An Orthodox priest in Russia’s Urals region has been posted to a remote village as punishment for his wife’s participation in a local beauty pageant during Lent.
Oksana Zotova, who runs a beauty salon in the city of Magnitogorsk, won the Miss Sensuality prize at the contest, and attracted a wave of criticism after an anonymous account on Russian social news aggregator Pikabu revealed that she was the wife of a priest.
Once religious authorities in the diocese got wind of the story, Sergei Zotov was promptly dismissed from his post at Magnitogorsk’s Cathedral of the Ascension of Christ.
He must now ply his trade in the village of Fershampenuaz, around 65 kilometres away from Magnitogorsk, and with population of just 4,000.
The village was named in honour of Cossacks who fought against Napoleon in the battle of Fère-Champenoise in 1814.
The diocese of Magnitorsk was not entertained by the exploits of Fr Sergei’s wife.
Archpriest Feodor Saprykin, chair of the diocesan court, declared that “it is a great sin when the wife of a priest exposes herself for show”.
He ruled that Sergei Zotov “will not be rehabilitated until his wife repents”.
“What kind of a priest is he if he cannot control his own family?” he questioned. “How does he intend to control his congregation?”
The anonymous Pikabu post also claimed that this was not the first example of her “outrageous behaviour”.
Father Lev Baklitsky of the Magnitogorsk diocese confirmed that after one beach holiday Mrs Zotova posted photographs of herself in a swimsuit and that she deleted the pictures after being told off.
He called this behaviour “without doubt unacceptable” and confirmed that Father Zotov’s posting was “a temporary measure so that he comes to his senses”.
For his part, Father Sergei admitted that he made a mistake and described his posting as “quite a merciful punishment”.
But he complained that his wife received abusive comments on social media and hit out at those who fanned the story online.
‘Just ordinary people’
The story has gripped Russia, featuring in many news outlets and online forums.
Some users were not impressed with the priest and his wife. “This is all you need to know about the wives of priests. And priests themselves as well. They preach one thing and practise something else,” one person lashed out.
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But many others scoffed at the church’s decision and came out in support of the clergy couple.
“Why shouldn’t she enjoy her life? Are there really people who still believe that priests are pure of sin? They’re just ordinary people with a good job, ” said the most-liked comment on the Pikabu post.
“Have I missed something, what’s the problem?” another person asked. “Where in the Bible does it say that priests can’t have a pretty wife?”
Komsomolskaya Pravda conveyed another user’s sarcasm directed at the “holier-than-thou who have nothing to do during Lent but to look for motes in others’ eyes, even if they are covered in make-up”.
Reporting by Francis Scarr and Krassi Twigg
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