A village priest has been killed by thieves after Christmas Eve services marked by the Russian Orthodox Church on 6 January 2007, in the second violent death of a cleric to shake the church in just over a month - Sophia Kishkovsky of Ecumenical News International.
"Unfortunately in recent years such cynicism and cruelty in regards to clergymen has already occurred, which is evidence of the moral degradation of society," wrote Patriarch Alexei II in a letter of condolence to Archbishop Vikenty of the Yekaterinburg diocese, in which Rev Oleg Stupichkin who was killed, served. The letter was posted on the Moscow Patriarchate's Web site, www.patriarhia.ru 
Police said they have arrested two suspects, both unemployed local residents with criminal records and in their early 30s, and that they recovered some of the 21 icons that were stolen, which one senior cleric said had little worth.
Stupichkin, the rector of the church of Saints Peter and Paul, which was being restored in the village of Neivo-Shaitanskoye, was killed after thieves posing as worshippers asked to speak to him.
Instead they proceeded to take icons off the wall and attacked the priest after he tried to intervene. After killing him they tried to set him on fire with candle oil to cover up the crime. The village is near Alapayevsk, where relatives of Tsar Nicholas II were brutally killed after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.
In December, the Rev Andrei Nikolayev, rector of a village church in the Tver Oblast (province) died with his wife and three children after their house burned down in a mysterious fire. Nikolayev had asked before his death for protection from thieves who plagued his church.
Stupichkin, who was aged 40, is survived by his wife and four children. He was killed during a holiday period that for many Russians turns into a prolonged drinking binge, and often ends tragically.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International (www.eni.ch ) is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]