Church alarmed by military conscription of clergy:ROC official

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Moscow, Apr 10 (UNI) Drawing parallels with Soviet-era mass persecution of the Orthodox clergy, a senior Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) official has expressed concern over the planned military conscription of over 100 clergymen this year.

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 of Moscow Patriarchy told RIA Novosti news agency 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,'' Father Smirnov said.

Other church officials have also criticised 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 reintroduce 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 wartorn Chechen Republic.

Russia is trying without any success so far to move from conscription to a professional army and make military service more attractive.

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