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In desecration of crosses, Russia's Orthodox church sees dark warning

The Russian Orthodox Church said an antireligious campaign – in sympathy with Pussy Riot punk band – was under way after four large wooden crosses were destroyed over the weekend.

By Correspondent / August 27, 2012

Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, speaks to the press at the Military Airport in Warsaw, Poland, Aug. 16.

Alik Keplicz/AP

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Moscow

The Russian Orthodox Church is warning of an organized antireligious campaign under way against Christians in Russia, after vandals in two widely separated regions took chainsaws to four large wooden crosses over the weekend.

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Church spokespeople maintain the damage was done by people who are either in sympathy or in league with the Pussy Riot collective, three of whose members were sentenced to two years in a penal colony earlier this month for profaning an Orthodox altar with an obscenity-laced "punk prayer" that called upon the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin.

The four crosses were chopped down by unknown persons who left police no clues to their motives or identity. One was a large wooden crucifix erected to the memory of Soviet-era political prisoners in the far northern region of Archangelsk. Russian media reported three more wooden crosses were destroyed in Chelyabinsk region over the weekend, which is thousands of miles away in western Siberia.

A local priest in Archangelsk, Hegumen Feodosy, told the state-run Russia Today network that the destruction of the cross, just across the street from his church, was the latest in a series of arson and vandal attacks on religious symbols in his locality and around Russia.

"This comes in the context of all these incidents in recent months across the country, all this anti-church hysteria waged against our diocese, against the church authority, against everything sacred," he told RT.

But Pyotr Verzilov, a Pussy Riot activist and husband of one of the imprisoned women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told journalists the group has no connection with the latest episodes of vandalism and doesn't approve of them. Two members of the group, which is a radical feminist "performance art" collective, reportedly fled Russia last week to escape police efforts to arrest them in connection with the Feb. 21 "punk prayer" in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Two weeks ago, in Kiev, members of a Ukrainian feminist "performance art" collective, Femen, chainsawed a large wooden Orthodox cross as an explicit protest against the Pussy Riot verdict. The Femen women argued they were cutting down the symbol of "a corrupt church" whose actions prop up the "dictatorship" of Mr. Putin.       

"What we're seeing here are copycat acts, people who take a signal from what Pussy Riot did, and it could be very dangerous," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow.

"Having said that, however, it should be noted that the church leaders are not being entirely forthcoming here. They have a vested interest in portraying themselves as victims, especially since they failed so miserably in the Pussy Riot struggle," he says.        

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