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Orthodoxy reviving in the heart of Russia

RED CIRCLE IN BLACK EARTH DISTRICT
by Sergei Bychkov
Moskovskii komsomolets, 5 August 2002

Orthodox Voronezh arises from the ashes

Sometime in the early centuries of Christianity one of the rulers of Egypt of the time went into the desert where ascetic monks were performing their feats. He wanted to consult with an elder who had the gift of prophecy. Looking at him the elder said: "I will take nothing from you for telling you about your future, but you must build a church if you do not want everybody to learn about your past." Actually his past was quite vile and dreary so he did not want anybody ever to learn about it. This pertains not only to the ordinary life of an ordinary person. Sometimes it is quite pertinent to the life of an enormous country.

Such thoughts were overwhelming me as I approached Voronezh. Suddenly I recalled that I had not been here for four years. The day before I had called an old friend who had just turned 90. Grigory Dormidontovich Afonin is a hereditary physician; he spent all his life in Voronezh except for the war years at the front. He reached Berlin. When I meet him I am reminded of Vrubel's bogatyr: he is almost square. Square gray beard. And a square ideal figure. Enormous hands. When he gives a friendly handshake you realize his strength. There is no equal to Grigory in Voronezh. On a bet at Maslenitsa he easily put away 100 thin, almost transparent, bliny, washing them down with mead. Until quite recently he was able to twist a poker into a knot and on a bet empty a liter bottle of vodka and not get drunk. But the most valuable thing is that without him I would hardly ever be able to discover what has happened in the center of Russia.

The train is already in Voronezh, crawling along the bank of a water reservoir that divides the city in two. On the right and on the left are wretched huts nestled along the banks. After the war the burned out residents were allotted tiny lots for building. Impoverished Russians built their huts like swallows, out of whatever they could lay hands on. Their children have already grown up and had children but the huts remain just as  pitiful and wretched. It is interesting whether the new capitalist forces that have transformed the capital and reshaped Petersburg have reached here into the center of Russia.

The train creeps to the platform. I see the bogatyr figure of Grigory who spots my train car. Extracting myself with difficulty out of the bear's embrace of the old man, I get into his aged "Volga" and we ride into the city.

Voronezh builder

"Haven't you seen that our metropolitan is a short man. Of course, he did not grow up in the black earth region, but he has a bogatyr's spirit," Grigory Dormidontovich suddenly slows down not far from the station. We crawl out of the car and before us stands the Annunciation cathedral that is under construction. The first realization is that the Moscow church of Christ the Savior, together with its cupolas and crosses, would easily fit under the vault of the almost finished cathedral. The central cupola is already coated with copper. Grigory hospitably leads me around the cathedral and enthusiastically describes how a procession of the cross will encircle the magnificent church at a height of two meters above the earth. He points out an already finished memorial in the church that is hardly the only one in Russia dedicated to the rescue workers of Chernobyl.

"This will be the cathedral church of Voronezh." It turns out that historians think that the first Voronezh church was built at the same time as the first buildings of the city in 1586 and it was consecrated in honor of the Annunciation. It is known for sure that the original Annunciation church was wooden and it often caught fire. Only in 1682, under the first bishop of Voronezh, a contemporary and friend of Peter I, the holy prelate Mitrofan, was the stone cathedral Annunciation church built. When at the beginning of the nineteenth century the cathedral was renovated the relics of the holy prelate Mitrofan were discovered and then Archbishop Antony of Voronezh established the Mitrofan monastery at the church. From that time on both the church and monastery became the center of the spiritual life of the city. It was not without reason that in December 1919 the bolsheviks hanged Voronezh Archbishop Tikhon on the royal gates of the Annunciation cathedral. Along with him 160 Voronezh pastors perished at the hands of the theomachists. Soon after this both the church and the monastery were closed and then in the 1950s they were dynamited. At present on this location is the main building of Voronezh University. And so now, although on a different spot, the cathedral is being restored. In October 1998 His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus came to the diocese and it was he that laid the first stone in the foundation of the Annunciation cathedral. Just four years have passed. This beauty of a church is visible now from any district of the city. The place was chosen with exceptional success. Not far from the train station, in the midst of the city square. It gives the impression that this is the center of the city. As you walk around the cathedral you think that this church is perhaps really a symbol of the new twenty-first century. And the point is not even its dimensions. What is important is that amongst the general mess, impoverishment, lack of faith--and primarily lack of faith that Russia has a future--this magnificent beauty of a church is being erected where things will be light and spacious for thousands of people who will come here to worship.

We continue our journey. My attention is drawn to an apparently once luxurious but now considerably dilapidated four-story red building with columns. "And this is the former Voronezh seminary. Now the State Construction Trade School is located here, while half of it is occupied by commercial operations."

"And do the local authorities not intend to return the building to the church?"

"What do the local authorities matter?" Grigory says with amazement. "It's Moscow that does not intend to return it.  It's about 14,000 square meters."

Grigory Dormidontovich suggests that we visit newly built regions. This is the biggest problem for the capital. The suburbs of Moscow are a concrete spiritual desert. There are very few churches. There aren't museums or movie theatres or sports complexes. So what is surprising when wild youth come from the outskirts to the center of the capital for entertainment and suddenly begin smashing things, as recently happened on Manezh Square?

"But in Voronezh Metropolitan Mefody of Voronezh and Lipetsk has laid the foundation of twenty new churches. And all in new districts," Dormidontovich tells me. "Germans built a suburb on the outskirts for soldiers and there a church consecrated to Ksenia of Petersburg has already been erected. Here, for example, is the church of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land.  At first they built a small church, compact, of our Voronezh construction. But now it has grown huge like the one that Constantine Ton built in Zadonsk at the end of the nineteenth century." I caught sight of the church ascending into the sky from afar. Among the hovels it seems like a shining spaceship from another planet. "When they consecrated the stone church they disassembled the compact one and took it somewhere into a new district."

"And how many churches were there in all of Voronezh at the beginning of the 80s?"

"Just three. Praise God our bishop in the twenty years of his ministry has opened another 15. And you will see that after about two or three years another twenty will be opened. And we did not have a monastery at all. Today there already are nine.  Just compare. In 1982 there were in the Voronezh-Lipetsk diocese 70 churches, and today there are 400! It was difficult, but with God's help we have managed. May God grant our patriarch long years. You know we should pray for him. Earlier the bishops were transferred from see to see; they were shuffled like a deck of cards so that they did not become familiar with the flock. But now it's not that way; they serve for life."

Exhausted from the heat and the trip, I stopped the old man who was about to show me all the churches being built in Voronezh. I remind him that tomorrow we have a trip to Zadonsk. It would be strange for a person who came to the black earth district not to visit the famous monastery and the no less famous hermitage where St. Tikhon of Zadonsk lived and prayed.

At Tikhon's

That's the title of a chapter in Dostoevsky's novel "Besy" [Demons]. It mentions the Efimy Savior and Mother of God monastery on the edge of the city beside the river. There is no doubt that the writer was describing Zadonsk and the Nativity of the Mother of God monastery in the current Lipetsk province.

Early in the morning we speed back in the direction of Moscow. Grigory Dormidontovich explains to me that it is terrible to recall the past. But it is bad to forget it. Who remembers today how fiercely and persistently the struggle against Orthodoxy was conducted in the Russian provinces?  They have completely forgotten that the center of opposition to the bolsheviks after the death of Patriarch Tikhon was in two provinces, Leningrad and Voronezh. The opposition in Leningrad province was conducted by Bishop Dimitry Liubimov of Gdovsk and in Voronezh by Bishop Aleksei Bui of Koslovsk. They became the leaders of the movement which later got the name "noncommemorators," or the "True Orthodox Church." Only one must not confuse them with the contemporary self-appointed men who pass themselves off as their successors. Genuine "noncommemorators," along with their bishops who at the time languished in Solovki, the original model of the soviet concentration camp, condemned the policy of Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky. In 1927 Metropolitan Sergius concluded a union with the atheist regime; he dreamed up the word "loyalty." Evidently he hoped that he would be able to buy normal conditions of life for the church. What! In an insane state is it possible for a normal Christian church to exist? In Voronezh the center of the "noncommemorators" developed at the Alekseev Akatov monastery and the convent of the Protection. It was maintained here for a long time. Until the middle thirties. And individual parishes continued to worship underground until the sixties when the old folk died out. It is important that the diocese does not forget those who are alive. They provide free dinners for them in the churches and the clergy and believing youth visit the old folk in the hospitals.

Along the road to Zadonsk there are wide open fields on which wheat has already ripened and sunflowers bloom everywhere. It's strange. Russia possesses 60 percent of the world's reserves of black earth, but it buys grain from abroad. People who live in the black earth region can barely make ends meet. And suddenly amidst this poverty enormous churches are sprouting up. That means, the unsquandered wealth of the Russian soul has been preserved. Does it mean that the "red circle" burning up everything in its path over the course of seventy years was not able to burn the Russian province to the ground?

So during our conversation we have come to Zadonsk without noticing it. And finally there grew up before our eyes the magnificent cathedral of Constantine Ton. The monastery was turned over to the church ten years ago, in ruins, and it seemed to have been hopelessly desecrated by the local collective farmers. I recall when I came here for the first time. The bell tower had been cut down to the foundation and the dormitory was occupied by a school. Young girls mocked the first monks and played music at full blast. The cupolas of the cathedral were full of holes and the walls were soaked from snow and rain. It took ten years of laborious work for the monastery again to be able to receive pilgrims.

Today the cupolas of the cathedral glisten as if they were again coated with gold. "Ah, no," Grigory Dormidontovich notes, "this is a special alloy different from what was used to cover the church of Christ the Savior in Moscow. There it quickly tarnished but here it sparkles like new."

We enter in order to pay respect to the relics of the saint. Although the service had already ended there were many people in the church. A monk was telling the pilgrims about the life of the saint. Today pilgrims come here not only from all ends of Russia but even from the near abroad. The holy prelate Tikhon, so strikingly portrayed by Dostoevsky, draws Orthodox believers to himself like a magnet. The monastery is fortunate. It is supervised by Bishop Nikon of Zadonsk. He was trained by the elders of the Glinsk putsyn and he has managed to transfer its traditions here in Lipetsk land.

Before we went to the monastery of the Savior's Transfiguration, the former hermitage where St. Tikhon loved to pray, Grigory Dormidontovich suggested to me drinking a glass of tea. We were taken into the refectory and lavishly treated to potatoes, fish, and of course tea. A novice answers our inquiries: "People come to us from all ends of Russia. In the main they come in busses. Today there were three. One from Ukraine. The monastery receives pilgrims. We feed them and give them a place to spend the night. Of course, we need a hotel for them. Like in prerevolutionary times. But surely that's not going to happen soon. Have you gone to the saint's spring?"

We toured yet another cloister that has been restored from the ruins, the Holy Tiuninsk Mother of God convent. We cut through a pine forest and stop near the saint's spring. In order to get some water it is necessary to get help from a nun. Otherwise we would not be able to have a drink. On a hot day people were coming here with children and old folk. Such long lines I have seen only in Moscow during the hungry soviet years waiting for sausage or vodka during the height of the anti-alcohol campaign. People stand for hours in order dip in the spring and get some water from it. Fortunately the nun gets water for us and we continue our journey.

And here's the favorite hermitage of the saint. There's a convent here now but quite recently there was a sanatorium for the insane. I remember this hospital. Half-destroyed monastery buildings, a half-destroyed bell tower, and starving patients begging for bread. Everything has changed. You feel the master's hand. The restored cathedral and belfry tower above and the nuns' quarters have been built. Land was turned over to the monastery and it is all sown. The garage for agricultural machinery clashes with all this but flowerbeds are spread everywhere.

"The abbess here is Mother Dorofei. She's a builder," Grigory says with enthusiasm. "Of course, she gets help from the Liptesk mining company, but it is important that the help be channeled in the right way."

Central city

Before departing from Voronezh I managed to get down to Divnogorie.  On the border with Rostov province, at the place where the Don flows, rise chalk hills. Once, back in the second century, our ancestors returning from a campaign to Sicily built cave churches in them. In these places the icon of the Sicily Mother of God has been venerated up to the present. Four years ago a part of the chalk churches was turned over to the diocese. The Divnogorie monastery also was turned over. I will not describe the beauty of these places; it has to be seen. I did not manage to stay at the Tolshev monastery but can you manage to see all of the Voronezh sacred places in three days really? And you also need to visit Elets, where Vasily Rozanov taught, and visit the native lands of Bunin, and go to ancient Ostrogozhsk, near to which Viktor Vasnetsov decorated a church.

One must come back again, and perhaps even more. Gogol was right: it is necessary to travel about Russia. It hides so much that is unexpected and wonderful for the curious pilgrim.

Russia is being reborn gradually and with difficulty. I recall one of Grigory Dormidontovich's sayings: "Sickness sets in suddenly and goes away slowly." But if you will just do a little bit of building and not tearing down you will see how the state will be restored more quickly. The main thing is that the former glory of the central city of European Russia is being resurrected. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 August 2002)

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Discussion of church land ownership continues

SHAIMIEV SUPPORTS TRANSFER OF LANDS TO CHURCHES AND MOSQUES WITHIN THE PARAMETERS OF EXISTING LEGISLATION
Mir religii, 5 August 2002

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev advocates the transfer of lands to monasteries, churches, and mosques, but only within the parameters of existing legislation. In an interview with the "Interfax" news agency the head of the republic declared that the problem of the transfer to ownership of lands on which monasteries, churches, and mosques are located was resolved in principle back in 1997 on the basis of article 78 of the land code of the Russian federation.

"The procedure of transfer was set by an order of the government of RF no. 490 of 30 June 2001, although I do not rule out the necessity of introducing separate changes in the direction of liberalizing the procedure for transfer of lands," Shaimiev noted.

Today an intensive process of the rebirth of spirituality and religion is underway in Russia and in the provinces many new monasteries, churches, and mosques are being built, the president of the republic said. In Tatarstan, according to his data, before the middle of the 1980s there were 38 functioning mosques and churches, and today there are more than 1000 of them. Thus has arisen the necessity of speaking about the procedure for turning over for ownership new lands, primarily from state reserves, the head of the republic thinks.

At the same time, M. Shaimiev called "unrealistic and practically unrealizable" the idea of some politicians who propose transferring to the Russian Orthodox church all three million hectares of lands that belonged to it before the revolution. "At the present time, these lands, to a great extent, already belong in the form of shares to one or another owner," he explained.

In addition, if religious leaders and monastery members manifest a desire by reason of economic necessity to cultivate lands, this problem can be completely settled within the parameters of the law on handing over agricultural lands. Churches, monasteries, or mosques would be able to lease parcels of land or in time to purchase them from state reserves, Shaimiev suggests.

Speaking about the situation in Tatarstan, the head of the republic noted that local religious societies, both Orthodox and Muslim, do not have at their disposal such large areas of land that would be able to have a significant impact on other land owners. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 August 2002)

IVAN STARIKOV CALLS FOR DETERMINING THE STATUS OF CHURCH LANDS BY THE END OF THE YEAR
Mir religii, 5 August 2002

The draft of a law "On determining the legal status of landed property complexes of the Russian Orthodox church and other traditional confessions in RF" should be prepared within the current year. This was stated today at a press conference in Novosibirsk by the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food Policy of the Federation Council, Ivan Starikov, "Interfax" reports.  He recalled that the existing land code and the federal law "On transfer of agricultural lands" that was signed at the end of July by the president of the country do not provide the right for life-long hereditary ownership and permanent, unlimited use.

In connection with this it is necessary to introduce amendments into the recently adopted laws and to return to the confessions the right of permanent, unlimited use of parcels of land, the senator said. He noted that representatives of the traditional confessions are not able either to buy or lease land by virtue of their financial condition.

Regarding the question of agricultural lands, Starikov again said that traditional confessions should have the right to get as much land as they are able to work. "All of this must be done before the law 'On transfer of agricultural lands' takes effect in winter 2003. After that it will be more complicated," Starikov stressed.

"Before the revolution the church was a very effective land owner and there is reason to suggest that it can also became that in our day," the senator said, recalling that the most advanced technology always was used on church lands. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 August 2002)

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Caution on return of land to church

SENATORS PROPOSE RETURNING LANDS AROUND MONASTERIES TO THE CHURCH
by Elena Vladimirova
Trud, 2 August 2002

The other day the first vice chairman of the Federation Council, Valery Goregliad, and the head of the Committee on Agricultural Policy of the upper chamber of the Legislative Assembly, Ivan Starikov, presented to Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus the idea of transferring to the ownership of the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs) land that was confiscated at one time by bolsheviks for state use. We were told at the Federation Council that the meeting with the patriarch was quite cordial in nature. The head of RPTs was favorably inclined to the suggestion and was pleased that "a harmony between the secular and religious powers is being established."

Incidentally, the idea promoted today by Goregliad and Starikov is not new. According to our information, it first was sounded some time ago by the chairman of the Council of the Association of Trade Unions, State Duma Deputy Viktor Semenov. Right now he is on vacation far from Moscow, but he nevertheless considered it necessary to grant an interview with "Trud" by telephone.

--Viktor Alexandrovich, have you changed your position on this question?

--I have not changed one bit. I consider it useful to allot lands to monasteries. Without them it is difficult to conduct monastery life. I have traveled about the cloisters and have personally helped to arrange work on the land for several of them. I have seen how the monastic brethren are training wayward youth in work on the land, particularly those who are suffering from drug addictions.

But there is another side to this coin. It is through the church that we will have the chance of returning to many agrarian traditions that have been lost.

--What do you have in mind?

--It is not a secret to anybody that our meteorology is often wrong and it misleads us. At the same time there are in church archives unique data that have been proven by centuries but are not being used by any of our contemporaries. Things like when is the best time to sow, when to harvest, and how to calculate all this. Incidentally, the farm "Belaia dacha" outside Moscow has now begun paying serious attention to this native experience of our ancestors. And believe me, it's worth it.

--But if it allots lands to RPTs, the state, I am afraid, will offend other confessions, won't it?

--If others ask for land, I do not see any bases for refusing them.

--But permit me. So far as I know, it was suggested to transfer to the Russian Orthodox church just about all the land nationalized after the revolution, about three million hectares. Can you also give to the others millions of hectares? Won't that be too much?

--That's impossible and it would not be useful. Even the church itself does not need it. Before the revolution monasteries had hundreds of novices, but now only dozens. What do they need so many hectares for? They will not be able to work this machine! And if this comes to naught, then sooner or later, by law, it will again revert to state use.

--Not the last question. Where will the land for the monasteries be gotten?

--I see two ways. Either resolve the question legislatively regarding allotment to RPTs of the lands from the Fund for Redistribution and Land Reserves. Or recruit donors. I personally am ready to appeal to the leaders of large companies to ask them to acquire lands and to donate them to the church. Incidentally, according to unconfirmed information, the "Vimm-Bill-Dann" company already has purchased in one province a parcel of land and donated it to a monastery. I think that others, too, will not be reluctant to do a good deed.

--A good deed, to be sure. But one gets the impression that this is some kind of campaign. It seems one should not act hastily in such matters.

--I also categorically oppose that. If some campaign is going on, then it will be very greatly harmful for both the state and the church. A good idea could be ruined at the start. First the question must be worked out in legislation and only afterward should it be brought out to public discussion. (tr. by PDS, posted 4 August 2002)

Related stories: Potential problems of church's becoming landowner
Patriarchate interested in regaining land
Return of land to church sparks debate

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Religion in Russian schools

IS RELIGION NECESSARY IN SECULAR SCHOOLS
In deciding this question Russia could use France's experience
by Igor Ponkin
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 2 August 2002

One of the most widespread stereotypes urged today upon Russian society is the identification of the secular nature of education with obligatory atheist (antireligious) or nonreligious (agnostic) orientation. This false stereotype, which has no basis whatsoever in the legislation of the Russian federation and in international legal acts, exists practically entirely as a result of inertia in society's thinking produced by the epoch of state atheism and persecution of religious associations in our country. From the point of view of constitutional law, secular education is not atheistic or nonreligious education but general social, civic education conducted in accordance with the social order developed within society in accordance with state educational standards.

When one analyses the legal contents of the secular character of education in state and municipal educational institutions in the Russian federation it is useful to turn attention to the experience of France on this matter. The more so since it is the French republic that often is wrongly used as an example by defenders of atheism who wish to prove the necessity of isolating the Russian national system of education from traditional spiritual and moral values. Several years ago the state and society in France came to a paradoxical conclusion about degrading tendencies in the development of the national system of education.  Society was faced with a situation where pupils in private Catholic and protestant colleges graduated much better prepared for life in French society and culturally more developed than pupils of state schools. It was explained that this was the result to a considerable degree of the implementation of the state policy directed at isolating religious associations from the state system of education and to the elimination of the traditional religious component from its culture. Today in France both high governmental workers and prominent French scholars speak of the necessity of implementing in state schools the principle of culture-conforming education (educational contents that correspond to the national culture), including using the teaching of humanistic subjects on the basis of the spiritual and moral traditions and values.

In February 2002 a report was published by the Ministry of Education of France, "Teaching subjects dealing with religion in secular schools," in which an attempt was made to give a thorough analysis of the necessary compromise between secularity and the culture-conforming nature of education in French state schools.  It is necessary to recognize that the attempt has succeeded on the whole. The interesting and substantive report contains an analysis of the damage done to the national system of education as a consequence of its nonreligious nature and separation from national culture and the results of the loss of culture-conforming education in state secular schools. French society is realizing more and more the threat of a collective loss and a break in the national and European memory when the insufficiency of religious and cultural education does not permit one to understand either the facade of the cathedral at Chartres, or the works of Tintoretto, or Mozart's masterpiece "Don Juan," or Aragon's "Passion Week." The report calls special attention to the fact that just as soon as "Trinity" becomes for people just the name of a Paris Metro station and the weekend holiday of Pentecost becomes a simple date on the calendar, then there occurs a vulgarization of everyday life, a degradation of the national culture, a degradation of society itself, and a loss of historic consciousness. Society is being moved by a false fear to the destruction of civic solidarity and ignorance of national history, culture, and faith. All of this is being weighted down by various cliches and prejudices. According to the report, the moral, social, and heritage loss is obvious to everybody. There also has developed a certain disruption in the transmittal of the cultural heritage that earlier had been the work of the church, family, customs, and citizenship and that subsequently has fallen onto the shoulders of the national educational system which is supposed to guarantee an elementary orientation in space and time. However, civic education does not have the ability to guarantee all of this. Instead, as is noted, the Ministry of Education of France long ago became concerned about finding a way to "close this breech," and liquidate cultural discrimination. However, the report stresses, in expanding the teaching of religious culture it is necessary to avoid extremes. Excessive expansion of religious education in state and municipal educational institutions will harm general civic education and threatens the integrity and unity of the national system of education. Thus the report discusses the question of finding a compromise on the question of the introduction of religious academic subjects into the educational process in state schools. The basic idea of expanding and deepening the teaching of subjects dealing with religion in secular schools consists not in replacing secular education with religious education, giving the latter some special status, but in giving pupils of state educational institutions the possibility of becoming civilized persons educated in their own national culture, thereby protecting their right of choice and free discussion.

Considering that our countries have much in common, the analysis of the French experience of cooperation between the state and religious associations in the sphere of education undoubtedly can and should be used in improving the national system of education in Russia. (tr. by PDS, posted 4 August 2002)

Related stories:  Dispute over teaching Orthodoxy in schools
Atheists oppose religion in schools
Russian public skeptical toward required religious education

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Billy Graham associate conducts crusade in Vladivostok

EVANGELIST BRINGS GOD'S WORD TO RUSSIAN FAR EAST
by Anna Malpas
Vladivostok News, 1 August 1, 2002

Vladivostok hosted a Christian festival "Good News 2002" this weekend, with a Russian representative of prominent U.S. evangelist Billy Graham as chief speaker.

Two free concerts of 'Christian music and words' held by Viktor Hamm in the Palace of Culture of Seamen were aimed at non-believers, and organizers insisted the festival was non-denominational.

The widely advertised event drew large crowds for Christian pop music and accessible sermons from Hamm, on the last date of a tour of the Russian Far East, which saw similar festivals in Khabarovsk, Blagoveshchensk and other cities.

Hamm is regional director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in the CIS and Baltic States, part of the worldwide network of the preacher who introduced stadium-filling evangelism to the United States.

"You'll never be closer to God than today," Hamm told a crowd ranging from young children to pensioners on Saturday. The speaker called the audience to "burn their amulets and horoscopes" and gain eternal life through repentance and following Jesus Christ.

In a hard-hitting sermon Hamm attacked divorce, abortion, drugs, tax-dodging, smoking, alcoholism and bad language. He lamented the spread of AIDS, noting that "many victims lived an immoral life."

"There's nothing sinful about sex," clarified Hamm, "but only within the framework of family life. Not living together, and not homosexuality. Maybe I'm out of date, but the Bible's not out of date."

"Hell exists," warned Hamm, adding, "I haven't been there and I won't be there because Jesus died for me."

The audience responded quietly, although there were comments of agreement, such as when Hamm said depression, alcoholism and loneliness create "hell on earth." At a final prayer session, the preacher asked people who had decided to receive Jesus Christ that day to raise their hands. Around half responded.

Hamm's visit to Vladivostok was organised in conjunction with the city's eight Baptist churches, and began with a sermon on July 26 at the Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists on Narodny Avenue.

Minister Nikolai Polyakiko commented on Monday that the festival "went really well." "Jesus said go out and teach others," he said. "I think many people saw that they weren't living in the right way and the songs and sermons helped them."

Local officials however spotted a legal problem with the festival. Head of the Primorye Regional Department for Religious Affairs, Anatoly Dmitrenko said on Monday that advertising posters didn't show the name of the religious organization, in contravention of federal law.

All over the city posters displayed a question mark and the slogan, "Life. How can we understand it?" followed simply by the words "Viktor Hamm. He's worth listening to" and venue details.

Officials however didn't consider this breach sufficient reason to stop the festival.

Hamm stated in a press release that the festival "would not be a holiday for one particular denomination, religion, nationality or culture." His sermon on Saturday was non-denominational in content, and he took care to tell audience members that Gospel extracts given out by attendants were "the same as for Russian Orthodox believers and Catholics."

He did not mention the Baptist church or his work with Billy Graham, although on entry a reporter was handed a schedule of sermons at the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church on Narodny Avenue.

After the sermon "soul guardians" stood at either end of rows of seats and offered to send Christian literature to audience members. Reverend Polyakiko said the literature was sent out by the Baptist Church.

Religious festivals organised by non-Orthodox Churches in Russia can run into trouble. In June 1998, Viktor Hamm cancelled an outdoor preaching event in Voronezh after city authorities denied local sponsors, the Evangelical Christians-Baptists, permission to hold the event, according to the U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999. The report didn't give the legal reason for the ban.

However a representative of the press service of the Primorye Russian Orthodox Diocese said on Tuesday that the Orthodox Church was not concerned by such festivals or the involvement of Americans, but described such mass proselytizing as "alien" to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Hamm is a truly international evangelist, combining U.S.-style slick presentation skills with anecdotes closer to Russian hearts about mafia bosses and dishonest market traders. Born in Vorkuta in Russia's Far North, Gamm studied theology in Britain and the United States, and now lives permanently in Canada, where he has worked for Christian radio.

As director of Billy Graham's mission in the CIS and Baltics, Hamm heads a Moscow religious centre named 'Vozrozhdeniye" or "Rebirth," which organised "Good News 2002". "Rebirth" also organised Billy Graham's 1992 revival meeting at Moscow's Olympic stadium.

The Baptist faith is long-established in Russia, first gaining legal recognition in tsarist times. Under Stalin the Church underwent severe persecution in the 1930s, but was permitted a partial revival during World War II when Baptists and Evangelicals were lumped together in a Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. The Church is now flourishing, and an ornate new church was opened on Narodny Avenue, Vladivostok in 1997.

After the "Good News 2002" event, organizers flew back to Moscow, but are already planning their next campaign in Mongolia, said Reverend Polyakiko.  (posted 1 August 2002)

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How churches use land in Moscow

LAND FURNISHED TO MONASTERIES
by Svetlana Budartseva
Vecherniaia Moskva, 1 August 2002

Yesterday the Federation Council decided to restore church lands. Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus gave a positive assessment of the senators' initiative but expressed concern about the status of those lots on which church buildings stand.

And how will the questions about land be resolved with regard to representatives of various confessions in the capital? We addressed this question to the chief of the Directorate for Regulating Land Use by Religious and Public Organizations of the Moscow Committee on Land (Moskomzem), Oleg Kozhemiakin.

"In Moscow there are around 1,000 religious organizations and associations representing more than 40 religions and confessions," he said. "The Russian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate today has been provided 334 tracts of land on which are located monasteries, annexes, parish churches, chapels, and educational institutions. Other confessions have been allotted 74 parcels under houses of worship, mosques, Catholic churches, and synagogues.

"For a long time, religious organizations did not have the right of legal entity and they were excluded from those receiving civil distribution and land arrangements. Only with the legislative recognition of these rights has a process for distribution of lands and their acquisition by religious organizations in Moscow become possible. Moscow legislative acts have defined the conditions for acquiring parcels of land. The basic responsibility for arranging the legal land relations was assigned by the mayor to the Moscow Committee on Land.

"Before the land code of the Russian federation took effect lands were provided to religious organizations in accordance with the Moscow law "On the bases for paid land use in the city of Moscow" which provided for permanent (without expiration) use."

"But the Russian land code does not provide for allotment of land tracts to religious organizations with the right of permanent use. In the allotment of new lands or in renewal of lands acquired earlier, the land may be transferred only on the basis of lease or ownership."

"An order by the mayor of Moscow of 1 July of this year established that for parcels of land that are for the construction and use of religious compounds, buildings, structures, as well as buildings and premises for professional religious education, social charitable activity, and Sunday schools, religious organizations receive a favorable lease payment set at only one percent of the base rate. That is 1800 rubles per hectare, a sum that is purely symbolic."

"Does that mean that you have already set the rate in writing?"

"Not quite. Sometimes contradictions arise between historical archive materials and actual land use. As a rule, controversial matters are worked out. It is understandable that each parish would want to receive land within the historic boundaries of the nineteenth century. However this does not always work out but we try to do everything possible for the church. If someone violates the land rights of religious organizations (as land users) administrative measures are taken and materials are sent to the courts."

"But new churches are also being built. . ."

"Of course. And we always find ways of resolving the problems that arise. Here's a recent example. Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus requested the government of Moscow to cooperate in allotting to the Moscow patriarchate a land parcel for construction of an Orthodox church for the Vladimir Mother of God icon in Iuzhnyi Butov. The church construction was planned for land that had been leased to the "Alpha" housing construction association. The Moscow Committee on Architecture drew up the appropriate materials. But in this time the land was seized by order of an agent of the court. Moskomzem appealed to the department for the service of court agents for the southwestern administrative district requesting a hearing on the question of releasing a part of the land parcel, 1.5 hectares in area. After the court order was lifted Moskomzem introduced changes in the lease agreement. The parcel of 1.5 hectares area was released for construction of the church.  On 31 July 2001 an order was issued by the government of Moscow 'On granting to a local religious organization, the Orthodox parish of the church of the Vladimir Mother of God icon in Iuzhnyi Butov of the city of Moscow, use of land parcel at the intersection of Ostafievskaia and Potriagin streets of the settlement of Potapovo in Iuzhnyi Butov for construction of a church complex.' After this Moskomzem drew up a lease agreement for construction of the church complex." (tr. by PDS, posted 1 August 2002)

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Russian census will not survey religious affiliation

CHURCH BLESSING
Census of population does not signify end of world
by Ivan Suknov
Vremia novostei, 1 August 2002

The Moscow patriarchate called Russians to take part in the All-Russian census of the population scheduled for the fall of this year. In the opinion of RPTs, it is necessary to go to the census; it is a matter of state importance which is in no way connected with the end of the world.

The chancellor of the patriarchate, Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk, decided to strengthen the spirits of believers with the reminder that even the birth of Christ was connected with a census. The Virgin Mary went to Bethlehem especially for the census of the population conducted by the Romans. The metropolitan recalled that "the law provides all possible ways for protecting our security and saving our time," and thus one should not fear the census takers. Sergius reported also that among the census takers, in large part students, there will be students of the church educational institutions of RPTs. To be sure, they will work mainly in monasteries so that ordinary citizens are not likely to meet the seminarians. This should not reduce enthusiasm: "In participating in the census we should follow the example that the holy gospel gives to us."

The metropolitan thinks that the apocalyptic speculation that is similar to the rumors about the satanic nature of the individual taxpayer's identification number should be avoided. The patriarchate promises all possible help to the State Committee on Statistics since in its opinion the census is very important because it will permit a clarification of the demographic situation and lead to the development of a program for supporting the birthrate. "All who consider themselves patriots of the fatherland should understand how important it is for Russia that the upcoming census proceed successfully," the metropolitan said.

By the way, census takers will not ask a question about religious confession. Both the patriarchate and the state committee agree that confessional identification is a private matter of the citizen and the inclusion of such a question in the census would constitute infringement on freedom of conscience. The last time the "religion" question was included in the census form was in 1937, as a result of which workers and peasants in the state were shown to be more than 60 percent Orthodox. By the next census, 1939, some of them already found themselves in concentration camps and many were no longer living. The state did not intend to ask about faith any more. In the opinion of workers in the State Committee on Statistics, current-day Orthodox do not fear repression, although representatives of other confessions maintain a certain distrust of the government. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 August 2002)

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