MOSCOW — A rebellious Russian monk who has denied the coronavirus' existence and urged believers to ignore the Kremlin's lockdown orders has taken control of a monastery in the Ural Mountains.
Father Sergiy showed up Tuesday at the Sredneuralsk women's monastery that he had founded years ago and took charge. Scores of volunteers, including battle-hardened veterans of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, helped enforce his rules, while the prioress and several nuns have left.
Hundreds of believers from Yekaterinburg and other cities in the Urals have flocked to the convent to hear the priest's fiery sermons.
The Russian Orthodox Church has denounced Father Sergiy's move, saying he has been banned from conducting church services and urging him to repent. Police visited the monastery Wednesday and found no violations.
Last month, the monk was suspended by the church leadership following his continuous calls to disobey the closure of churches during the lockdown. Orthodox churches across Russia were closed to parishioners on April 13 because of the coronavirus outbreak and were only allowed to reopen earlier this month.
Father Sergiy has declared the coronavirus non-existent and urged believers to ignore the lockdown orders from authorities. He denounced electronic passes introduced in Moscow and some other regions as part of efforts to stem the outbreak as "Satan's electronic camp." The monk has described the vaccines being developed against COVID-19 as part of a global plot to control the masses.
Next week, Father Sergiy will face a church panel that will decide on his future. He also has faced charges of spreading false information about the coronavirus,
The monk has ignored the church's ban. In a video from his cell where icons and images of Orthodox Church hierarchs of the past adorn the wall alongside pictures of Russia's last Czar, Nicholas II, and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, he warned church officials that they will need to seize the monastery by force to get him out.