Cradle of restitution

St. Petersburg authorities have decided to transfer the St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. 
State Monument Museum St. Isaac's Cathedral will be given for free unlimited use of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The fact that this decision is "in agreement with the Patriarch" Kirill is final, said Tuesday the governor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko. In this summer of 2015, Mr. Poltavchenko rejected a similar request of the Russian Orthodox Church, citing the economic unreasonableness of transfer of the cathedral to the Church. Petersburg MPs from the opposition factions are going to organize a protest coalition to put pressure on the city's authorities and prevent the transfer of the museum. The St. Petersburg diocese of the ROC emphasizes that the  transfer may last up to six years.

St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko on Tuesday officially announced that Isaac's Cathedral will be handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church. As explained to Kommersant the spokesman for Governor Andrey Kibitov, the Cathedral will be given for free use and unlimited time to the ROC, while the duty to maintain the cathedral shall be the ROC's liability. In addition, the cathedral retains its cultural and educational function. "Isaac's Cathedral contains a large number of listed items, many of which are inseparable from the cathedral. The transfer of these objects is a long process that requires coordination of the Ministry of Culture and the signing of an agreement with the ROC. The fate of the exhibition objects currently located in St. Isaac's Cathedra, will be decided on an individual basis," said Mr. Kibitov. In reply to the question on what basis did Georgy Poltavchenko decide to transfer the cathedral and whether there was a corresponding application filed by the Church, he promised to answer in the near future, noting that the governor "has an agreement with the patriarchate and the patriarch."

As a reminder: the St. Petersburg archdiocese first asked the city authorities to transfer the St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Church's gratuitous use in the summer of 2015. The Church's appel caused protest from the cultural community and the opposition deputies of the Parliament of St. Petersburg, who unsuccessfully tried to bring the issue to a city-wide referendum. As a result, the governor refused to hand over the cathedral church, citing the economic unreasonableness of such a decision. In the spring of 2016 the refusal of the city authorities were challenged in court by the activists of the public organization Fund of Revival of Christian Values: Holy League of St. George. They failed. The representative of the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Petersburg Metropolia Information Center, Natalia Rodomanova, then told Kommersant that the archdiocese had nothing to do with the lawsuit and didn't see the claim. 

The director of GMF St. Isaac's Cathedral, Nikolay Burovn, has repeatedly stressed that the catherdral is the third most visited museum in Russia and the only one that does not receive subsidies from the budget. The turnover of the museum, according to him, is 650 million rubles, of which about 200 million spent on the restoration, and another 50-70 million rubles are taxes paid to the city.

In the legislative assembly of St. Petersburg, the opposition MPs Maxim Reznik (Party of growth), Alexet Kovalev (Fair Russia), Boris Vishnevsky and Mikhail Amosov (Yabloko) intend to create a coalition of protest and prevent the transfer of the St. Isaac's Cathedral. "Transfer of the cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church is exclusively for commercial purposes. Now the funds earned by the museum are spent on its restoration. When Isaac is given to the church, there will be no normal repairs," Mr Kovalev said to Kommersant. Boris Vishnevsky said that the public has not yet been provided with any assurances that the ROC will be able to really keep Isaac's Cathedral. "It is better to force the Governor to resign than to take the cathedral away from the city," concludes Maxim Reznik.

The transfer of the cathedral is "historical justice", said on Tuesday the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the St. Petersburg diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archpriest Alexander Pelin. "It occured in the year, associated by many with the 100th anniversary of the revolution. The return of the cathedral will be a tribute to all those residents of St. Petersburg, who gave their lives during the bloody repression," he said. The very procedure of transfer, according to Mr. Pelin, can take up to six years. He stressed that the prohibition of the city's authorities to trasnfer the cathedral in 2015 was illegal.