March 20, 2023

A former Russian Orthodox monk, who denied that the coronavirus existed and defied the Kremlin, was handed a seven-year prison sentence Friday.

Nikolai Romanov, 67, who was known as Father Sergiy until his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church, urged his followers to disobey the Russian government’s lockdown measures and spread conspiracy theories about a global plot to control the masses.

A court in Moscow convicted him of inciting hatred. His lawyer immediately announced plans to appeal.

Video shared by the Ostorozhno Novosti Telegram news channel showed bailiffs placing Romanov inside a glass defendants’ box. Supporters of Romanov shouted words of encouragement after the verdict was announced and the former monk could be seen baptizing his followers from the class cage, according to the video.

Russia Rebel Monk
Nikolai Romanov, a monk known as Father Sergiy until he was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church, baptizes those present in the hall from behind a glass cage during his trial in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. 

Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

Romanov served as a police officer during Soviet times, but after quitting the ranks was convicted of murder, robbery and assault and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He became a monk after his release.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, he denied its existence and denounced government efforts to stem the pandemic as “Satan’s electronic camp.” He spread long-debunked conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and described the vaccines developed against the virus as part of a global plot to control the masses via microchips.

The monk chastised President Vladimir Putin as a “traitor to the Motherland” who was serving a Satanic “world government,” and denounced the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, and other top clerics as “heretics” who must be “thrown out.”

Romanov urged followers to disobey the government’s lockdown measures and holed up at a monastery near Yekaterinburg that he founded. He had dozens of burly military veterans enforce his rules while the prioress and several nuns left.

The Russian Orthodox Church stripped Romanov of his abbot’s rank for breaking monastic rules and later excommunicated him, but he rejected the rulings. Facing stiff resistance by hundreds of his supporters, church officials and local authorities hesitated for months until finally moving to evict Romanov and detain him.

Romanov has been in custody since his arrest in December 2020. In November 2021, he was given a 3½-year sentence after being convicted of inciting suicidal actions through sermons in which he urged believers to “die for Russia,” and breaching freedom of conscience, accusations he denied. The seven-year sentence will run concurrently with the previous sentence.

After his 2020 arrest, Reuters reported that 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).”

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