Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on Saturday dismissed his expert on art and restoration for obstructing the transfer of a historic 15th-century Trinity icon to the Church from a Moscow museum.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided that the icon be handed over to the Church from Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery because of its importance to believers, the Kremlin said this week.
Archpriest Leonid Kalinin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s expert council on church art, architecture and restoration, told the Interfax news agency this week that dialogue between the museum and the church was being conducted "in good faith", after experts determined that the icon needed restoration work.
On Saturday, Patriarch Kirill decreed that Kalinin be dismissed from his post "in connection with the obstruction of bringing the icon" to Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Kalinin was also banned from the priesthood, according to the note published on the Russian Orthodox Church's website.
"Seemingly, I made some mistake," the TASS news agency quoted Kalinin as saying on Saturday.
The Church, whose conservatism Putin has espoused as part of his vision for Russia's national identity, is one of the most ardent institutional supporters of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill said last year that those who died fighting in Ukraine would be purged of their sins.
Icons are stylised, often gilded religious paintings considered sacred in Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Andrei Rublyov's Trinity, one of the holiest and most artistically important Russian icons, is thought to have been painted to honour Saint Sergius of Radonezh in Sergiyev Posad, near Moscow. It depicts three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre in the Book of Genesis, the first of the Bible.
The icon has been transferred several times during periods of internal strife.
In 1929, the authorities of the officially atheist communist Soviet Union put it in the Tretyakov Gallery. During World War Two it was put into safe storage for a time.