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‘Those who unleashed aggression won’t be in heaven’ St. Petersburg priest faces criminal charges for condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine

Source: Meduza

Former priest and doctor of theology Ioann Kurmoyarov has been jailed for two months pending trial on felony charges of spreading “false information” about the Russian military. St. Petersburg’s Kalininsky District Court remanded Kurmoyarov in custody on Saturday, June 11. 

According to the rights group OVD-Info, the criminal case against Kurmoyarov was launched over a video posted on YouTube, in which he condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and maintains that according to Christian dogma, those who unleashed the war will go to hell.

“‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ — ‘the peacemakers’, do you understand the problem? And those who unleashed aggression won’t be in heaven,” Kurmoyarov said in the video.

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Kurmoyarov was arrested at his home on June 7. Following a search of the residence, law enforcement seized Kurmoyarov’s cell phone, laptop, and tablet, as well as his cassock, two icons, and a wooden cross. 

A linguistic analysis from St. Petersburg State University concluded that Kurmoyarov expressed “deliberately false information” about the Russian Armed Forces. If convicted, he will face between five and ten years in prison. 

On Saturday, Kurmoyarov’s lawyer Leonid Krikun reported that he had been denied access to his client. Krikun visited two separate remand prisons and a temporary detention center, only to be told by prison staff that the priest was not in custody at any of these facilities. 

Ioann Kurmoyarov lived in Ukraine until 2018, where he served in the parish of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Vinnytsia region. Kurmoyarov moved to Russia after Ukraine’s Security Service brought administrative charges against him for posting an image of the St. George ribbon on Facebook. (Ukraine banned the St. George ribbon in 2017.)

After moving to Russia, Kurmoyarov taught at a theological seminary in Novosibirsk. In June 2020, he was suspended by the Russian Orthodox Church and eventually fired from his post for criticizing the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces in a Facebook post (Kurmoyarov denounced the newly built cathedral a “pagan temple”). 

Kurmoyarov successfully petitioned the suspension and was given three months to transfer to another diocese. He left Novosibirsk for St. Petersburg, but found himself blackballed within the Church — allegedly due to the influence of Novosibirsk’s Metropolitan Nikodim. 

In an attempt to return to service, Kurmoyarov filed a claim against Metropolitan Nikodim with an ecclesiastical court. The Novosibirsk diocese responded by filing a counterclaim against Kurmoyarov. 

Nevertheless, Kurmoyarov continued to criticize the Russian military cathedral. In an open letter to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, he called for the removal of frescoes with communist symbols from the cathedral. Later, at the end of 2021, Kurmoyarov asked the Russian Interior Ministry, FSB, and Investigative Committee to bring charges against Shoigu for “offending religious sentiment.” 

In January 2022, a court recommended that Metropolitan Nikodim formally defrock Kurmoyarov. This came shortly after the priest was admitted to the Moscow diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA). 

Kurmoyarov was officially defrocked in April. The Russian Orthodox Church accused him of conducting “active media activities in support of Ukraine’s nationalist regime,” spreading “fake news” about the Russian military, and participating in a “schismatic organization.”

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