MOSCOW (Reuters) – Riot police in Russia arrested a renegade priest in the early hours of Tuesday in a raid on a convent he had seized control of and accused him of driving children to suicide, according to his lawyer.
Father Sergiy, whose real name is Nikolai Romanov, gained prominence earlier this year after denying the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic, railing against church closures due to the lockdown, and criticising the Russian Orthodox Church.
He seized control of the Sredneuralsky women’s monastery near Yekaterinburg in the Urals in June and refused to leave.
Fond of wearing long dark robes, he was formally cast out of the church in September for openly ignoring a ban on him holding services and preaching.
Footage posted online showed a melee of riot police and people shouting outside the convent during the raid.
His lawyer confirmed his detention and said Father Sergiy had been charged with encouraging minors to commit suicide, the Kommersant newspaper reported.
The case against him may relate to a YouTube video in which he called on his followers to die for Russia.
The police and local authorities have not yet commented on the raid.
Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida wrote on Telegram: “It’s a pity that … Sergiy and his supporters did not heed the repeated calls of the church to repent and amend (their ways).”
Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn