A real Putin cult

Nizhnyi Novgorod, Russia - A village woman in Nizhnyi Novgorod oblast has organized a cult centered on the idea Russian President Vladimir Putin is the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul, a move that has been criticized by the local eparchate of the Russian Orthodox Church but not yet by Russian government officials.

Various groups nominally within Russian Orthodoxy have organized cults and sects that the church leadership increasingly views as threatening both the Christian faith and the church's control over those who claim to speak in its name (See comments on this subject by Bishop Longin of Saratov and the Volga at rusk.ru/st.php?idar=11695).

But certainly one of the most intriguing of these new cults and one that by its very nature creates special problems for the Church and for the authorities is a group in the village of Bolshaya Yelnya in Nizhnyi Novgorod. Its leader, who styles herself Mother Fotiniya, says Putin is the reincarnation of St. Paul.

Her church, which she calls "Reviving Rus," has attracted many followers, and she now publishes a newspaper as well as holding services and organizing visits to a local children's sanitarium.

Most people, the newspaper Rossiya reported last week view her and her followers as harmless, but some of the older and more traditional residents of the region say she is "a witch" and that her followers are a dangerous "sect" and that her activities should be stopped.

That puts the local Orthodox hierarchy in a difficult predicament. On the one hand, its leaders insist Mother Fotiniya has no relation at all to Orthodoxy and therefore is not a matter of concern. On the other, they appear to view her activities as a kind of sectarianism but one that they may not be interested in pressing too hard against.

Mother Fotiniya for her part takes a positive view of the Orthodox Church and has even tried to organize a meeting with Patriarch Aleksii. The latter, however, has not responded to her letters, she told Rossiya.

She has also written to Putin asking for an audience with him. His office, she told the newspaper, did respond with an offer that she could meet with one of his assistants, something she has so far declined to do.

But despite that, the leader of this sect keeps a picture of Putin "in an honored place" in her office and explains she remains an unabashed admirer of the current president and his activities.

"When Vladimir Putin became president in Russia," she told the visiting journalist, "my spirit was gladdened that he is such a man! In our President Putin is the spirit of the Apostle Paul. This is an honest, orderly man, and we must all help him." She added the spirit of the president "frequently" appears in her home church.

Mother Fotiniya said it is her firm belief that Putin will become a monarch and that "on his head will be laid the crown of a Russian tsar" -- if he is able to continue his work. But she said there are many threats to Putin and therefore he is in need of the constant protection of St. George and his wife, someone she described as "an angel in the flesh."

At a time when many Russian officials are urging the security services be turned loose on religious sectarians -- see the argument of a Serbsky Institute official on this point at interfax-religion.ru/print.php?act=interview&id=21 -- Mother Fotiniya's group is quite likely to be left in peace.