Russian President Vladimir Putin bathes in ice-cold water on Epiphany near St. Nilus Stolobensky Monastery on Lake Seliger in Svetlitsa village, Russia, on Jan. 19, 2018. Thousands of Russian Orthodox Church followers will plunge into icy rivers and ponds across the country to mark Epiphany, cleansing themselves with water deemed holy for the day. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP; caption amended by RNS)

Russian Orthodox bishop assails Putin, won’t vote for him

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian Orthodox bishop has said he wouldn't vote for President Vladimir Putin in March's election — an unprecedented show of dissent by a high-ranking clergyman in the church whose hierarchs have maintained warm ties with the Kremlin.

Bishop Yevtikhiy of Ishim in Siberia said on the social networks site VKontakte that he wouldn't "vote for darkness" himself and wouldn't advise others to do so.

Yevtikhiy explained his decision by pointing at Putin's statement that the Communists imitated the Christian tradition of preserving saints' relics by putting the embalmed body of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin in a Red Square tomb — words he called blasphemous.

The independent Novaya Gazeta noted Monday that Yevtikhiy's comment marked the first time a top member of the Orthodox clergy had spoken out against Putin.