Russian priests should stop blessing nuclear weapons and other destructive military hardware, the Orthodox church has said.
Clergymen have long appeared in images sprinkling holy water on submarines, ballistic missiles and Soyuz space rockets as part of rituals to bless them.
But proposals drawn up by a church commission say the blessing of weapons that can kill an ‘indefinite number of people’ should be dropped.
The document published by the church on Monday proposes that the military blessings be ‘removed from pastoral practice’.
‘The blessing of military weapons is not reflected in the tradition of the Orthodox Church and does not correspond to the content of the Rite, the document says.
‘Any type of weapons the usage of which can inflict an indefinite number of deaths, including weapons with indiscriminate effects or weapons of mass destruction’ are set to be removed from the priestly remit.
However, it remains ‘appropriate’ to ‘bless transport used by soldiers on land, water and in the air’, to ask God to protect the men using them, it said.
The proposals will be discussed until June 1 and the public are invited to take part in the debate, the church’s Moscow branch said.
Russians often ask priests to bless anything from new cars and flats to Soyuz spaceships in the belief that the gesture bestows divine protection.
President Vladimir Putin and his defence ministry have both aligned themselves closely with the Orthodox church.
Defence minister Sergei Shoigu is currently overseeing the construction of a huge cathedral for Russia’s armed forces outside Moscow.
It is to be opened on May 9, the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War.
Priests have been recruited to bless troops, planes and ships, and all sorts of weapons, from Kalashnikov rifles to nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles.
Since 2010 the military has inducted priests into its ranks, including an airborne unit which can deploy with mobile inflatable chapels.