An investigation against key figures in the management of the Archdiocese of Prague (Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia) led to their removal from the posts they have held for years.
The investigation by the authorities is against Prague Archbishop Michael (Dandar) for the transfer of church properties to a private person, and it began at the end of last year. However, his secretary Igor Strelets, considered his right-hand man and “gray cardinal” in the archdiocese, as well as the chairman of the Diocesan Council Fr. Jan Beranek. It was officially stated that their removal was due to an “audit” and the need for “reforms to improve the work of the diocese”. In addition to them, three priests were removed from their positions of episcopal vicars.
Igor Strelets, who is a secular person, was responsible for the “Russian connections” in the church of the Czech lands and Slovakia. According to an article in the local edition of “Free Europe”, the Prague diocese maintains close ties with Moscow – many of the clerics studied in Russia, and later received expensive gifts from the Kremlin and the Patriarchate. Cyril in the form of villas and financing of various projects. For example, in 2011, when the lease of the residence of the Archbishop of Prague in Prague expired, the Patriarch of Moscow “fraternally” donated a two-story building, which still houses the administration of the local archdiocese.
Archbishop. Mikhail Dandar and Strelets have had close ties to Russia for many years and were formerly members of the Czechoslovak security service, the equivalent of the KGB. Strelets worked in the counter-intelligence department, and Mikhail Dandar lived for several years in the USSR, receiving a diploma from the Leningrad Theological Academy in 1969, and in the same year he was recruited by the Czech secret services under the pseudonym “Misha”. He was ordained by Mitr. Nikodim (Rotov) from the Russian Orthodox Church and was sent to one of the Russian parishes in Dresden.
For many years the right hand of the archbishop. Mikhail Dandar was Igor Strelets, a man without a theological education, but with close ties to Russia, thanks to which he financed projects of this highly Moscow-dependent local church. He sponsors the publishing activity of the diocese, the website of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Republic and Slovakia is registered in his name. He organizes and pays for the domestic and foreign travel of church hierarchs. These activities are carried out through the joint-stock company “Czech National Cultural Fund”, which he owns and which is financed by the Russian budget. The Czech media accused him of having a business relationship with a sanctioned businessman close to the Kremlin.
In July 2023, against the backdrop of the war started by Russia in Ukraine, the Archbishop of Prague participated in a meeting with representatives of the Night Wolves motorcycle club. The members of the motorcycle club and their leader are under sanctions for their close ties to Vladimir Putin and their support for the war in Ukraine. When asked why the Czech Orthodox hierarch attended a meeting with the Russian rockers, assistant head of the Prague Diocese Stšelec, organizer of the event, said that the meeting was dedicated to the memory of those who died during the First World War. These ties of the Czech clergy to Russia were sharply criticized by local believers, which was widely reported in the Czech secular media.
Among the problems of the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church, which from time to time become known to the general public, are mainly property issues.
In May 2022, it became known about the huge debt of the church. It turned out that the church had not paid into the state health insurance system for its employees for ten years. Because of this, part of the church’s property was confiscated. It is in debt, even though the Czech Republic passed a restitution law in 2013, under which the budget pays money to churches that lost property as a result of nationalization during communist rule in Czechoslovakia, as compensation for repression. By virtue of this decision, the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church received more than 300 million crowns (about 16 million dollars). Czech law enforcement authorities are currently investigating two cases in which, according to the investigation, Archbishop Michael Dandar has appropriated church property.
According to a 2021 census, Orthodox Christians in the Czech Republic numbered 40,000. Their number increased significantly after the start of the Russian war in Ukraine due to the many refugees.
Illustrative photo: Orthodox icon of The Holy New Martyrs of Bohemia