Two charged with killing priest on Christmas in Russia

Two men have been charged with killing a priest on the night of Orthodox Christmas and stealing nearly two dozen precious religious icons, Russia's top prosecutor said Saturday.

Father Oleg Stupichkin was found dead in the St. Peter and Paul Church in Alapayevsk, near the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, after a fire in the early hours of Jan. 7, following Christmas services, the Prosecutor General's office said in a statement.

Twenty-two icons, including several from the 18th century, were stolen from the church, it said.

Local prosecutors charged two unemployed men - Sergei Dalyatshin and Roman Sukhachov - with murder and robbery, the statement said.

Attacks on Russian priests have grown in frequency in recent years. Last month, robbers set fire to a church north of Moscow, killing a priest and his family, the AP said.

"With regret it must be noted that such cynicism and cruelty toward the priesthood already has taken place in the past few years, which testifies to the moral degradation of society," Alexy II, the head of Russian Orthodox Church, said in a statement.