A Russian Orthodox bishop has warned against voting for the 'darkness' of Vladimir Putin when he stands for re-election as president in March, after Putin last week said Communism was like Christianity and Lenin was like a saint.
The angry statement marked the first time a serving bishop has spoken out against Putin, according to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, in comments on the bishop's page on VK, Russia's most popular social network, reported by the Telegraph.
Bishop Yevtikhy Kurochkin of the epiphany cathedral in the Siberian city of Ishim wrote that he could no longer follow his 'desire to vote for Putin' following the 'blasphemous' remarks by the president.
Kurochkin wrote: '"If the light that is in you is darkness, how great is your darkness!' are the words of Christ. And will I go against Christ to vote for darkness or advise anyone to do this? No, no and no!'
Putin had said in a state television interview that 'Communist ideology is very similar to Christianity' and compared the Bolshevik leader's mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square the relics of saints.
The politician, who has enjoyed increasingly close relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, also said that the political ideology emerged naturally from teachings in the Bible.
Putin said in an interview for the documentary Valaam, an excerpt of which was broadcast on Russia 1: 'Maybe I'll say something that someone might dislike, but that's the way I see it. First of all, faith has always accompanied us, becoming stronger every time our country, our people, have been through hard times.
'There were those years of militant atheism when priests were eradicated, churches destroyed, but at the same time a new religion was being created. Communist ideology is very similar to Christianity, in fact: freedom, equality, brotherhood, justice – everything is laid out in the Holy Scripture, it's all there. And the code of the builder of communism? This is sublimation, it's just such a primitive excerpt from the Bible, nothing new was invented.'
Putin went on to compare the Communists' attitude to Lenin to the veneration of saints in Christianity. He said: 'Look, Lenin was put in a mausoleum. How is this different from the relics of saints for Orthodox Christians and just for Christians? When they say that there's no such tradition in Christianity, well, how come, go to Athos and take a look, there are relics of the saints there, and we have holy relics here.'
After Lenin died in 1924, his body was embalmed and put on display in a mausoleum in Red Square, as was fitting for a cult figure of Communist ideology.
Communist party figures enthusiastically welcomed Putin's comments. 'I think these words of the president very effectively and reasonably smooth out the acute angles around the theme of the mausoleum,' said the deputy chairman of the State Duma, Ivan Melnikov, according to Interfax.
He added however that 'communists and all the leftist patriotic forces [in Russia] understand that communism is close to Christianity as much as the form of capitalism that exists in our country and our economy today is far from Christianity'.
According to Gennadiy Zyuganov, the head of the Russian Communist Party, Putin has promised him that as long as Putin remains president, Lenin's body would remain in the mausoleum in Red Square.
'As long as I sit here, there will be no barbarism in Red Square,' Zyuganov quoted Putin as saying at a conference with Russian party leaders.
Zyuganov also claimed that Putin further dismissed allegations that Lenin was not buried in accordance with Christian traditions. Putin was quoted as saying: 'As far as the form of the burial is concerned, they used the one that is also used in Orthodox Christianity – he lies a metre and a half below the ground level. Sepulchres and cave burials have been known for a long time.'
Tens of millions of people are believed to have died in mass killings under Communist regimes during the 20th century, among them thousands of monks and priests.