Pro-Pussy Riot priest murdered in Russia

Anna Malpas

Supporters of punk group Pussy Riot, wearing the group's trademark coloured balaclavas, outside the Church of Christ the Saviour in central Moscow on August 15, 2012. A man stabbed to death a Russian priest who was deeply critical of Orthodox Church leadership and had supported the activist punk rock group Pussy Riot, police said on Tuesday.

A man stabbed to death an elderly Russian priest who was deeply critical of Orthodox Church leadership and had supported the activist punk rock group Pussy Riot, investigators said Tuesday.

Pavel Adelgeim, 75, died late Monday in the northwestern Pskov region from a stab wound to his heart, regional investigators said.

A man, born in 1986, was arrested on suspicion of murdering the priest but stabbed himself as he was being detained. He has now been hospitalised with lung damage and investigators were waiting to interrogate him.

According to investigators, the young man had been staying with the priest before the murder. The motive is unclear.

Adelgeim, a former religious dissident who had been imprisoned under Soviet rule, had in recent years in his blog and newspaper articles been hugely critical of the powerful leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.

For a religious figure he had been unusually vocal in his support for Pussy Riot, two of whose members are serving two year prison camp terms for an illegal performance in a Moscow church.

Pussy Riot's February, 2012 performance in the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow denounced the links between the Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin.

In 2012, Adelgeim joined hundreds of other prominent Russians in signing a letter urging Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to show mercy towards the imprisoned Pussy Riot members.

"The women have unmasked the lie of the Russian Orthodox Church and its unnatural bond with the Russian Federation," he wrote in a recent blog entry.

He argued that the Church had alienated society with its push for Orthodox priests to play a role in religious education in schools and in the armed forces despite Russia being a secular state, as well as by taking back former Church property used as museums.

"Dancing in the Church of Christ the Savior was a dysfunctional reaction to the illegal activities of the titular religion in a secular state," he wrote in his blog.

He argued that Pussy Riot's protest was "providential" because it exposed the widespread public unease over the Church's role and that the Church must seek reconciliation with those who sympathised with the women in order to avoid a split in society.

This contrasted with the official stance of the Russian Orthodox Church, which used Pussy Riot's case to talk of dark forces opposing the Church and to rally believers.

"The last free priest in the Moscow Patriarchate has been murdered," wrote Andrei Kurayev, an outspoken clergyman known for his reformist views, in his blog.

A message of condolences posted on the Moscow Patriarchate's website said that Patriarch Kirill "grieves over the tragic death of Father Pavel Adelgeim and prays for the repose of his soul."

Adelgeim came from a family of German origin and his grandfather owned several factories in pre-revolutionary Russia, before being shot by the Soviets in the 1930s.

Both his parents were arrested when he was a small child and his father was shot in 1942. He lived in a children's home before joining his mother in exile in Kazakhstan.

After training as a priest and serving in Uzbekistan, he was sent to prison camp in 1969 for slandering the Soviet regime. He lost his right leg during rioting in the camp before being freed in 1972.