City Officials “Hijack” Christmas Service in Kazakhstan: Worshipers “Bewildered”

Kazakhstan: Lampooned Priests Raise Hell Over Jesus Cartoon

ICC Note:

Orthodox Christians in Kazakhstan, who celebrate Christmas in early January, had their Christmas services interrupted by city officials. Two bureaucrats, from the office of the Mayor, made the church goers line up along the carpet as they swept in and delivered a message from an elevated pulpit reserved for Priests. To add insult to injury, an article was later published along with a cartoon insulting to Orthodox Christians. Christians and priests have raised an outcry in response.

By Joanna Lillis

01/25/2013 Kazakhstan (EN) -A caricature poking fun at Orthodox Christian priests and the powers that be has sparked an outcry in Kazakhstan, a country that markets itself as a bastion of religious tolerance.

The offending cartoon appeared in the Russian-language Megapolis broadsheet on January 14, illustrating an article called “Christmas Surprise” that recounted how Astana city officials hijacked the Russian Orthodox Christmas service at the Church of the Holy Assumption in the capital. (Orthodox Christmas is marked on January 7.)

“Bewildered” worshippers were forced to line up along a red carpet to welcome officials from the office of Astana Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov, while “church officials scurried about here and there and fussed around, waiting for the arrival of the important guests,” the article recounted.

After being given the red carpet treatment, the two bureaucrats were taken to the ambo, a special part of the church from which sermons are read (out of bounds to ordinary worshippers). From there, they read out a message from Tasmagambetov, a high-profile politician sometimes tipped as a future president.

“What was this? Some sort of political event, or still a church holiday?” one annoyed worshipper asked.

To illustrate such sentiments, Megapolis published the cartoon showing a porky priest telling a meek-looking Jesus wearing a crown of thorns: “Citizen, free up the ambo or I’ll call the riot police!”

Church officials were quick to take offense. “The article and the caricature have had negative repercussions in the Orthodox community,” Bishop Gennadiy of Kaskelen (near Almaty) told a news conference on January 23.

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