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Moscow Archpriest Dismissed by Russian Orthodox Church for ‘Obstruction’ of Trinity Icon Transfer

Moscow, Russia – In a surprising turn of events, Archpriest Leonid Kalinin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s expert council on church art, architecture, and restoration, has been dismissed by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. 

The dismissal comes as a result of Kalinin’s alleged obstruction of the transfer of a historic 15th-century Trinity icon from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow to the Church.

Patriarch Kirill made an announcement on Saturday stating that Kalinin would be relieved of his position due to his involvement in hindering the transportation of an icon to Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. As per the information released on the Russian Orthodox Church’s website, Kalinin has also been prohibited from serving as a priest.

The controversy surrounding the transfer of the Trinity icon began when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided that the revered artwork should be handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church due to its significant religious importance. The Kremlin announced this decision earlier this week, sparking a heated debate between the Church and the museum.

Archpriest Kalinin, who served as an expert on art and restoration, had been tasked with overseeing the transfer process. However, it seems that his handling of the situation has drawn criticism from the Church authorities, leading to his dismissal.  

“Seemingly, I made some mistake,” the TASS news agency quoted Kalinin as saying on Saturday.   

The dismissal of Archpriest Kalinin has sent shockwaves through the Russian Orthodox community and the art world. Many are questioning the motivations behind the Church’s decision and whether it was justified.  

The Church, which aligns with Putin’s conservative ideology for shaping Russia’s national identity, strongly supports Russia’s war in Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill expressed last year that those who lost their lives in the conflict would be absolved of their sins.

Icons are revered religious paintings in Eastern Orthodox Churches, often characterized by stylized and gilded depictions.

Andrei Rublyov’s Trinity, considered one of the most sacred and artistically significant Russian icons, was believed to have been created in honor of Saint Sergius of Radonezh in Sergiyev Posad, near Moscow. The icon portrays three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, as described in the Book of Genesis, marking the beginning of the Bible.

Throughout turbulent periods, the icon has been relocated multiple times.

In 1929, during the atheist Soviet Union regime, it was placed in the Tretyakov Gallery. For a period during World War Two, it was safely stored away.

The Tretyakov Gallery, one of Moscow’s most prestigious art museums, has long been recognized for its collection of Russian religious art. The decision to transfer the Trinity icon from the gallery to the Church has sparked a wider debate about the separation of church and state in Russia and the role of religious institutions in the preservation of cultural artifacts.

The Russian Orthodox Church has not yet announced who will replace Archpriest Kalinin as the head of the expert council on church art, architecture, and restoration. It remains to be seen how this change in leadership will impact the ongoing discussions between the Church and the Tretyakov Gallery regarding the transfer and restoration of the Trinity icon.

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