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the words worth: The Pussy Riot Act

Published: August 8, 2012 (Issue # 1721)

: blasphemy

I have been reluctant towade intothe linguistic morass ofthe Pussy Riot case mostly because Im not aspecialist inreligious or legal terminology. But I finally gave into my curiosity anddecided toread (indictment).

Half apage intoit, thelegal language was pretty clear, but my desk was covered with reference books onchurch andreligious terminology. If youre trying tofollow thecase, it may be helpful tounderstand afew ofthe recurring terms.

First, where theaction took place. Inan Orthodox church, theraised platform infront ofthe iconostasis is (solea). Thesection ofthe solea infront ofthe royal doors is called (ambon).

Then, thecast ofwitnesses: (sacristan, ecclesiarch) is theperson incharge ofcaring forthe church building andits property. (altar server) is alayperson that helps atthe altar during theservices. is awoman selling candles.

Andnow forthe big accusations thereligious ones, I mean. Three words andtheir derivatives pop out throughout thetext: C, and, all ofwhich are translated as sacrilege, blasphemy, profanity or desecration. After cross-checking church translations anddipping intopre-revolutionary law, I think I would translate as desecration, which involves some kind ofviolation ofchurch property. It was theworst ofthe pre-revolutionary Russian religious crimes andcarried thedeath penalty forcenturies. Id translate as blasphemy and as sacrilege.

This is important toknow as you read thelegal documents because although theaccusation is couched inlegal terms, thesupporting evidence is largely presented inreligious terms.

Thewomen are accused ofcommitting anact of, , , - , (hooliganism, that is, agross violation ofpublic order expressing aclear disrespect forsociety, committed onthe grounds ofreligious hatred or enmity or hate against aparticular social group bya group ofpersons byprior agreement).

What did they do? According towitness testimony which is exactly thesame, word forword, page after page their behavior was , (unbefitting, andin fact violated all imaginable andunimaginable, commonly accepted rules ofbehavior ina church). They put onclothing (that clearly andobviously contradicted church rules). Then they , , , , , (started tosatanically jerk around, jump, run, kick their legs up, twirl their heads while they shouted very insulting, blasphemous words).

According tothe indictment, this led to (a violation ofthe feelings andfaith ofmany Orthodox Christians anda defilement ofthe spiritual basis ofthe state).

After reading theindictment andfollowing thetrial, Ive come tothe conclusion that thespiritual basis ofthe state may indeed have been defiled, but not byPussy Riot.

Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of The Russian Words Worth (Glas), a collection of her columns.



Friday, Jan. 30 through Wednesday, Feb. 4

A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of Repulsion at 7 p.m. and Rosemarys Baby at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy The Tenant, the cult comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers and Cul-de-sac among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at

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