Russian Court Upholds Fine Imposed On Rogue Orthodox Priest Who Was Stripped Of His Rank.

A court in Russia's Ural city of Yekaterinburg has upheld a fine imposed on an ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank in July after he took control of a convent in the Urals with help from Cossack guards. The Sverdlovsk regional court on September 15 ruled that the decision of a lower court in July to fine excommunicated Schema-Hegumen Sergiy (Nikolai Romanov) 18,000 rubles ($240) for inciting hatred and discord in his sermons was valid. Farther Sergiy was stripped of his rank by the Diocesan Court in the Sverdlovsk region on July 3 for what the court called disobedience toward Russian Orthodox Church authorities. The abbot of a men’s monastery in the Sverdlovsk region made headlines in June after he took over the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery by force with help from Cossack guards. Father Sergiy is known for his public praising of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and for denying the coronavirus, which he calls a Western plot. He also publicly condemned the Russian Orthodox Church's order in April to stop church services to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus. Weeks later, the Yekaterinburg diocese barred him from preaching and launched a probe into his conduct, citing his stance on the coronavirus and his interference with church policy during the pandemic. Still, he refused to follow the diocese's ruling and continued to preach. After forcibly taking over the convent in June, Father Sergiy issued several political statements saying that constitutional amendments offered by President Vladimir Putin "would legalize a slave-owning system." "That means we will voluntarily legalize the power of the future Antichrist and his slaves. I call on all peoples of Russia -- do not go to voting stations!" Father Sergiy said in one of his statements in June. Russian voters overwhelmingly approved the amendments in a vote that ended on July 1. Among other things, the constitutional amendments allow for Putin, a 67-year-old former KGB officer who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 20 years, to stay in power until 2036 if he chooses to run again after his current term ends in 2024. With reporting by Interfax and TASS

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