‘That’s why we’re a church’ A Moscow priest explains why he sheltered protesters from riot police
At two in the afternoon on Saturday, July 27, several thousand activists staged a mass demonstration in support of Moscow’s independent City Duma candidates, whom election officials have refused to allow onto September’s ballot. The authorities resorted to sometimes brutal tactics to disperse the crowds, blocking several paths to City Hall, where protesters wanted to assemble. After police seized control of Tverskaya Street, the city's main thoroughfare, demonstrators dispersed across the center of Moscow: some headed for Trubnaya Square and Chistye Prudy, while others set out for Staryi and Novyi Arbat. While officials were clearing Tverskaya Street, some of the demonstrators were driven to Stoleshnikov Lane, near the Yuriy Dolgoruky monument, and they took refuge inside the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Shubino. The priests admitted the demonstrators into the church, where they prayed together for peace. Meduza recorded a short statement by one of these clergymen, hieromonk John.
Hieromonk John was born Giovanni Guaita. He is a cleric at the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Shubino. An Italian and Russian historian, he studies Eastern Christianity, and has written two books about Armenian history. He has also written spiritual works in Russian and translations of Russian spiritual literature.
Our church today finds itself at the center of a political confrontation for a simple reason: the demonstration was supposed to be at Tverskaya Street, and Stoleshnikov Lane, where we’re located, is the closest pedestrian side street. It just happened geographically.
The church was open to the public today, like usual. It’s always open, and we’ll always welcome anyone inside. Welcoming everyone is our duty. That’s why we’re a church. So we haven’t done anything here today that’s special or extraordinary.
When riot police showed up on our street, a lot of people — more than a hundred, maybe — rushed to our door. Most of them were young people. I’m not certain, but I suspect that most of them wanted to find refuge with us. Some came to us simply because they were scared. Others were afraid that they’d be arrested.
People came through the gate, and some probably jumped the fence around the church. But this doesn’t matter much to us. People come to church and they have the right to be accepted with love — regardless of their political views.
For a while, the people simply stood around in the church, and then we invited them to pray with us for peace. We chose this prayer specifically because of what was happening outside. There was a prayer for peace, and for the softening of angry hearts. I must say that these people took great pleasure and showed great interest in the prayer.
Later, when they got the chance [to leave the church], the people started to leave down Stoleshnikov Lane. There are a lot fewer people in the church now. Apparently it’s more or less calming down outside.
I think clergymen should always be ready to welcome anyone in any situation. I spoke with the young people who stayed behind for prayer service. I think it’s very good that there is such an active youth. In my view, it’s good when people know what they want, and are ready to defend what matters to them.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock