An Orthodox church in Russia has been asked by a court, in a ruling first of its kind, that it can settle its debt to an engineering firm by saying prayers instead of money.
The Nizhegorodsky Regional Court ruled that the local Russian Orthodox Church diocese can repay 258,000 rubles ($3,244) it owes for the installation of a boiler system— along with an additional 65,000 rubles ($817) in fines and legal fees— by praying for the health of the company that installed the system, the New York Post reported. The ruling went viral on Thursday.
The procedure cost 916,000 rubles ($11,561), of which the diocese originally paid approximately half. The diocese still owes an additional 200,000 rubles ($2,525) for the boiler system, which the court said should be paid in money.
The arbitration court in the city of Nizhny Novgorod on the Volga River made the ruling after the Era company sued the church for failing to pay the money it owed. Referring to the director and sales manager of the creditor company, the decision signed by judge Yelena Nazarova said,
“The defendant promises to offer prayers for the health of God’s servant Ivan Arsenyev and God’s servant Sergei Lepustin.”
The church also agreed to pray for “their families, and for their well-being in all their good works and deeds.”
The court said that the settlement, reached in October but published online this week, “does not violate the law” and that both sides were satisfied.
In Russian Orthodox churches, it is common to make a financial donation in return for a priest praying for a loved one.
Legal websites called the decision a historic first for Russia, a nominally secular but majority-Orthodox country where the Church has managed to boost its role in many areas from the education system to the armed forces.
The St. Petersburg Legal Portal wrote on its website,
“For the first time in the modern history of the Russian law in the international agreement concluded within the framework of the arbitration process, it included a condition of offering prayers for the health of your opponent.”
Boris Falikov of the religious studies centre at the state university of humanities in Moscow said,
“This is abnormal from the point of view of all the religions existing in the world. But we are so used today in Russia to paying for religious rites that people see nothing untoward about paying off a debt with a prayer.”
The BBC reported that the diocese’s legal department stated that the novel idea came from the claimants. A church representative said,
“We had an agreement on the design of the heating in a building that belongs to the diocese, and which houses the pilgrim center. It turned out that there were financial difficulties. But we ourselves were surprised when the plaintiffs before the court suggested to make a settlement agreement in place of prayers. They even constituted the wording themselves. “
Era’s sales manager, Sergei Lepustin, says the company’s owners do not plan to check how the prayer agreement is implemented. He said,
“We all respect the diocese and we are all Orthodox believers. It’ll be on their conscience if they don’t, but we trust them and have already felt the fruits of their prayers, as prosperity indicators for both the company and its employees are growing.”
The ruling by the Russian court could set a precedent in the future cases where believers could settle for less than money. Irrespective of the legal intricacies, the case has been interesting from the point of view of religion, and a starting point for a debate on the rationale.
[Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images]