On February 21st, about a few weeks before Vladimir Putin won his third presidency, a group of women in a band called Pussy Riot, boldly barraged into Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, Russia, and performed a “punk prayer” while holy services were going on. They sang lines that outraged both the Orthodox church and the Russian authorities:
“Virgin Mary, Become Feminist / Virgin Mary, Hash Putin Away.”
We might view the incident with Pussy Riot as anti-religion. It might be anti-fundamentalism, but it’s not anti-religion. Madonna wrongly thought she was supporting the cause of the band by writing the group’s name on her back and stomping on a cross while on stage at a performance in Russia. Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN, who are anti-religion, misrepresented their support as well by cutting a cross in half with a chainsaw. I myself thought that Pussy Riot did not have an ounce of righteousness in them, but I misunderstood. The people who support the Free Pussy Riot movement might have different perceptions of the band’s motives and goals, but they all agree on one thing—the severity of their punishment was unjust.
Besides reading the news articles, I have read what the women in the band had to say. I read their lyrics and their letters. I was impressed. It wasn’t just their intellect that interested me, or the way they articulated their thoughts, but it was the irony that these women talked more about Christ than Russia’s Patriarch Kiril.
On March 24, Patriarch Kiril delivered a speech that said,
“These days we are observing Lent. The devil has had a good laugh over us, having brought us so many sorrows in the days when we should be distancing ourselves from worldly worries, when we should be deep in prayer, observing Lent, confessing our own sins. But perhaps the Lord is making us go through such tribulations in the holy days of Lent so that we all become conscious of our responsibility for our land, for Holy Russia, and for the Orthodox faith. For the Orthodox believer this sense of responsibility is expressed primarily through fervent prayer to God. These other people do not believe in the power of prayer. They only believe in the power of propaganda, lies and slander, in the power of the Internet, in the power of media, in the power of money and weapons. We believe in the power of prayer. And I urge the entire Russian Church to pray fervently and diligently about our country, about our faith, about our people, so that the Lord will absolve us of our sins and once again fill us with His grace, strengthen us with the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit, so that, having gone through temptations, we have emerged from them cleansed, stronger, and capable of arranging our future in conformity with God’s commandments and human conscience.”
Pussy Riot responded by saying,
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Your Holiness, Patriarch-
A fervent and sincere prayer can never be a mockery, no matter in what form it occurs, therefore it cannot be said that we jeered at, or mocked, the shrine.
We are plagued by the thought that the very shrine, which you consider so defiled, is inseparably linked to Putin, who in very words, brought it back to the Church. And because the [sic] of our prayer, asking our Holy Mother to drive out those who defile the brightest ideals of human life in Russia and all possible precepts of the Orthodox Faith, you are perceived as a mockery of the sacred.
In prayer it is evoked that, as millions of Christians were seriously grieved that you allowed the Church to become a weapon in a dirty campaign of dirty intrigues, urging the faithful to vote for a man whose crimes are infinitely far from God’s Truth. We simply cannot believe the representative of the Heavenly Father if he acts contrary to the values for which Christ was crucified on the cross. As said by Pushkin, “ It is impossible to pray for King Herod; the Mother of God forbids it.”
You were endlessly wrong in saying in your sermon that we do not believe in the power of prayer. Without belief in the power of prayer and of words, we would never have offered our prayers so desperately and fervently, in anticipation of the serve persecution that could be dealt to us and our loved ones. The repressive powers that simply waited for the right moment to take revenge on our group for our tough Civic positions we have taken with our art. The power and truth of our prayer did not shame the Faithful, for surely the faith of a true believer, as the feelings of Christ, are too deep and universal—too filled with love—to be shamed. Our prayer shamed only Putin and his henchmen, and now three women have been thrown in prison, taken away from their young children, and now daily calls for arrests and punishments are issued forth from the higher bureaucracies. It is Putin—not a believer—who, through domination and division, needs to keep the women in jail.
You say that we believe only in propaganda, the media, lies and slander, money and weapons, but we don’t have faith in any of those things, as we have no faith in anything entity equal the brute powers of King Herod. You encouraged the Russian people to vote and pray for these powers, in whose name you have tried to link with prosperity of the Russian land.
First the pervasive and false propaganda on state television wrested from the people a victory for Putin. Now, through outright falsehood opposition and detractors at least is trying to assure the people that women with young children should be kept in the custody for “for violation of the laws of the Church.” On whose side are propaganda, media, lies and slander? On whose side is the belief in money? On which side are the performers of Pussy Riot, whose lives are close to the asceticism necessary for any creative thinking? Or is the belief in money on the side of those who invested the empty values of unprecedented governmental luxury in the code of conduct for any high-ranking man? Who has faith in weapons? Perhaps those who call for the killing in the name of religious feelings? On whose side were the dozens of armed men who, shouting and wielding their weapons, commanded a raid on March 3rd, having been sent to arrest two women suspected to have been in the temple- suspected of having asked Mother of God, loudly, get rid of Putin?”
Perhaps it was the way they presented their message and the choice of venue which shocked the Christians and delighted all others into thinking they were mocking God. Both groups did not seem to see the irony in which they performed the “punk prayer” at Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow. However, I am not necessarily saying that the band claim to be Christians themselves. Certainly, some of the things they believe in I do not agree with. I cannot write them off, however, by saying that they are of the devil, which is what the patriarch was implying. I also do not condemn them for their choice of venue, now that I have a clearer picture of the possible corruption within the Russian Orthodox Church and their special connection with Putin. As a National Reviewer writer said in a follow-up article realigning his original Pussy Riot article, “the Pussy Riot girls are seeking to protest not oppression by religion but the oppression of religion by the Russian state.”
The battle between all that Pussy Riot represents and Putin’s network does not necessarily belong in the same arena with the conflict between atheists or feminists and Christianity. Therefore, the cross stomping/halving misrepresents what the whole thing is about. If anything, the misconstruing of the intent of the band’s protest is a representation of how tense and in the forefront the issues between liberal and conservative Christians—gay marriages, abortion, traditional views and roles of women, etc—happen to be at this very moment. Scandals involving those issues happen every day within America. More than anything, corruption was at the center of the Pussy Riot protest. It doesn’t seem like Pussy Riot’s international supporters really understand that. Many people jump to the conclusion that Pussy Riot must have been oppressed by religion itself, because perhaps that is how these observers from afar personally feel about religion. We all usually have the tendency to have our beliefs polarized by supporting what we think already supports our belief—not to mention projecting and applying specific connotations and intents to radical actions taken by others. Many seem to have perceived that Pussy Riot, by performing seemingly anti-God statements in a church, were espousing and enacting an anti-religious agenda. What happened to our keen sense of irony detection?
So, if someone wants to “free Pussy Riot,” as the movement touts, then he or she must also believe in the band’s true, unadulterated cause, and not an incorrectly interpreted general anti-religious sentiment. He or she must believe that corruption must end. Of course, the band, through their “hooligan” antics (they were actually ultimately charged with hooliganism) of disrupting a church service, has lent to this sentiment that they are anti-religion, but if we believe their claim that the church is corrupt and under sway of a corrupt official, Putin, then really the “attack” on conservatism and religion should not be the issue. If supporters of the FPR movement wanted to do their part, they would be doing research on the corruption of Putin and his relationship with the church that was protested. And they should then do their part to try and seek his removal from office. I’m not exactly sure how international supporters could do this, but that’s really the most logical reaction—along with speaking out to free or lessen the severity of the band members’ punishment. If Putin is using people’s faith in the church and paying the church to sway votes in his direction, then action should be taken, and PR’s message and freedom should be supported.
Below is a video put together by The Guardian with the band’s new single, “Putin Lights Up the Fires.”