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Portrait Of A Lady

RUSSIA

But Vitaly Milonov, a conservative member of the State Duma, says that setup is demeaning to the church. "St. Isaac's is a museum with the possibility to hold occasional services," he says. "That cannot suit Christians, who are compelled to witness one of Russia's main cathedrals reduced to a trade center, a big souvenir shop, where priests are part of the show."

There voices are balanced against opponents:

The director of St. Isaac's Museum, Nikolai Burov, says he thought the issue had been satisfactorily resolved back in 1990, when a deal allowed for regular services to be held in a side-chapel of the cavernous cathedral. There are now about two such services daily, usually attended by fewer than 30 people, which don't interfere with the much larger flow of paying tourists. On major holidays, much larger services take place. "We have good relations with the local parish. Entry for worshipers and pilgrims is, of course, free. And the museum takes care of all the expenses," he says. "Until now, this arrangement has worked very well."

The author’s editorial voice emerges at this point, in the guise of “critics say:”

Critics include political activists who say the abrupt decision, made without any public consultation, must be opposed as a basic matter of civil rights. They complain that the church, which increasingly uses its influence to promote socially conservative causes such as anti-LGBT legislation or to rail against the modern status of women, is conspiring with political authorities to take over publicly loved symbols like St. Isaac's without obtaining any kind of democratic consent. Local tour operators fear church management will deter visitors by enforcing dress codes: women should cover their heads, men should take off their hats, and no shorts or short skirts should be worn by anyone. They are also concerned that photography will be curbed and secular content may be removed from the lectures given by guides. Some 400 museum workers worry about losing their jobs. … But an even bigger issue is the church's insistence that entry fees will be abolished, since a house of worship must be open to all. For many years, the 250-ruble ($4.30) admission paid by tourists has funded not only the cathedral's upkeep, but also the restoration of several other local churches. Now, while management and daily costs will pass to the church, formal ownership of the vast building and the ongoing restoration expenses will remain a public burden. And there is concern about the church's ability to maintain St. Isaac's magnificent interior as effectively as state museum workers have.

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