Ignoring the Church’s calls Defrocked Orthodox priest Sergii Romanov arrested during raid on monastery
In the early hours of December 29, a SWAT team stormed the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery outside of Yekaterinburg and arrested Sergii Romanov — one of the region’s most well-known priests, who was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church earlier this year. Romanov was taken to Moscow where a district court remanded him in custody for the next two months on charges of inciting minors to suicide, violating freedom of conscience and religion, and arbitrariness. Following Romanov’s arrest, his supporters have been gathering outside of the monastery and refusing to allow anyone to enter the grounds, for fear that the Yekaterinburg diocese will take back control of the convent.
Defrocked Russian Orthodox priest Sergii Romanov was arrested at a women’s monastery outside of Yekaterinburg that he took control of back in June. In the early hours of December 29, officers from the riot police (OMON) and the Russian Guard arrived at the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery in full uniform and, according to parishioners, occupied “even the smallest paths.” Many of Romanov’s supporters came to the defense of the former Schema-Hegumen. A few hours beforehand, they had placed the monastery under round-the-clock protection, after being tipped off that a SWAT team made up of security forces from Moscow was on their way to arrest Romanov.
The monastery’s defenders ended up clashing with the riot police. One nun was taken away by an ambulance and later diagnosed with a hip fracture. After the security forces stormed the monastery, they took Romanov to the Yekaterinburg branch of the Russian Investigative Committee for questioning. Law enforcement officers searched the monastery for several hours and Romanov’s lawyers weren’t allowed inside. Parishioners said that the security forces “smashed” the convent’s rooms and knocked out windows.
A criminal case has been opened against Sergii Romanov on charges of inciting children to commit suicide, an unnamed source in law enforcement told the Russian state news agency TASS. Romanov’s lawyer also confirmed that said charges were brought against the former priest. Romanov refused to respond to questions from investigators, because he wasn’t allowed to speak to his lawyer in private, the business newspaper Kommersant reported. The authorities then decided to escort Romanov to Moscow. According to his defense lawyers, Romanov has refused to plead guilty to the accusations. The Investigative Committee’s Sverdlovsk regional branch declined to comment on the case.
The criminal investigation was launched over a recording of one of Romanov’s sermons. On December 5, Romanov’s spokesperson Vsevolod Moguchev published a video on YouTube of a sermon titled “For Faith in Christ, we stand to the death.” During his speech (given at the monastery), Romanov spoke about the Venerable Elena Diveevskaya, who Saint Seraphim of Sarov blessed to die in place of her brother. After telling the story, Romanov asked some of his audience if they were prepared to die, “so that Russia can live, so that younger children can live.” Lawyer Dmitry Savchenko, who represents the monastery, said that the sermon “wasn’t about suicide, but about self-sacrifice for the sake of people, about patriotism.” A criminal case was opened at the request of the Sverdlovsk region’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Igor Morokov, who asked the prosecutor’s office to look into the video on the grounds that Romanov’s statements “run contrary to the law prohibiting information harmful to children.”
Sergii Romanov has faced administrative fines on two previous occasions for inciting hatred and enmity, and disseminating false information of public interest.
Romanov is also involved in another criminal case on violations of the right to freedom of conscience and religion and on arbitrariness. The case was launched at the request of representatives from the Yekaterinburg diocese, who said that they were barred from entering the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery when they wanted to inventory the convent’s property. Romanov’s lawyer Svetlana Gerasimenko has confirmed that her client is facing both of the aforementioned criminal charges linked to the case. The Russian Investigative Committee hasn’t commented on the proceedings.
After Romanov’s arrest, a video he recorded at the Investigative Committee’s office in Yekaterinburg began circulating online. Addressing his parishioners, the former priest said, “To all of you, to the monastery and all of my children. I love you, I hug you tightly...I’m fine. Pray: God forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing...There’s no need to do anything...What happened is [that] everyone has their own cross.”
Dozens of Romanov’s supporters began gathering near the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery in the early hours and into the morning of December 29. In the morning, they stood closely together and started singing, refusing to let anyone inside. Apparently, they fear that representatives of the Yekaterinburg diocese will come and take control of the monastery. Hardly any of those present are wearing protective masks, despite the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. The police blocked the monastery’s entrance and a police van was spotted on the property. The regional Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatyana Merzlyakova, also visited the scene.
The Russian Orthodox Church expressed its regret that Sergii Romanov and his followers “didn’t listen to the Church’s repeated calls for repentance and correction.” This was stated by the head of the Synodal Department for the Church’s Relations with Society and Mass Media, Vladimir Legoyda, on Telegram. “The Church always prays for its children, especially those who have gone astray and are misguided. I am sure that the priests of the Yekaterinburg diocese will do everything to establish peace at the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery as soon as possible and restore a healthy church life,” Legoyda wrote. At the same time, the Yekaterinburg diocese expressed concern about the spiritual and psychological condition of the people at the seized monastery and noted that the convent’s novices are in need of spiritual help. The head of the diocese’s social services department, Archpriest Evgeny Popichenko, has been dispatched to the monastery.
During the afternoon on December 29, Moscow’s Basmanny Court remanded Romanov is custody for two months on charges of inciting suicide, violating the right to freedom of conscience and religion, and arbitrariness. Romanov’s defense team plans to appeal his arrest.
Translation by Eilish Hart