The church gave its leader Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich one of the church's highest awards, the medal of St. Sergius of Radonezh.
Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said the church has turned into the Kremlin's "Salvation Ministry," obediently approving Kremlin policies and slamming Western democracy as concepts alien to Russian traditions — all the while enjoying hefty government donations and tax immunity.
"The Church inherited its full loyalty to the existing government from Soviet times," Belkovsky said.
In pre-revolutionary Russia, the Church was a state institution whose government-paid clerics reported to czars as their "ultimate judges." In the Soviet era, Orthodox leaders infamously declared their loyalty to the atheist regime to allow the church to keep operating — and were enlisted as KGB agents, according to lawmakers and prominent human rights advocates.
"We knew back in the early 1990s that 90 percent of church leaders had been KGB agents," said Lev Ponomaryov, head of the respected For Human Rights group and a former lawmaker who in the early 1990s chaired a parliamentary commission that investigated Soviet-era ties between the church and KGB.
Despite the growing criticism over perceived sins past and present, there's no questioning the church's influence over Russian society.
The church claims 100 million Russians in its flock — more than three-quarters of the nation's population — though polls suggest that less than 5 percent of them are devout churchgoers. More than a spiritual guide, many Russians look to the church as a symbol of their identity.
Some believers applaud the Pussy Riot arrest.
"It's very good that they were jailed, because otherwise some fanatics would simply tear them apart," said Natalya Dolina, a 55-year-old historian and churchgoer from Moscow. "They soiled a church; they fouled icons that are dear to many. They are devoid of talent; they just latch onto a trend."
But believers such as Lidya Moniava, who manages children's hospices at a charity fund in Moscow, asked Kirill in a web-posted plea to forgive the pranksters and facilitate their release — and thousands joined her petition.
A Church spokesman said, however, that the Church will forgive the punk rockers only if they "repent and change their lives."
Several Orthodox priests declined to be interviewed for this story, saying they feared reprimands or were not allowed contact with a non-Russian news agency.
Many non-religious Russians found the prank tactless, but were shocked by the arrest and possible punishment.
"They should have gotten those girls out of the church — and left it at that," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Russia's most prominent human rights activist who considers herself non-practicing Orthodox.
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