20:10-09/ 04/ 2008
MOSCOW, April 9 (RIA Novosti) - A senior Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) official expressed concern on Wednesday over the planned conscription of over 100 clergymen this year, drawing parallels with Soviet-era mass persecution of the clergy.
Under a law that came into effect this year, young clergymen, seminary students, conscientious objectors and certain other groups will no longer be able to defer mandatory military service. The law was introduced in a bid to boost declining troop numbers.
Father Dmitry Smirnov, a senior Moscow Patriarchy official, said the planned conscription of 108 seminary graduates was comparable to the "[Soviet] era of persecution of the Church."
"What is a company of soldiers for our undefeatable army? Nothing, while for the Russian Orthodox Church they [100 clergymen] make up a whole diocese," Smirnov said.
Other church officials have also criticized the plans, saying the ROC Canon law does not allow clergymen to enter military service as soldiers. To join the army, members of the Church must technically be defrocked.
Moscow Patriarchy officials earlier said the decision to cancel deferment was a sign of "a disrespect for the rules and traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church," adding that clergymen should only join the army as chaplains.
The church is trying to re-introduce chaplains into Russia's armed forces in a bid to curb hazing and other crimes in military ranks.
Russia's armed forces have shrunk dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War due to a declining population and widespread draft dodging. The majority of young men avoid conscription over fears of hazing or, until recently, being sent to the war-torn Chechen Republic.
Russia is attempting, with little success so far, to move from conscription to a professional army and make military service more attractive.
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