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MOSCOW, Russia -- The march of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had all signs of being a satirical stunt – some of its 100 participants were armed with colanders on their heads and pasta in their mouths.
But the reaction of Russian authorities to so-called Pastafarians has been anything but lighthearted.
Police and members of a Russian Orthodox group set upon the group last Saturday, knocking some to the ground. Eight members of the church were detained and subsequently charged with organizing an unsanctioned rally. Although those detained have since been released, they are due back in court before the end of August.
Pastafarians are part of an international 'religious' movement founded in the U.S. in 2005 in opposition to the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. It has become an international movement, generally recognized as satirical poke at organized religion. But its adherents insist that it’s a 'real religion' and the dogma they follow is the rejection of dogma. They claim to have 15,000 adherents in Russia.
Aside from demonstrating how some Muscovites may not appreciate the Pastafarians’ sense of humor, the recent crackdown reveals just how close Russia’s Orthodox Church and state agencies have become in what was once an officially atheist nation.
Famously, members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot were given two-year sentences for their anti-Putin action in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012.
Alexei Romanov, a member of the Pastafarian Church, called the move and subsequent legal proceedings against it “absurd.”
“The country is gradually turning into an authoritarian state,” he said.
Romanov’s fellow Pastafarians are falling victim to a recently introduced law that bans insulting the religious feelings of believers.
This time members of an unregistered Orthodox Christian group who call themselves “God’s Will,” called the police when they found out about the procession, according to Romanov.
They accused the spaghetti worshipers of insulting the religious feelings of believers – an accusation that, if found to be true by a court of law, can have mean up to three years in jail.
God's Will’s founder, Dmitry Enteo, posted on his Twitter feed that “Pastafarianism is a blasphemous smear against Christianity.”
The Moscow police could not comment on the detainment of the Pastafarians when approached by NBC News, saying that they can only comment on the day of detainment.
A lawyer of the detained Pastafarians, Ilnur Sharapov, said that the police response of detaining members after being alerted by the Orthodox Christian activists, was very suspicious, because the police had ignored the Pastafarian gathering until they were urged by the God's Will activists to arrest them.
He also said that God's Will’s activities were "increasingly criminal" and his organization, Agora, had looked into multiple cases of threats and attacks by members of the group. Despite this, God's Will's activities have gone unpunished.
This comes amid growing closeness between the Russian Orthodox Church and the government under President Vladimir Putin.
"We act as genuine partners and colleagues to solve the most pressing domestic and international tasks, to implement joint initiatives for the benefit of our country and people," Putin said at a rare meeting with top Orthodox clerics in July.
After having been suppressed for decades under communism, the church has become one of Russia’s most powerful institutions, imposing its social mores onto society.
Recently, the increasingly powerful head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, voiced dislike of the openly gay community in Russia.
“The legal acceptance of same-sex marriages is a ‘sign of the apocalypse,’” he said in July.
The Russian government has in turn introduced controversial new laws that ban “homosexual propaganda” to minors and foreign single-sex couples from adopting Russian children.
Against this background, the Pastafarians, who maintain that their goal is to promote “happiness, cheerfulness and harmlessness,” await a court hearing on charges of organizing an unsanctioned demonstration in the capital.