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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Priest Murdered in Village in the Urals

Thieves killed a priest on the eve of Russian Orthodox Christmas and stole religious artworks from his church in an attack senior clergymen said showed society was "morally sick."

The murder in the Ural Mountains was the second violent death of an Orthodox clergyman in two months. The previous death triggered a bout of national soul-searching about what commentators called the erosion of moral values in Russia.

Prosecutors said two suspects had been detained over the latest attack, which took place in the village of Neivo-Shaitansky on Saturday night. Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas Day on Jan. 7.

"The murder of any person is always a tragedy ... but the murder of a priest during the Christmas holidays goes beyond the boundaries of good and evil," Vladimir Vigilyansky, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox church in Moscow, told NTV television.

"This is a diagnosis for our society that our society is sick, morally sick, and we should all draw conclusions from this," he said.

Detectives said they believed the thieves killed the priest, named by Russian media as Oleg Stupichkin, a father of four, and then tried to set fire to the church to cover up their crime.

Twenty-one icons -- which can fetch high prices on the antiques market -- were missing from the church. Two icons were found on the suspects and the rest were found in a nearby graveyard, said prosecutors.

"Two [local] residents were detained on suspicion of murder," Mikhail Savchin, deputy prosecutor for the Sverdlovsk region, told NTV.

In December, Russian media gave blanket coverage to the death in a fire of priest Andrei Nikolayev, his wife and their three children.

Police investigating that incident, in the Tver region, say they cannot rule out murder. Newspaper commentaries said Nikolayev's death was evidence of the country's moral decline.

Vladimir Yakunin, the head of Russia's railways, who some see as a possible successor to Putin, has spoken often about the need for Russia to develop a national identity based on spiritual faith and moral values.