Russian court fines influential monk who denies virus exists

The 65-year-old monk has attracted nationwide attention by urging followers to disobey government lockdown measures and ignore church closures earlier during the pandemic.

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court on Monday (July 20) ordered an influential monk, who has denied the existence of the new coronavirus and urged his followers to ignore government lockdown orders, to pay a fine for fomenting enmity through his sermons.

When contagion engulfed Russia, Father Sergiy declared the coronavirus nonexistent and denounced government efforts to stem the pandemic as “Satan’s electronic camp.” In fiery sermons laden with anti-Semitic statements and vitriol against a supposed masonic “world government,” the monk has described the vaccines being developed against COVID-19 as part of a global plot to control the masses via chips.

On Monday, a court in Verkhnyaya Pyshma in the Ural Mountains region found Father Sergiy guilty of “inciting hatred” and ruled that he should pay a fine of 18,000 rubles (about $250).

The 65-year-old monk, who has attracted nationwide attention by urging followers to disobey the government’s lockdown measures and church leadership and ignore church closures earlier during the pandemic, didn’t attend Monday’s court hearing.

The relatively small fine reflected authorities’ indecision on how to respond to the challenge from the widely popular monk, who has defied the Kremlin’s lockdown orders and taken control of a convent in the Urals.

The church banned the monk from ministry in April, but he has continued preaching and last month took charge of the convent outside Yekaterinburg that he had founded years ago. Dozens of burly volunteers, including veterans of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, helped enforce his rules, while the prioress and several nuns have left.

Father Sergiy has denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “traitor to the Motherland” serving a Satanic “world government” and dismissed Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill and other top clerics as “heretics” and “enemies of God and Holy Mother of God” who must be “thrown out.”

Earlier this month, a Russian Orthodox Church panel in Yekaterinburg ruled to strip Father Sergiy of his abbot’s rank for breaking monastic rules. He didn’t show up at the session and dismissed the verdict, urging his backers to defend the Sredneuralsk convent where he has holed up.

The police visited the convent last month a day after Father Sergiy took over but said they found no violations of public order. Facing stiff resistance from his supporters, church officials have appeared indecisive, lacking the means to enforce their ruling and evict the rebellious monk by force.

Another court in the Urals earlier this month ordered Father Sergiy to pay a fine of 90,000 rubles ($1,250) for spreading false information about the coronavirus.