Tuesday's shooting death of 39-year-old priest Alexander Filippov is alleged to be the act of two intoxicated men in the village of Satino-Russkoye near Moscow.
His widow has been quoted as saying Filippov had reproached the suspects for relieving themselves at the entrance of their apartment building.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, called Filippov a bright and clean-living individual who leaves behind three daughters
"DISGUSTING HUMAN BEHAVIOR"
Kirill said, "the priest was killed because he was not indifferent to disgusting human behaviorand took a principled stand against it in accordance with his calling." The Interfax News Agency said a total of 26 Orthodox priests have been murdered in Russia since 1990. Many others have been assaulted.
They include Vitaly Zubkov, who was kicked and beaten last month, just days after the murder of his friend, Father Daniil Sysoyev in Moscow. Sysoyev had received death threats for his outspoken criticism of Islam and attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity.
News reports quote Orthodox Church Spokesman Vladimir Legoida as saying that recent events show Russians must think of the spiritual and moral situation they live in.
The head of the Religion and Law Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Roman Lunkin, said many Russians call themselves Orthodox Christians but have no idea about the obligations required by organized religion. He said Russian spiritual leaders themselves often set the wrong example by mixing church-state relations.
"ABSENCE TRUE FAITH"
Lunkin said church leaders send a signal that to call oneself an Orthodox, it is enough to maintain close ties with the state or government officials and to participate in official ceremonies. He added that this reveals "an absence of true faith", adding that priests often begin with the construction of a church building, instead of first organizing a community of believers.
Lunkin said Communism "stripped many Russians of religious faith, and with it any respect for priests and churches."He recalled an incident several years ago when a priest began building a church in the Ivanovo region north of Moscow and arrived one morning to find that local residents had dismantled the structure for its bricks because there was no organized community in that village and no one knew what Orthodoxy was.
Lunkin added that "local hooligans" who killed the priest considered themselves to be Orthodox.Russia's Islamic community has also been rocked this year by several high-profile killings of Muslim clerics in the Caucasus. They include Akhmed Tagayev, deputy mufti of Dagestan, and Ismail Bostanov, rector of the Islamic Institute in the southern Karachai-Cherkessia region.
Some observers link those murders to Islamic militants who are fighting pro-Kremlin authorities. The deputy head of Russia's Mufti Council, Damir Khazrat Gizatullin rejects any connection.
He told the Voice Of America (VOA) network that he attributes the violence to incivility throughout Russia stemming from 70 years of communist rule.Gizatullin said people in Russia "do not know how to listen to one another, to give others the right away on the road, or to understand the foundations of spirituality and religion."
This, he said, leads to the current situation, "which follows 70 years of alienation from the spiritual roots and traditions of Russia." He said people now fail to realize that members of the clergy and all others are protected by the Almighty and by the law."
Communists also made the mistake of focusing on the construction of buildings at the expense of community," he added.Gizatullin said Soviet authorities wanted to construct more living space for people, but toilets and other communal structures were forgotten. "There was no time, no energy, and no resources for such things, and now Russia is reaping those elements of Soviet life."
Murders of prominent Russians are not limited to the clergy. Investigative journalists and political activists have also been victims. Most of the killers remain at large. (Peter Fedynsky is Moscow Bureau Chief of the Voice of America (VOA) network. This story also airs on VOA. )