Look at big fat Father Sergiy with his big rosy cheeks, bathing smugly in the Lord's all-encompasing glory as he thinks about another chocolate biscuit, or maybe about reciting a psalm. But just because he looks like a hill in a cassock, don't be fooled, as Sergiy is Moscow's first Holy Father of Fury, and not someone to fuck with. In his teenage years, before God found him, Sergiy Rybko led a grassroots anti-Soviet terror unit against the old communist government, before being steered toward a hippie sect that sent him traipsing across the desert, where he was nearly killed by the Muslim gurus he'd come to visit.
But after stints squatting out at New World Order camps in Estonia and Latvia, he turned his attentions to the final taboo of the Soviet Union, religion, and has today built up a sizeable Orthodox empire that caters to the religious needs of young bikers, punks and rockers across the Russian Federation. His mission: to get sub-par black metal bands piously digging the scriptures for a bit of spiritual emancipation.
Father Sergiy invited me down to Lazorevskoe, his flagship church in the north part of central Moscow (where both Dostoevsky's mother and Russia's first female fighter pilot are buried), to shoot the shit over a few cups of tea and some almond chocolate fingers.
Inside the chapel there's nothing particularly surprising: lots of gold religious icons and gangs of nuns sweetly singing hymns. But in the gift shop round the side there's a little more evidence of the Pope-rock revolution in the Orthodox biker bandannas for sale.
Father Sergiy's earliest memories are of being a bored and under-fed teenager in the early 1970s. "I lived 40km outside of Moscow, times were tough. I had to get up early three times a week and walk for three hours to get into a long queue just to buy a loaf of bread. I'd been brought up a communist so I never questioned it – I remember genuinely thinking that the West was this rotten thing that was determined to conquer Russia."
"At the time, I knew nothing of the outside world. But slowly materials started slipping through. Books were a rare commodity, especially those of a political or philosophical nature. I managed to get hold of a philosophical dictionary and there was a whole page on anarchy, laid out in the simplest terms. Around the same time I got hold of a magazine with an article about the hippie movements taking place in the West. The journalist wasn't allowed to say anything positive about them because of state-imposed sanctions, but there was so much subtext. I read between the lines and realised the world outside was a freer, more honest place. In my youthful innocence and anger I formed the Anarchy Terror Squad to try and liberate ourselves from our own oppression."
The Anarchy Terror Squad, average age 17, only managed to carry out one act of terror in the end. Sneaking down to the council offices after dark, they threw a brick through a window they'd first wallpapered with honey-plastered newspaper (to prevent the glass from smashing loudly and drawing attention to them), climbed in and stole a type-writer. That might sound quite quaint as far as terrorism goes, but at that time all typewriters in the USSR were individually registered with the KGB, and by the morning the secret service were after them with sniffer dogs and assault rifles.
"We were smart, we walked all around town all night, up trees, under bushes, just to put the dogs off our scent. Then we found an abandoned shed and buried the typewriter beneath the floorboards. Then we forgot about it for two months until the KGB had given up their search."
Perhaps not grasping not only the unfeasibility of their scheme but also the consequences they would face if busted for their revolutionary activities (anyone for a holiday in the gulags?), the ATS typed up an anarchist manifesto on their new acquisition, which they then distributed around town. It called for supporters to join them in confronting the government and demanding the rights to set up an Autonomous Anarchist Republic. In their crackpot vision of utopia, Sergiy and his ilk planned to inaugurate a lawless state deep in the Altai Mountains, where there would be no power or authority. People would live off the land in a state of pure libertinism.
Having amassed a sizable group of followers, the ATS planned a second terror attack – the stoning and raiding of the West German embassy. Their proposed attack against the capitalist-aligned West Germany was provoked by the country's recent capture of some East German Red Army Faction terrorist. I guess the fact that the RAF were communists (the ATS' own supposed enemy) didn't occur to Sergiy, but whatever – fight the power!
A week before the attack, another Sergiy by the name of Moskalev got hold of one of the ATS' pamphlets. Moskalev, a Russian hippie who went on to become a futurologist in the Yeltsin government, tracked down Father Sergiy and swayed him from his anarchism. "It was lucky Moskalev turned up when he did," grins the father, "we were just young punks causing trouble and were very close to getting caught. He was the one who showed me how to be more productive with my quest for freedom."
"He said that all politics was filth and it was only through the spirit we could be free. If you'd asked me what I thought of God around that time, I probably would have told you he was just some bearded dude sitting on a bench somewhere. Though I was a long way off Christianity, Moskalev was the first person to open me up the possibility of spirituality. So I called off the Embassy raid and decided to join his hippie movement instead."
Still fixated on the idea of forming a free republic somewhere out in the Altai, Sergiy started to obsess over the communes he'd heard of in the Kathmandu Valley, as well as the mystic Islam school of Sufism. He and his new hippie gang decided to go on a pilgrimage to central Asia in the hope of finding a Sufi who would show them the path to enlightenment. After playing stowaway on a freight train through Kyrgyzstan, being kicked off halfway and being forced to drag himself through the desert for several days – hitchhiking with camel riders and being chased out of every town by local KGB agents – Father Sergiy finally found himself in Uzbekistan.
"We found this old beautiful mosque and there was an old Muslim man asleep at its steps. We felt like after coming all this way we had truly arrived, that we were on the brink of a discovery. When we approached him he woke and his face become distorted with anger and fear. He drew a sword on us and a few minutes later him and a gang of his Sufi mates chased us away while screaming. This was the moment when I realised what I complete idiot I was."
As Father Sergiy pours himself another cup of green tea, he spouts another fun combination of words: "I met a builder near the Caspian Sea who was into philosophy and was translating the Kama Sutra as a hobby." This builder, whose name Sergiy can't recall, sent them in the direction of the first hippie assembly of 1978, taking place in Vitropia in Estonia. When they go there they were faced with hippiedom as we better remember it in the West: drunk, fucked up idiots swinging their dicks and titties about as a means of liberation in their bug-infested freedom camps.
"Of course the police shut us down there eventually too, though it was all a bit of a farce. They filled a train carriage full of hippies and sent them bound for prison in St. Petersburg. The carriage was flanked by two KGB agents but at every stop along the way, two hippies would lock themselves in the toilet and climb out of the tiny window to escape. The police didn't seem to care, and apparently the last hippie to leave, just before reaching St. Petersburg, actually shook their hands and wished them farewell before heading to the toilet and turning the lock."
Sergiy kept living in hippie communes, illegally self-producing anti-communist propaganda, but left in 1980, just before a sweep of mass arrests. "The leader of our circle’s grandfather turned out to be a KGB chief. He informed on the lot of us."
He got a job working as a bell ringer in a local church, which his devoutly communist parents were not at all happy with. Sergiy excitedly shows me how he adapted the Sunday worship bell-call to incorporate Slayer metal drumming and says this was the moment he realised what he must do next.
He got ordained and started preaching the gospel to punks and metal-heads – the kids in which he most recognised a desire for truth. After setting up the Bob Marley Orthodox Culture Centre in Moscow, Sergiy started spreading the word of the Lord through hosting rock shows, running martial arts fight clubs and his very successful "Sobriety Club".
Unsurprisingly, at first he pissed off pretty much every Christian in the city, but slowly a few of the less conservative priests are coming round to his schemes and he was recently given an award for his good deeds to Moscow’s youth. But Sergiy’s dream doesn’t stop there. "After Russia, I’m going to headline Wembly arena. That’s my dream. And after that, I’m going to go to Harlem, set up a church and stay there until someone shoots me."
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