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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Patriarch Gives Tax Police a Patron Saint

Automatic weapons in their hands, black ski masks on their faces, big black shoes on their feet, they bust into schools and offices of media groups and oil companies alike. For many a Russian businessman, they are the ultimate scare.

But don't think nothing is sacred to them, because now something is. As of this week, the 40,000-plus Kalashnikov-wielding tax policemen have their very own personal saint: Apostle Matthew.

Patriarch Alexy II on Wednesday formally declared Matthew, who was a tax collector before he met Jesus, the official patron saint of the tax police. This is the first time the Russian Orthodox Church has formally appointed a patron saint of a government structure.

The saint, Alexy said at a service at the Church of St. Cosmas and St. Damian, will be the divine source for the tax police's "strength to serve the Fatherland."

The choice of a saint is somewhat ironic. As a tax collector, Matthew was automatically considered a sinner and an outcast in first-century Israel. Then when he met Christ, he "arose and followed him." Or so it goes in the Gospel according to Matthew, the first of four in the Bible.

"I think it is wonderful the Russian tax police will embrace Christ. It is high time for repentance and moral cleansing in the tax police in specific, and in the whole state bureaucracy in general," Ariel Cohen, a senior Russia analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said sarcastically. "But they have to be careful not to follow the steps of their patron saint, because St. Matthew abandoned his vocation and left his job as a tax collector and under went a career change. He became one of the most famous religious writers."

"The danger, of course, is that all of them will recognize they have sinned and they will en masse resign from the tax police," Cohen said.

"However, knowing the unfortunate habit of many in the tax police to take bribes, it will not lack in volunteers to replace those who may resign."

Yury Tretyakov of the tax police press service said although he does not expect the apostle to "assist or save" the tax policemen, he hopes the saint will help them get closer to God.

"Everyone must find his own way to God, heh-heh," Tretyakov said by telephone, with a sudden nervous chuckle.

Also on Wednesday, Alexy II named the Church of St. Cosmas and St. Damian — a small building dwarfed by the tax police's tinted-glass office building next door — the house church for the tax police. There is further irony in the choice of church, since the saints after whom it is named were martyrs and unmercenary people, or those who are above taking money.

But the tax police officials, apparently, see nothing funny in this.

"Martyrs and Unmercenaries is the full name," Tretyakov said solemnly. "It is our house church now."

Both Tretyakov and Viktor Malukhin, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's external department, said the idea to have a patron saint and a house church was "mutual."

"People of a certain profession who do not have heavenly patrons are keen on getting one," Malukhin said in a telephone interview Thursday. "These are usually the saints who, in their earthly life, were in the same business as the people who seek the assistance of these saints."

For example, Malukhin said, the Russian military consider St. George, a Roman fighter, their patron saint, while Russian seamen say they enjoy the heavenly patronage of St. Nicholas — a bishop of Myrrha in Lycia, who is believed to have saved a ship in a storm by pacifying the sea through his prayers.

The relation between vocation and a saint is sometimes based on sheer date coincidence. For example, the Strategic Missile Forces considers St. Barbara the Martyr to be its saint simply because the force was created on Nov. 19, St. Barbara's Day.