Putin hails Church 'natural partner' for Kremlin

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin hailed the Russian Orthodox Church as a "natural partner" of the Kremlin in a two-hour film aired on national television, extolling the church's resurgence after its repression under Soviet rule.

"In the most critical moments of our history, our people looked upon their roots, the moral foundations, the religious values," Putin said in the nearly two-hour film called "The Second Baptism of Russia."

Putin, who was interviewed for the film along with Patriarch Kirill and various high-ranking members of the Church, said the church naturally filled the "moral vacuum" after the Soviet Union fell apart.

"It was a natural rebirth of the Russian people," he said.

"We have a lot of lines of cooperation between the Church and the state," he said, calling the Church a "natural partner of the state" and a "factor of unity between people" on the territory of former USSR.

The film, made by the publicity department of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that Russia builds 1,000 churches in the world every year, something "unprecedented in the history of Christianity" and ended by showing an image of Earth with bright rays of light coming out of countries where the church has a presence.

Observers have noted the increasing ties of the Russian state and the Orthodox Church under Patriarch Kirill over the past year, with state television news frequently covering religious holidays and the Patriarch's speeches.

Last December Putin said in his state of the union address that Russia was lacking "spiritual bonds" and traditional values, quoting a previous sermon of the Patriarch, who called religion "the only spiritual bond" in society.

The film, aired late Monday on state-owned national Rossiya channel, offered a historical perspective of Soviet persecution of the church before going into its expansion under Patriarch Kirill.

It exemplified Russia, where thousands of churches opened in the "era that the West, where churches are closing, calls a post-Christian era" and made a jab at the "liberal part of Russian society" that "is irritated by the position of the Church."

Many in Russia have protested against increasingly traditionalist policies and the spread of religion into schools, where Orthodox priests now teach a course on "Orthodox culture."

After several young women of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot staged a performance protesting the Church's increasing involvement in politics under Putin, the president accused them of "undermining the moral foundations" of Russia and hailed their two-year jail sentence.