Sredneuralsk, Russia, June 17, 2020
Abbess Barbara (Krygina) and several sisters of the Monastery of the “She Who Ripens the Grain” Icon of the Mother of God in Sredneuralsk, in the Ekaterinburg Diocese of the Russian Church, have voluntarily left the monastery with the blessing of their ruling hierarch, Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg, in order to avoid unnecessary strife in the developing situation surrounding Schema-Igumen Sergei (Romanov).
Fr. Sergei, a spiritual father at the monastery, has long been controversial, often issuing bold, sometimes extreme statements on a number of issues. He has voiced a number of conspiracy theories, including that Russia is presently ruled by a double of Vladimir Putin who is a “false messiah” and “antichrist,” educated in schools where they study the Torah and Kabbalah and “give satanic knowledge.” He has also spoken of the “yoke of the Jews.” He has referred to Lenin’s tomb as an “altar of satan,” though in his videos, it can be seen that he has a Joseph Stalin calendar in his cell.
He is also well-known as an exorcist, though there are those in the Church who doubt the efficacy of Fr. Sergei’s prayers to heal the possessed.
He is also said to be the leader of the “Tsarebozhnikov” sect within the Church that excessively venerates Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, considering him a Tsar-Redeemer for the sins of the Russian people, which was expressly condemned by His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II.
Most recently, he has caused waves with his strong opposition to the coronavirus quarantine measures adopted by the Russian Church. In his various statements and homilies, he has called the pandemic a myth, called on people to disobey the hierarchs and to go outside and go to church, cursed those who closed the churches, and he has warned about the creation of an “electronic camp of Satan” through vaccines and chipping.
While Fr. Sergei is certainly not alone in the Russian Church in his skepticism of the pandemic and quarantine, he has placed himself at the center of the controversy with his repeated public statements and his disobedience to his hierarch.
He has accused the abbess Mother Barbara, who tried to dissuade him from his dangerous path, of disobedience to him and of a “lack of readiness for spiritual warfare, showing her decadent state.”
His case is currently before the diocesan ecclesiastical court. In the meantime, he has been ordered to bear a quiet monastic podvig at the men’s Skete of St. John the Theologian, located in the immediate vicinity of the convent, reports the diocesan press service.
He is currently in disobedience to the hierarchy, however, refusing to leave the territory of the convent, for the sake of his spiritual children, he claims. Mother Abbess Barbara and the sisters “who are faithful to the Church and their monastic vows” have decided to leave the monastery in an attempt to pacify the situation.
The Ekaterinburg Diocese calls on the faithful to pray that Fr. Sergei might be enlightened to use the time given him until the next session of the ecclesiastical court for his correction and repentance, and warns that any Sacraments celebrated by the schema-igumen while in a state of suspension are “invalid and graceless.”
On April 27, the diocese banned Fr. Sergei from preaching after he ignored repeated admonitions about the content of his homilies. However, he continued to publish videos, which he characterized simply as statements rather than homilies, in response to which the diocese suspended him from serving and deprived him of the right to wear the priestly pectoral cross on May 27. The ecclesiastical court began to hear his case on June 15, though Fr. Sergei abruptly left the session without answering the panel’s questions. Thus, another session will be held on June 26.
An audio recording of Fr. Sergei’s speech to the court was published on YouTube, reports Kommersant, in which he condemned Patriarch Kirill, the Holy Synod, and the episcopate for closing the churches in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The hierarchs have ceded authority over the Church to the sanitary doctors and Federal Service for Human Wellbeing he said, accusing them of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and betraying the faith.
He declared at that time that he would not leave the convent, and that Met. Kirill of Ekaterinburg would have to “take the monastery by storm.”
In its statement today, the diocese also calls on the media to show restraint and caution, and not to escalate or artificially destabilize the situation in the monastery. Russian media has been filled with reports of the monastery being “seized” by Fr. Sergei and defended by Cossack guards, though a police investigation did not find the situation to be so serious. No violation of the public order was found, according to Valery Gorelykh, head of the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Sverdlovsk Province.
The Cossacks present at the monastery today arrived simply as pilgrims and the situation at the monastery is calm, an associate of Fr. Sergei told Interfax-Religion today. The same was officially stated by the Orenburg Cossacks as well. The media also reported that Fr. Sergei expelled the abbess, though the diocese has confirmed that she left the monastery voluntarily.
However, Fr. Sergei himself continues to fan the flames, warning in a video published today that he has thousands of loyal police, soldiers, and Cossacks among his spiritual children.
In the meantime, the diocese has appointed Archpriest George Viktorov, a cleric of the Novo-Tikhvin Convent, to serve at the Monastery of She Who Ripens the Grain, though Fr. Sergei’s supporters have not allowed him to enter the monastery.
In addition to ecclesiastical court, Fr. Sergei, who has also spoken about overthrowing the government, also faces a possible $430-$1,430 fine (30,000-100,000 rubles) from civil authorities under the article of the penal code for knowingly spreading false information online under the guise of reliable reports, thereby endangering human life.