Even as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied that a personality cult has grown around him, news broke Thursday that St. Petersburg children were being encouraged to pray that God bless Putin and shield him from "demoniacal temptation."
St. Petersburg's Suvorov Military College presented printed Orthodox prayers to talented local children aged 8 to 14 who were invited to an International Children's Day event at Tavrichesky Palace on June 1, Yelena Sakhno, who helped organize the event, said Thursday.
The prayers were among the gifts tucked into goody bags distributed to the 150 children.
"We didn't consider the inclusion of Orthodox literature among the presents to be reprehensible," Sakhno told The Moscow Times.
"The prayer for the head of state is traditional in the canons of the church service," she added.
"The Prayer for the President," first reported by Fontanka.ru, calls on God to "send Your Archangel Mikhail to the aid of Your servants Dmitry and Vladimir" and to "shatter" their enemies and save them from "demoniacal temptation." The text echoes the Russian Orthodox Church's "Prayer to Archangel Mikhail."
Natalya Yerutina, a teacher from Suvorov Military College who came up with the idea to present the children with the prayers, praised the prayer for mentioning Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev by name, calling it "wise." "Dmitry continues what Vladimir started, while Vladimir up to this day continues to care about the Russian state," Yerutina said by e-mail.
Suvorov Military College is a state-operated preparatory school for higher military education.
Organizers of the children's day event included the Interparliamentary Assembly of Member Nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Club of Tavrichesky Palace Friends, Tavricheskaya Chapel and Art-Assemblies, a production center where Sakhno works.
Putin denied this week in an interview with French media that there was a cult of personality around him. "A personality cult implies not only attention to one person but mass legal violations linked to repressions," Putin said in a reference to the Soviet purges of the 1930s to 1950s, Interfax reported.
"Even in a nightmare, I can't imagine that it could happen in today's Russia," Putin said.
The decision to present the prayer to the children "was not agreed upon" with the Russian Orthodox Church, said Artemy Skripkin, head of the church's youth department in St. Petersburg, Interfax reported.
Still, there was "nothing bad" in presenting the children with the prayers, although the gift might be "a little inappropriate for little children," another Orthodox clergyman, Vyacheslav Kharinov of St. Petersburg's Skorbyashchensky Church, said by telephone.
On the other hand, he said: "If you don't like the present, reject it. But if you are against praying for the head of the state, that might as well mean that you are against the authorities."