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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yaroslavl Priest Puts Swastikas on Crosses

A local priest in the village of Vedeniye, Yaroslavl region, installed new crosses decorated with swastikas atop his church and refused to comply with his diocese leadership's demands to cover them up, NTV.ru web site reported.

According to the web site, Father Sergy, whose surname was not reported, is a former naval submarine officer who does not make a secret of his nationalist views and affiliation with Alexander Barkashov, a leader of the once high-profile paramilitary ultra-nationalist group Russian National Unity.

But Father Sergy reportedly insists the swastikas adorning his church have nothing to do with fascism, saying the so-called left-hand swastikas, whose arms are turned in a counterclockwise direction, are ancient Orthodox Christian symbols, unlike the right-hand swastika adopted as a symbol by the Nazis.

In fact, both the right-hand and left-hand swastikas have been important symbols since ancient times. The word "swastika" is derived from Sanskrit and means "conducive to well-being." The symbol was used in Mesopotamian coinage and in early Christian and Byzantine art, long before it was adopted and compromised by the Nazis.

Last year, after a complaint from the regional landmark preservation department, officials from the Yaroslavl Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church instructed Father Sergy to cover up the symbols, according to the web site. The case was also widely reported in the local press. But the priest reportedly refused to follow the orders of his superiors.

"They looked at all that is happening, at all the artificial noise that is being made about it, and asked me to cover up the signs a little bit until people mature [enough to be able to understand it]," NTV.ru quoted the priest as saying. "But how can people mature? A priest has to go first in everything."

Officials at the Yaroslavl diocese could not be reached for comment Monday. The person who answered the telephone said that it was an "old issue, many times commented about," but refused to elaborate.

Nazism and Russian National Unity have been often criticized by the Russian Orthodox Church as "occult," but various degrees of nationalism remain a strong current in the Church.