Russian court fines coronavirus-denying rebel monk

A Russian court has fined a coronavirus-denying monk who has challenged Kremlin lockdown orders for spreading false information about the pandemic

MOSCOW -- A Russian court on Tuesday fined a coronavirus-denying monk who has challenged Kremlin lockdown orders for spreading false information about the pandemic.

The court in the Ural Mountains region ordered Father Sergiy to pay 90,000 rubles ($1,250). The 65-year-old monk, who has attracted nationwide attention by urging followers to disobey church leadership and ignore church closures during the pandemic, didn't attend the court hearing.

On Friday, a Russian Orthodox Church panel in Yekaterinburg ruled to defrock Father Sergiy for breaking monastic rules. He didn’t show up at the session and dismissed the verdict, urging his backers to come to defend the Sredneuralsk women’s monastery where he has holed up since last month.

In Friday’s video posted by his supporters, Father Sergiy denounced President Vladimir Putin as a “traitor to the Motherland” serving a Satanic “world government” and dismissed Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill and other top clerics as “heretics” who must be “thrown out.”

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin wasn't following developments regarding the rebel monk.

When contagion engulfed Russia, Father Sergiy declared the coronavirus non-existent and denounced government 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 via chips.

He urged believers to disobey the closure of churches during the nationwide lockdown. Orthodox churches across Russia were closed on April 13 amid a quick rise in COVID-19 cases and were allowed to reopen in early June as authorities eased restrictions.

The church banned the monk from ministry in April, but he has continued preaching and last month took charge of the monastery outside Yekaterinburg that he had founded years ago. Dozens of burly volunteers, including veterans of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, helped enforce his rules, while the prioress and several nuns have left.

The police visited the monastery last month a day after Father Sergiy took over, but found no violations of public order. Facing stiff resistance by his supporters, church officials have appeared indecisive, lacking the means to enforce their ruling and evict the rebellious monk by force.