Riot police in Russia have arrested a renegade priest after he seized control of a convent and accused him of driving children to suicide after telling them to “die for Russia”, according to his lawyer.
Father Sergiy, whose real name is Nikolai Romanov, gained traction earlier this year after denying the existence of the Covid-19 pandemic, railing against church closures due to the lockdown, and criticising the Russian Orthodox Church.
The controversial priest seized control of the Sredneuralsky women’s monastery near Yekaterinburg in the Urals in June and refused to leave.
Mr Romanov’s lawyer, Svetlana Gerasimova, states the accusations likely stem from a YouTube sermon by Mr Romanov.
His lawyer confirmed his detention and said Father Sergiy had been charged with encouraging minors to commit suicide, the Kommersant newspaper reported.
The police and local authorities have not yet commented on the raid.
He was barred from preaching in April and then stripped of the right to wear a cross in May after denying the legitimacy of the pandemic and encouraging others to disobey public health orders.
Mr Romanov was formally cast out of the church in September for openly ignoring a ban on him holding services and preaching.
Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida wrote on Telegram: “It’s a pity that … Sergiy and his supporters did not heed the repeated calls of the church to repent and amend (their ways).”