Recently, the state-controlled Russian mass media has started a propaganda campaign against a community of Orthodox Christians in St. Petersburg. The Orthodox Church of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, belongs to the Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church (ROAC) and is not part of the State Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Starting from 15 March, 2010, TV news (at prime time), newspapers, Internet sites continuously reported of the "unmasking" of a group of "false priests" who extort money from the public by using "fake relics" of the Saints and by holding "mock" memorial services for the reposed. The rhetoric used by the media has followed faithfully the lines of the Soviet-era anti-religious propaganda. At the same time, a criminal inquiry was launched by the police against St. Elizabeth’s Church, on the basis of the alleged "public fraud." The church was searched by police (attended by Special Forces) and officers of the so-called Department E ("E" standing for Extremism) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Bishop Gregory Lourie (the head of this community), as well as other clergy and some parishioners were interrogated.
The purpose of these actions is to seize the Church building and hand it over to the State Church. The guilt of these people is simply that they exist – they do not belong to the church controlled by the State. St. Elizabeth's church was built entirely by the efforts of the parishioners and it is the only Orthodox Church building in Petersburg that is not under the control of the State Church of Moscow Patriarchate. We know numerous examples of such violence done against the believers in Russia: the very priest who started this community – Fr. Alexander Zharkov – was brutally assassinated in 1997.
With active help of the government agencies, the State Church has embarked on a program of systematic eradication of all independent Orthodox Christian communities (commonly known as True Orthodox Churches). This particular case of religious persecution is a part of a continued campaign against the Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church - one of the largest True Orthodox Churches in Russia. In 2009, over a dozen church buildings belonging to ROAC in the province of Suzdal were expropriated by the government and then handed over to the State Church.