Metropolitan Kornily, who heads the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church, recently warned Russian men not to shave, in order to "protect themselves from homosexuality."
Kornily explained to Russia's National News Service how fellows sporting beards were less likely to be "corrupted" by homosexual relationships, notes Newsweek:
God gave us the rules. It is written that God created everyone with a beard. A Catholic West [has] completely fallen away from this concept. But this is clear: The icons, we cannot imagine Christ or some saint without a beard. One should not oppose its creator. It's made a monstrous thing to see men's clothing and hairstyles changing.
Kornily added that shaving beards was a “departure from the sacred and holy," and that growing a beard has "completely disappeared from the Catholic West," which he believes is the reason for homosexuals appearing in Russia.
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Russia decriminalized sodomy in 1993, but previously locked people in jail if they were found guilty of engaging in homosexual behavior.
The Atlantic reported in 2013 that the Old Believers left the Orthodox Catholic Church in 1666 to protect their ancient traditions from the outside world.
The Guardian noted in May that dozens of men suspected of being homosexuals may have been detained and tortured in Chechnya for several months.
Russian officials are investigating the reports, which could pit the Russian government against the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is supported by Putin's government.
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While the Russian government reportedly turns a blind eye to the human rights abuses under Kadyrov, international protest has pushed the Russian authorities to respond.
Elena Milashina, a writer for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper who broke the story, told The Guardian that Russia’s human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova "was impressed by the strength of the evidence we have and has spoken to Putin about it."
Human Rights Watch confirmed the account by Novaya Gazeta, and added that "three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began."
According to Human Rights Watch, Chechnya’s Interior Ministry has dismissed the Novaya Gazeta report of torture as an "April fools' joke."
Kadyrov’s press secretary called the report "absolute lies and disinformation," and insisted that gay people did not exist Chechnya: "If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn't need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning."
Chechnya’s state news agency, Grozny Info, accused Novaya Gazeta and other "enemies" of Russia and Chechnya of allegedly trying to undermine "traditional values," discredit the Chechen people, and "foster sodomy."