts, but in recent weeks, he has claimed on his blog that homosexual clergy are covering up instances of sexual abuse and paedophilia in the Russian church. He was dismissed from his teaching and theological posts after making the allegations, but some liberals have accused him of homophobia and have suggested he is working for a rival faction of the political elite. The Russian art scene has its own take on Kuraev, with the artist Oleg Kulik describing the deacon as “a performance artist from God” on Facebook.
Kuraev himself found common ground with Pussy Riot during the weekend chat. “I am a provocateur, without a doubt,” he said. “The question is what to provoke.” Tolokonnikova said that while they are not in the same camp, they share similar traits. “Do we have something in common?” she asked, “Yes, we do. It is some sort of a quest for truth and the aspiration to not stop thinking.”
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