Alfred Ford, a great-grandson of the motoring legend, Henry, has outraged the conservative Russian Orthodox Church with his plans to build a huge centre for Hare Krishna and Vedic religion worshippers in the centre of Moscow.
The Orthodox Church, whose influence in Russia is rocketing since the fall of Communism eased religious worship, is furious at the prospect that a building big enough to hold 8,000 Hindu worshippers would be built, a few miles from Red Square. The first stone was supposed to be laid in November when the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, visits Moscow. However, that ceremony is in doubt because of the outcry over the centre.
Prominent Russian Orthodox figures have called the church “open religious expansion”.
Valentin Lebedev, head of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Russia, said: “We know that in India, Christianity is persecuted.
“According to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, Hinduism is considered one of the most anti-Christian cults and we do not understand why such an enormous church and cultural centre is necessary in Moscow.”
He said the Vedic religion already had one centre in Moscow and that was enough.
Yesterday the union wrote to the Moscow mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, demanding that plans for the centre be scrapped. Mr Lebedev launched a personal attack on the centre’s financier, Mr Ford, who is expected to spend about $10m (£6m) on the domed structure, which would be the largest of its kind in Europe and has already been nick-named by some the “Hindu Vatican”.
Father Mikhail Dudko, secretary of the Commission for Church and Society for the Orthodox Church, said the church did not react to “declarations of intent”. But he added that the union’s position would closely resemble that of the public, and that the church “always takes into account the positions of the public”.
The head of the executive committee of the Krishna Consciousness of Russia, Sergei Zuyev, said Mr Ford had lobbied for the project with Moscow government officials. “He told us that he would like to support the building of such a cultural centre in Moscow.” Yet Mr Zuyev said as soon as Mr Ford had made his intentions known, “the Orthodox groups made a fuss”.
He added: “The Orthodox Church, from our point of view, is one of the most totalitarian sects in the world which in Russia disguises itself as a state religion.
“It is the source of intolerance and mixing the Orthodox belief with nationalism is a really explosive and dangerous mixture.”
Vedic believers say they are 90,000 strong in Russia.
Mr Ford, during a visit to Moscow last week, said: “For me the most important thing is to spread the Hindu knowledge about the soul. This is more important than any other knowledge and is my main priority”.