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The three women face criminal charges for “hooliganism.” The language of both state officials and the prosecution has been more moralistic than legal.

“This is only the small, visible tip of an iceberg of extremists,” Mikhail Kuznetsov, a lawyer representing church security guards, said in an interview with the newspaper Moscow News on Thursday. “They are aiming to destroy the thousand-year-old traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church, to provoke a schism, and to deceivingly bring the flock not towards God, but towards Satan.”