Terror and Deaths at Moscow Theatre Leaves Orthodox Leaders Indignant

Nov 13, 2002 03:00 AM EST

During the Moscow theatre crisis in which Chechen separatists terrorized about 800 hostages, Christians and Muslims prayed together for their release. But the siege that resulted in the deaths of 119 hostages have left Christianity and Islam in Russia deeply divided and Orthodox church leaders angry.

Thanksgiving services "for the release from captivity" on October 26 were celebrated in Russian Orthodox churches around the world after the siege was ended when a narcotic gas pumped into the theatre subdued the captors and allowed special forces to take control of the building. The number of people who died in the siege was not known immediately afterwards. Only later did it become clear that the death toll was due mainly to the effects of the narcotic gas used to disable the hostage-takers.

At an Orthodox memorial service "for those who perished in the city of Moscow," the Chechen captors were singled out as "unholy Hagarians," an archaic Slavonic church term to describe Muslims. Yet the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II, had emphasized that all Russian religious institutions, including Muslim ones, were united in their condemnation of terrorists. "Terrorists have neither nationality, nor religious roots," he said. "Terrorists cannot use religious slogans as a cover."

Russian Muslim leaders received by President Putin on October 24 had condemned the terrorists. "I think that all reasonable Russians are perfectly aware that terrorists first of all harm their own people," said Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia. "Religion has nothing to do with this. The hostage-takers pursued political, not religious aims."

Some people read special significance into the timing of the recapture of the theatre by government agents on the day the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the icon of Our Lady of Iberia--one of the patrons of the city of Moscow and of the Caucasus.

By Albert H. Lee
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