Over 100,000 people have signed an online petition against the handover of a cathedral in St. Petersburg to the Orthodox Church. The church is now on the frontline of a debate about the role of the church in public life.
The petition was launched on change.org and was addressed to President Vladimir Putin and Saint Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko.
The authors argue the move will restrict access to St. Isaac's Cathedral museum - a landmark of Russia's imperial capital - and spell the end of the concerts there. Local media reported that 3.9 million tourists visited the cathedral in 2016, earning it more than 800 million rubles ($13.3 million).
"In my opinion, this is a grave mistake," local opposition lawmaker Boris Vishnevsky wrote on his Facebook page, vowing to fight the decision.
Local authorities in Russia's second city announced on Tuesday night that Saint Isaac's cathedral would be returned to the powerful Orthodox Church.
The Church asked local authorities in 2015 to hand over the cathedral, a request they rejected at the time.
Orthodox Church's key role
The Orthodox Church's influence has grown dramatically under Putin's rule. The Kremlin strongman has approved the restitution of property the Church lost during the Soviet era.
The handover may take at least two to three years, the museum's director Nikolay Burov, told TASS on Wednesday.
He said that time is needed to determine the future of St. Isaac's 393 full-time staff and of several thousand museum items, which are currently part of the state's property. He added that the cathedral would continue working as a museum until the end of 2017.
St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko told TASS earlier that the cathedral would keep its museum functions after becoming property of the Russian Orthodox Church and will be open to people of all religions.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Saint Isaac's was built by French architect Auguste Ricard de Montferrand between 1818 and 1858, becoming the Russian Empire's main cathedral. It became a museum of atheism in the early Soviet era before being converted into an art and history museum in 1937.