- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

MOSCOW — The Russian Orthodox Church has unfrocked a priest for “marrying” two homosexual men, purportedly in return for a $475 bribe to ignore a ban on same-sex “weddings.”

Denis Gogolyev and Mikhail Morozov, who live in Nizhny Novgorod, 280 miles east of Moscow, took part in a hastily arranged ceremony this week.

After a full Orthodox wedding ceremony, Father Vladimir, a local priest, pronounced the pair “man and spouse” and placed gold rings on their fingers.

Mr. Gogolyev and Mr. Morozov told local reporters that they had approached the priest because they suspected he might be amenable to a bribe.

“When he baptized me, he almost snatched the fee from my hand and I reckoned he must be greedy for more,” Mr. Gogolyev said.

The three sneaked into an empty chapel on Monday afternoon. The couple, beaming with joy, donned gold crowns, an Orthodox wedding tradition, and held hands. “He didn’t even frown,” Mr. Gogolyev said.

At one point, Father Vladimir paused and asked who would play the role of the man and who that of the woman. “It’s the same to us, Father, we’re both just spouses,” Mr. Gogolyev said he replied.

The church yesterday denounced the ceremony.

“Nothing of this kind has happened during the 1,000-year history of the Russian Church,” Viktor Malukhin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said yesterday.

“According to Christian teachings, marriage is a free union of a man and a woman blessed by God, while homosexuality is a sign of human nature obscured by sin,” he said.

The press service of the Nizhny Novgorod diocese issued a statement saying Father Vladimir has been expelled from the church.

“This blasphemous act cannot be considered a marriage under any circumstances,” it said.

Other denominations were swift to join in the criticism. “This is a mind-boggling crime,” the Episcopal Church said in a statement.

“This is a huge sin that will bring down the punishment of the Almighty,” said Abdussamad Khazrat, secretary of the central spiritual authority of Russia’s Muslims.

Father Vladimir, who has since claimed that he was tricked into performing the ceremony, was not available for comment.

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