Russian Orthodox Church spar with protesters over cathedral handover

The Orthodox Church in Russia faced off over the weekend with thousands of protesters who are against the handover of a famous cathedral in St. Petersburg to the powerful church.

(REUTERS / Peter Kovalev / STRINGER / RUSSIA)People attend a religious service commemorating victims of a Russian airliner which crashed in Egypt, at St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia November 8, 2015.

On Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets of Saint Petersburg to protest against the handover of St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church after decades as a famous tourist attraction and museum. There are some locals who say the city should have consulted the public first before deciding to hand over a known tourist attraction to the church, AFP details.

St . Isaac's Cathedral has been run as a Museum of Atheism, which charges a certain fee for entry, but some religious services are also being held in the church. Tourists are known to climb on top of the cathedral's roof to see the view.

On Sunday, around 400 clerics and churchgoers participated in a procession around St. Isaac's while carrying crosses. MP Vitaly Milonov, one of the participants, said maintaining the church's status as a museum is "an infringement on the rights of believers." Galina Raiskaya, 57, agreed and said the place is a "house of prayer."

Later, around 2,500 people who were protesting against the handover circled St. Isaac's while chanting "Museum! Museum!" They also held placards bearing statements about Russia being a secular country. Natalya Gorokhova, 50, said the Church is just a bunch of "parasites" who only want money.

In a statement to TASS last month, Yelene Gagarina, the Director of the Moscow Kremlin Museums, said St. Isaac's should still welcome tourists even after the handover to the Orthodox Church. She also said the church, the Culture Ministry, and the museum should agree on rules about tourist visits to the site.

For instance, Gagarina said the museum has worked closely with the church in maintenance, restoration and church activities. She also said they only allow 200 people to enter the cathedral at a time, and these rules have been followed for many years.

After the church handover was announced, protests mushroomed across the city. More than 200,000 signatures have also been collected in a petition against the St. Isaac's Cathedral handover to the Russian Orthodox Church.

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