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Muscovites observe blessing of the waters

by Pavel Korobov
Kommersant-Daily, 20 January 2003

Muscovites celebrated the Baptism of Christ by massive bathing in holes in the ice. Yesterday Orthodox Christians marked the holiday of Baptism. This event originally was not a PR action; by tradition, on the day of Baptism believers plunge themselves into water after the blessing of the water, following the example of Jesus Christ who was baptized in the Jordan river. This year the "Moscow Jordan" was the ice hole at Beadonnoe ozero in Serebrianyi Bor. Lifeguards, police, district administration, and reporter Pavel Korobov showed up for the night-time plunge.

The ice hole at Serebrianyi Bor was blessed by the rector of the church of the Life-giving Trinity in Khoroshove, Archimandrite Mark. Preparing for the rite of blessing, he told the KD reporter: "This is not magic and no miracles, as many think, happen. This is an ancient tradition from the first centuries of Christianity. Unquestionably, if a person believes in Christ and dips himself into the water, then he will receive grace. As is said, to each according to his faith."

All the approaches to Serebrianyi Bor were closed off by guards. Thus the people who came to the ablution had to reach the place of the plunge by foot through the fences of the elite's mansions. At 11:30 around a thousand persons had gathered on the bank of the lake, according to police estimates. Near the bathing spot were two ambulances. The area for the plunge was illuminated by several spotlights and the last preparations on the ice were completed. Water was removed from the ice and around the "Jordan" shone candles and at the edge of the hole there were cones that usually are used in highway repair.

When everything was ready, the chairman of the Serebrianyi Bor Walrus Club, Yury Baranov, with an amplifier, announced that "at the time of the blessing of the water, no one can go out on the ice, make noise, or smoke." This did not work; police had to block several attempts by impatient citizens to get in the water before the blessing. At the time of the rite of blessing, only the district officials, clergy, a church choir, and emergency workers were allowed on the ice.

Exactly at midnight the priests, dressed in white robes, began the prayer for blessing of the water. Fr Mark, with a candle and censer, accompanied by a deacon, began to walk around the "Moscow Jordan." Believers, some with lighted candles and some with flashlights, watched the event. Prayers read by the clergy were heard by all because they were amplified. As soon as Fr Mark finished blessing the water, people began to undress and one after the other plunge into the sanctified water. With difficulty the police restrained the onslaught of the crowd so that the ice would not break under the weight of the people.

After bathing, people warmed up however they could. Some around a campfire, other with hot tea, and some with alcohol. They phoned home:  "Everything went fine; nobody took off their clothes, nobody drowned." Passing by people who were drinking too much, Fr Mark explained to the KD reporter: "They are not drinking; they are warming themselves up." (tr. by PDS, posted 20 January 2003)

Nemtsov observed Orthodox holiday at the ice hole
by Olga Tropkina
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 20 January 2003

By noon yesterday expensive foreign cars had begun leaving for the second beach in Serebrianyi Bor. The leadership and activists of the "Union of Right Forces" [SPS] party decided to observe the holiday of Baptism as required, by bathing in a hole in the ice. However, for Boris Nemtsov public actions of this kind have become traditions. The SPS leader already has pulled himself up on parallel bars and bathed in temperatures barely above freezing. This time several party members, among whom in particular were workers of the executive committee and deputies of the State Duma, Boris Nadezhdin and Vera Lekareva, were called to demonstrate a healthy body and healthy soul.

An ambulance with physicians on board was brought up to the ice hole but, praise God, nobody needed medical intervention. Dressed in striped robes, the bravest of the rightists moved toward the hole. With a triumphant "Ukh!" Boris Nemtsov jumped into the water. After him, as required, after crossing themselves, Boris Nadezhdin and then deputy Vera Lekareva in a SPS vest jumped into the hole. To be sure, Nemtsov and Nadezhdin did not stay long. But the severe Orthodox ritual does not require any more. In all, several of the most seasoned party members decided "to dip in the Jordan."

"This is really a class but it is necessary to have the skill," Boris Nemtsov later shared his impressions with reporters. The SPS leader acknowledged that he himself has been involved in walrussing since 1996, when he was vice premier. However, despite this, someone of the impressed onlookers presented the walrus Nemtsov a watch. At the same time the rightists themselves distributed calendars and SPS vests to those who wanted them.

In order to warm up, the leadership of "Union of Right Forces" went to a hut that had been previously prepared for this. After they warmed up, the SPS leader and his party comrades donned skates and to the sound of Boris Nadezhdin's guitar sang the song "Oh, frost, frost. . . ." and continued the propaganda of the healthy style of life. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 january 2003)

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Avoiding dangerous sects

by Exakterina Illarianova, psychologist
Moskovskaia pravda, 20 January 2003

They are benevolent and sympathetic. They are full of humility. They are ready to start caring for you immediately. They know better than you what you need. They may start talking with you in a store or bus, on the street or right at the door of your apartment. It would seem: why not become acquainted with the soul-saving literature that is being offered or converse about eternal values or leave your address for a continuance of the acquaintance? However often the kindness or simple politeness in such a situation can turn against you. Remember the proverb: "If but one claw is caught, the whole bird is snared"?

And so:
when they threaten you with the imminent end of the world;
when they bring literature with religious contents directly to your home;
when they persistently invite you to meetings;
when they frighten you with your own sins;
when they promise you escape from all problems;
cut off the conversation; its continuance may become dangerous.

The danger consists in the possibility that you will stumble into a so-called totalitarian sect. After all, sectarianism is incompatible with a successful life in society and in a number of cases with life itself. The sect wantsto swallow up a person whole and requires complete obedience and rejection of worldly joys. Harsh subordination and severe discipline reign in it. Sects are not at all created for the salvation of fallen souls but with a single goal, to make the captured person an obedient instrument. In a totalitarian sect there is a god in the flesh, a deified leader, a living idol. This is the main difference from genuine religious confessions. All communities where the quality of a superman is ascribed to the leader have the tendency to become totalitarian. In such a place there will exist an obligatory division into us (higher, better, enlightened, spiritual) and them (sunk in sin, immoral, unworthy). And if the family of the sectarian is in the camp of "them," then he will be forced to renounce his relatives.

A person wants to feel protected and to be shielded from interminable doubts. He was to know clearly who are friends and who are enemies and to find someone who will explain to him how to live longer. The god-like leader and the followers of the new faith can do this. They are armed with instruments for psychological influence and blackmail. The sect frees one from responsibility for one's own life and a person ceases to belong to himself.  Unconscious forces that cause a person to convert to a sect may include profound sorrow, disagreements with friends, desire to become independent and break from the family, fear of making a decision, insufficient information, loneliness, or depression. However there is a safe way out of any difficult situation--do not be afraid to turn for help to acquaintances whom you respect, or to psychological specialists, or to call a telephone hotline.

Ekaterina Illarionova is a psychologist and teacher at the Advance School of Humane Psychotherapy. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 January 2003)

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Patriarch works with government and industry

by Pavel Korobov, Yulia Taratuta
Kommersant-Daily, 17 January 2003

Yesterday at the residence of Patriarch Alexis II on Chisty lane, Minister of Education Vladimir Filippov and Patriarch Alexis II signed an agreement on cooperation between the ministry and the "Pravoslavnaia entsiklopediia" Church Academic Center of RPTs. Yesterday's agreement followed the agreement on cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences that the patriarch and academy President Yury Osipov signed Wednesday [see below]. According to yesterday's agreement, the Ministry of Education will help the Church Academic Center in teacher training and publication of methodological literature for academic institutions regarding the fundamentals of Orthodox culture. The agreement also provides that volumes of the "Orthodox Encyclopedia" will be placed in libraries of secondary and higher educational institutions.

Yesterday the patriarch and president of "Gazfond" Viktor Tarasov signed an agreement for "Gazfond's" support of the "Orthodox Encyclopedia." In addition, Mr. Tarasov, who recently took over the leadership of the Russian National Association of Nonstate Pension Funds, offered to the patriarch his cooperation in the area of pension security for clergy and laity who work in institutions and organizations of RPTs.

Yesterday Minister of Culture Mikhail Shvykov arrived at Chisty lane. According to KD's information, he did not sign any written agreements with RPTs, but he talked with the patriarch about RPTs' participation in the celebration of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. In passing the ministry of culture agreed with the patriarch about approval for the filming of a ten-part publicity movie about the history of RPTs. Work on the scenario of the serial has already begun. The film will be taken by director Sergei Miroshnichenko.  (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2003)

The patriarch and the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences agreed to cooperate.
by Pavel Korobov, Galina Papernaia
Kommersant-Daily, 16 January 2003

Yesterday at his residence on Chisty lane Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus received a delegation of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) led by RAN President Yury Osipov. The result of the meeting was the signing of an agreement between the Russian Orthodox church and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The impressive RAN delegation led by RAN president Osipov arrived at the patriarch's residence at 1:30 p.m. However the scholars had to wait at the doors of the Red Hall for thirty minutes while the patriarch conversed with an Italian delegation that had brought to Russia a piece of the relics of the patron of all lovers, St. Valentine.

After receiving the relics, the patriarch received the academicians in order to sign with them an official agreement about cooperation in scientific research and cultural education activity. "Over the course of many years we have had very good cooperation. It is manifested, in particular, in the joint conferral of the Makary Prize and in the participation of RAN members in the publication of the Orthodox Encyclopedia," Alexis II said at the signing ceremony. In response RAN President Yury Osipov also expressed compliments: "Thanks to the patronage of Your Holiness during the past several years there have been many interesting scientific conferences and round tables on problems of the history of the Russian state and other essential problems."

The director of the Institute of World History of RAN, Academician Alexander Chubarian, took an active part in preparing the document and he did not see anything unusual in a visit by scholars to the patriarchal residence. "We have simply institutionalized our relations," the academician said, and he stressed that cooperation of the academy of sciences and the Russian Orthodox church does not extend to the field of education and remains within a framework of enlightening activity. It particularly involves the awarding of joint prizes honoring Archbishop Makary, who before the revolution was an active member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. These prizes took note of the services of scholars in the area of the history of culture and religion. In general, as Academician Chubarian told KD, such cooperation permits a coordination of secular and ecclesiastical research (which is being achieved more and more every year) in the area of the humanities.

"Two years ago we conducted for the first time a large conference, 'Christianity and world civilization,' to which were invited delegations from various confessions," he said. "And RAN as a whole and the institute I head, in particular, actively participated in the planning of the ten-volume Orthodox Encyclopedia."

The existence in the church and the academy of a large circle of common interests was acknowledged also by the vice-chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. He considers the former conflict of faith and science to be vestiges of the past. "The opinion that science is atheistic is the opinion of the soviet period," Fr Vsevolod told KD. "There exist in the world priests who are members of academies of sciences. Even in the Vatican there is its own academy of sciences." (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2003)

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Judgment of Orthodox textbook continues

by Anna Eroshova
Komsomolskaia pravda, 18 January 2003

The Meshchansk court of Moscow has required the prosecutor to determine whether the "Fundamental of Orthodox Culture" textbook incites interreligious strife.

We have already described how the Ministry of Education recommended introducing a course on Orthodox culture into the schools of Russia. Voluntarily, to be sure. Our readers' opinions about the innovation are extremely varied, from full support to the slogan "Get religion out of the schools!"

But while the discussion goes on, the "Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture" textbook has gone on sale. It has not been easy to get it in Moscow. In bookstores they do not know anything about such a publication. The book is not being sold in church bookstands. The telephone at the "Pokrov" print shop is silent. At the address shown in the documents there is not even a hint of the office issuing the books. We have not managed to clarify who Alla Borodina, the author of "Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture," is. It's some kind of detective novel.

At the largest Moscow book fair in "Olimpiisky," only Tatiana is selling "Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture." But even she does not know where the books can be gotten. "Once a week a woman with packages of books comes to my stall. The text sells out quickly. They are buying for gymnasia and schools. Many right away."

Meanwhile in the Russian Ministry of Education they ask that "Fundamentals" not at all be viewed as a textbook. The ministry has not approved it nor recommended it to anyone and it has not "blessed" it.

The suit against this "nontextbook textbook" was filed by the Russia-wide "For human rights" movement. Its press secretary, Evgeny Ikhlov, explained: "We think this book incites interreligious hostility. It contains anti-Armenian attacks, it has assignments for exposing "satanism," heresies, and sects, and it also identifies which nations on Russian soil behave more nobly and which less. We have accused the writer and those who gave their recommendations for its publication of antisemitism and xenophobia. This textbook is an excellent resource for skinheads. Borodina equates the words 'Russian' and 'Orthodox.' Is it the case that if people are Russian they should be Orthodox? If Tatars, Muslims? But after all both Jews and Tatars, and many others study in Russian schools. Can you really impose Orthodoxy on them? Russia will soon fall apart if it begins to be divided into religious classes and schools and then also neighborhoods.

Recently the head of the Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Nontraditional Religions, Oleg Steniaev, and the assistant to the chief mufti of Russia, Farid Salman, filed a countersuit in the Procuracy General. They charge the rights defenders with inciting interethnic strife. Meanwhile the Russian Orthodox church officially is not intervening in the conflict, preferring that the values and shortcomings of the textbook be determined by procedure established by law.

In future issues of "Komsomolka" we will describe the conflict in greater detail and we will provide an opportunity for experts who have offered to give their conclusion regarding the new textbook to express themselves. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2003)

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Catholics display fraternal love for Orthodox

by Dmitry Rudnev
Izvestiia, 16 January 2003

Yesterday at the residence of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus His Holiness met with the Catholic bishop of the Italian city of Terni, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia. At the meeting the Catholic prelate presented to the patriarch a piece of a relic of St. Valentine, who according to European tradition is considered the patron of lovers.

Despite the crisis in relations between the Vatican and the Orthodox church, a number of Italian dioceses have declared their sympathy and friendly attitude toward the Russian Orthodox church. Almost immediately after the beginning of the conflict, which was caused by the transformation of apostolic administrations into dioceses,  the Moscow patriarchate was visited by several Catholic delegations from Italy. At the time of these meetings the guests several times called the action of the Holy See ill-advised and unnecessary.

The visit by the bishop from Terni is a continuation of the demonstration of a friendly attitude toward the Russian Orthodox church on the part of the "Italian party" that is traditionally strong in the Vatican. This includes the bishops of the Italian peninsula. In this context the gift presented by Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia to the Moscow patriarchy is viewed as symbolic since the relic is of the martyr Valentine who is the patron of lovers.

Valentine's Day: According to tradition, St. Valentine was a priest who married Roman legionnaires to their beloveds. Since at the time of the Roman empire soldiers were forbidden to marry, St. Valentine was violating the law and for this he was executed. In the West, St. Valentine's Day has ceased to be a church holiday. On this day lovers write one another romantic messages on postcards made in the shape of a heart. These letters are called "valentines." This tradition arose in the eighteenth century in France and has spread practically throughout the world. On this day it is customary to give gifts to people one loves. Especially for this day numerous souvenirs and candies in the shape of hearts are produced.

Love is still not marriage: Inasmuch as in Orthodox tradition relations between a man and a woman can exist only within marriage, it is marriage that Orthodox saints watch over. "In Moscow on Nikita street there is a church in which there are the relics of saints Peter and Fevronia of Murom," Archpriest Stanislav Sveshnikov told Izvestiia. "In Russia they are thought to be the patrons of marriage." It is possibly for this reason that marriages are conducted in this church more than in any other. However on the day of Peter and Fevronia, 8 July, no ceremonies are conducted in this church. According to Orthodox theology, assigning to a saint the function of a patron is considered magic and this is not welcomed by the church. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2003)

by Yelena Dorofeyeva
TASS, January 15

Moscow's major church, Cathedral of Our Lord the Savior, is due to get a new holy object --parts of the relics of St Valentine of Italy that have been handed to Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexis II by representatives of the Roman Catholic diocese of Terni-Narni-Amelia.

A delegation of clergy and believers from the diocese presented the relics to the Russian Church at Alexis II's office in Moscow Wednesday. St Valentine had been canonized by the Holy Christian Church before it split into two major branches, reporting to Rome and to Constantinople, in the middle of the 11th century.

Alexis II told the delegation the handover of the gift was an emotional event for him and the relics would be kept in the Cathedral of Our Lord the Savior.

It was the Bishop of Terni-Narni-Amelia, Vincenzo Paglia, who came up with the initiative to send the part of St Valentine's holy body to Russia as a symbol of fraternal love.

The Holy Martyr Valentine of Italy lived in the 3rd century AD. The Russian Orthodox Church venerates him August 12 every year.

What the western and eastern Christians differ in is the interpretation of the saint's role and patronage over people. While the Roman Catholic Church considers him a heavenly patron of all those in love, the Russian Church does not ascribe to him any special powers in love matters.

The saints whom the Russian Orthodox believers have been praying to for assistance in family life and the upbringing of children are Peter and Pheuronia, the duke and duchess of the Russian town of Murom, and Cyril and Maria, the parents of another highly venerated Russian saint, Sergius of Radonezh.  (posted 17 January 2003)

Saint Valentine can hardly help correct relations between two churches.
by Oleg Nedumov
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 17 January 2003

The strained relations between Moscow and the Vatican bring to naught any attempts by the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches to present a united front to the more substantial problems of international politics and public life. Although their positions sometimes coincide fully. Both Catholic and Orthodox sharply criticize attempts at cloning a human, although they still have not made a joint statement on this matter. The same applies to the situation regarding Iraq. John Paul II's declaration, which recently subjected the Russian government to criticism for refusing to give entry visas to several foreign Catholic clergy, testifies that one should not expect a positive change in relations between Moscow and the Vatican in the near future.

Despite the situation that has developed, RPTs managed to get an informal dialogue with representatives of various Italian dioceses of the Roman Catholic church whose position often differs considerably from the official foreign policy line of the Vatican. A most notable example of such contact was a visit made recently to Moscow by a delegation of Italian Catholics headed by the bishop of the city of Terni, Vincenzo Paglia, who delivered a gift to the Russian Orthodox church of a piece of the relics of St. Valentine of Terni, who is considered in western Europe the patron of lovers. This gift, as the Italian bishop suggests, should be a symbol of reconciliation between the two churches, since St. Valentine lived at a time when they were not yet divided.

Whether it is an irony of fate or fully intentional, this visit by the Italian delegation was held exactly two days after John Paul II's statement. The presence in the Roman Catholic church of two directly contradictory foreign policy lines is shocking and even Catholic themselves do not attempt to conceal it. In the representation of the Vatican in Moscow they declare with irritation that the transfer of the relics from Italy was a purely private initiative by Bishop Vincenzo Paglia.

It seems that the hopes that had been placed in the new representative of the Vatican in Moscow, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, for correcting relations between the two churches have hardly been justified. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2003)

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Political and religious leaders address Russian health crisis

by Pavel Korobov
Kommersant-Daily, 17 January 2003

Yesterday in the conference hall of the "Daniel" hotel of the Moscow patriarchate a parliamentary hearing on "Religion and Health" was conducted. In the opinion of participants, only faith can raise the spirit and strengthen the bodies of Russians.

Deputies of the State Duma, government workers, and clergy arrived at the hotel in the St. Daniel's monastery in order to talk about the close interrelationship of the health and morality of Russian society. Addressing the participants of the parliamentary hearing, the chairman of the duma Committee on Protection of Health and Sports, Academic Gerasimenko, said that in 1993 there were around five million invalids in the Russian federation, and now, despite all efforts of the Ministry of Health, there are 10.6 million and by 2005 there will be 12.4 million. The deputy said that in his committee it is hoped that "there will be an expansion and strengthening of productive activity of the traditional religions for improving the health of society," and he pointed out that "in religious traditions there are instructions and recommendations for a healthy way of life, work habits, eating, and sleeping." In the opinion of Mr. Gerasimenko, faith is simply called to save Russians not only from spiritual but also from physical degradation. "For example, Muslims pray five times a day and this is a kind of gymnastics," the academic explained his thought. "Or washing. This is hygiene. At the same time, they do not drink alcoholic beverages, and do not smoke--this also is a healthy way of life. . . . And it is the same with the Orthodox," the deputy added after a notable pause.

In the name of religion, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad addressed the hearing. "The church should use all the strength that it has for helping to raise people up. A healthy way of life is the way of life where the spirit dominates human flesh," the master said. "The sooner our contemporaries grasp this, the sooner we will cope with the problems of the health of the nation." The main cause for disease among Russians comes from an internal discord between the spiritual and physical foundations of each Russian, Metropolitan Kirill thinks. Here only faith can help, and the church must work closely with institutions of the protection of health in giving pastoral aid. The metropolitan said that the church must train not only nurses, which RPTs has done for a long time, but also clergy especially for hospitals. The hearing's participants whispered among themselves:  probably to hear confession.

The president of the People's party, Gennady Raikov, who was awarded at the hearing the order of St. Sergius of Radonezh, second degree, on Metropolitan Kirill's authorization, told the participants in the event that next week in the State Duma an interfraction deputies group in support of traditional spiritual and moral values of Russia will be created.

The results of the hearing at the "Daniel" hotel were eight recommendations, among which two deserve attention. It is suggested that parliament "support drafts of laws on social morality," and that the government "create an all-Russian information system of television, radio, and other forms of securing information directed to the improvement of spiritual and moral sense and of healthy maintenance of life." The recommendations were distributed to deputies, the government, and the president of RF. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2003)

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New papal nuncio in Moscow

by Nadezhda Kevorkova
Gazeta, 13 January 2003

On 11 January, after a three months absence, there again appeared in Moscow an apostolic nuncio of the Holy See. The new emissary of the Vatican, who is the fourth in twelve years, is the titular archbishop of Ferento, Antonio Mennini.

Upon arrival at Sheremetevo-2 the pope's emissary expressed greetings in his name in the Russian language to the patriarch, the Russian Orthodox church, Vladimir Putin, and to Russians, whom he wished "happiness and prosperity under the sign of hope and confidence" in the new year. The appointment of a new nuncio happened back on 6 November and it did not meet any complications on the part of the Russian MID. However the ambassador's arrival in Moscow was delayed for two months.

Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Mennini is 55 years old. He was ordained a priest at age 27. He became a doctor of theology, and from 1981 has been in the diplomatic service. He has served in Uganda and Turkey and in the state secretariat of the Vatican. He speaks Russian fluently. Before his appointment to Moscow Monsignor Mennini was nuncio in Orthodox Bulgaria. Two years ago he was consecrated a bishop with the rank of archbishop.

Mennini's appointment occurred against the backdrop of the ten-month crisis in relations between RPTs and the Vatican after the Vatican announced on 11 February 2002 the formation of four Russian dioceses headed by a Catholic metropolitan in Moscow. The conflict intensified after the refusal of Russian visas to seven Catholic priests. The position of the government "on Catholics" is not limited to the actions of MID, as Gazeta has explained. According to a draft of a report for a session of the Security Council, Catholics are viewed, in the opinion of bureaucrats, as a threat to the security of the country. As Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz told Gazeta, "this is all so strange that it is hard to believe."

Antonio Mennini's predecessor, Archbishop Giorgio Zur, was appointed back on 8 October to the Vienna nunciature. On 13 October he served his farewell mass in Moscow and left for Vienna. In parting with the flock the archbishop recalled that Metropolitan Isidor, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, joined in the unia (union) with Rome at the time of the council of Florence in the fifteenth century. "We consider that the Roman primate is a successor of St. Peter, the vicar of Jesus Christ, head of the ecumenical church, and also is the father and teacher of all Christians," Giorgio Zur said in farewell. Actually, this unia was never cancelled, although Metropolitan Isidor himself, who commemorated the pope in a Kremlin cathedral, was forced to flee from Moscow.

The replacement of Rome's representative has provoked various assessments. From the point of view of a number of Russian Catholics, the Vatican has demonstrated to Russia its dissatisfaction with the position of the Catholic church. According to information Gazeta has received, the manifestation of the Vatican's dissatisfaction can be related also to the recent transfer of an Orthodox church in Dresden, which had belonged to RPTs, to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, that was protested by the Russian foreign ministry. According to a source in the Moscow patriarchate, the mission of the former nuncio hit a deadend. Giorgio Zur often sent to MID unanswered notes of protest against the expulsions of Catholic priests. His contacts with the Moscow patriarch were cut off back in February of last year. At the same time the Vatican, as Gazeta has confirmed in the patriarchate, is deaf to the old requests by RPTs to replace the head of Catholics in Russia, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who personally met Monsignor Mennini, told Gazeta that the arrival of this representative of the pope raises great hopes. "He arrived in thirty-below weather and I consoled the monsignor that it will warm up soon. He arrived at a very difficult time, when Catholics in Russia are experiencing difficulties with the secular authorities.  We have very many foreign priests, and this creates concern since a new law regarding foreigners has been adopted, in which there is much that is unclear, and total chaos rules. So Catholics also hope for a warming in relations with the government. The nuncio's task is very complex, but he already has brilliant experience of working in Bulgaria, where Catholics are an absolute minority. As the result of his efforts and in the time of his ministry, Pope John Paul II visited this Orthodox country last year."

According to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, the patriarch's letter of greetings to the pope was one sign of imminent changes. "Of course, this is within the framework of protocol, but the words of the patriarch to the pope were very warm. Good will will lead to success, if it is timely and mutual." (tr. by PDS, posted 15 January 2003)

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Moscow patriarchate behind refusal of visas to Catholics

by Evgeny Komarov
Novye izvestiia, 15 January 2003

Last Monday, only a day after the new nuncio (ambassador) of the Vatican arrived in Moscow, Pope John Paul II devoted a substantial part of his traditional annual address to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See to the problems of Russia. In particular, the pope said that the situation of Catholics in Russia "is the cause of great agony" for him. "I am talking about the fate of Catholic parishes in the Russian federation to which their pastors have not been able to return for several months because of administrative reasons." As is known, last year a number of Catholic priests were denied Russian visas. One of the four Catholic bishops of Russia, from Irkutsk, was denied a visa, as were four of the approximately 250 priests (from Yaroslavl, Vladimir, Rostov, and Southern Sakhalin). In none of these cases did the Russian side even give an explanation of the reasons for its decision.  The pope has not spoken out about the problems concerning freedom of conscience in Russia so harshly for a long time. "Russian Catholics wish to live the way their brethren in the faith live throughout the world, enjoying such freedom and maintaining their dignity. . . . The Holy See expects from agencies of government specific decisions that will put an end to this crisis and that will be consistent with the international obligations signed by the contemporary democratic Russia."

The Vatican appealed for help from USA and other states, requesting influence on the resolution of the "crisis in Moscow." As news services have reported, the ambassador of USA to the Vatican, James Nicholson, reported that President Bush already has raised the "Catholic question" with President Putin.

The response of official Moscow to John Paul II's assessment so far has been decidedly aloof. The deputy chief of staff of the Russian government, Aleksei Volin, stated in an interview on radio that the Russian government will not react in any way to the pope's statement. "There are many religions and our law provides freedom of religious confession. Everyone who wants to worship, worships; those who do not want to, don't. Russian Catholics have never addressed the government about a shortage of pastors," he said cynically.

However a rather lengthy commentary was sounded on the part of the Russian Orthodox church. One of the deputies to  Metropolitan Kirill, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, expressed his wonder that the "Vatican is trying to create a picture of supposed total persecution of Catholics in Russia out of isolated incidents of refusal of a visa, which any state in the world has the right to do."

At the same time Catholics were accorded extremely condescending views by the Orthodox bureaucrat:  "The tiny Catholic minority has full freedom to worship and to engage in public activity. This freedom is quite sufficient since the few Catholic churches in Russia have difficulty in filling themselves up because the idea of a broad Catholic mission in Russia has suffered a setback." Even more serious accusations were sounded against the Catholics on the part of RPTs. "In Russia a large number of Catholic parishes are functioning, several bishops are working, and a multitude of Catholic educational and charitable institutions are active, including those where in effect people's souls are being purchased for material goods and where, taking advantage of the dire material situation, Catholics are imposing an alien faith on Russians. Russia is being viewed simply as an easy quarry where it is possible to reap profits."

It is interesting that RPTs was not even mentioned by the pope in his speech to the diplomats. All charges were aimed exclusively against the Putin government. But the fact that RPTs took it as a reproach against itself and began "firing back," instead of MID, is very symptomatic. Thereby RPTs has practically confirmed that behind the refusals of visas to Catholic priests and behind the new line of the state with regard to the Catholic minority there stand, in reality, the political instructions of a competing confession, the Russian Orthodox church. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 January 2003)


Losing influence in the Vatican, John Paul II undertakes desperate demarche against Moscow

by Oleg Nedumov
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 15 January 2003

The conflict between Moscow and the Vatican unexpectedly wound up again in the center of attention of the world community. At the time of his annual address to the diplomats accredited to the Vatican, Pope John Paul II criticized rather sharply the Russian authorities for expelling from Russia several Catholic clergymen. The pontiff stated that the Vatican is expecting from Moscow "specific actions that can put an end to the crisis."

The pope's words did not evoke a particularly noteworthy international response, although Russian authorities and the Russian Orthodox church reacted to them immediately. The deputy chief of staff of the Russian government, Aleksei Volin, declared on air to "Echo of Moscow" radio that the Russian government will not respond in any way to the pontiff's statement. . . .

A much sharper reaction ensued on the part of RPTs, although the pope's charges did not have any direct relation to the church. The deputy chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, in an interview with Interfax expressed his wonder that the "Vatican is trying to create a picture of supposed total persecution of Catholics in Russia out of isolated incidents of refusal of a visa, which any state in the world has the right to do." He declared that "In Russia a large number of Catholic parishes are functioning, several bishops are working, and a multitude of Catholic educational and charitable institutions are active, including those where in effect people's souls are being purchased for material goods and where, taking advantage of the dire material situation, Catholics are imposing an alien faith on Russians."

In and of themselves the statements of both sides do not contain anything new in comparison with what they have already said in the very heat of the conflict. What is interesting is something else:  why did the pope decide to make such a strong statement just now, when the tensions between Moscow and the Vatican had somewhat abated and the sides have already begun to make attempts to restore normal relations?

In order to answer this question it is necessary to have in mind that John Paul II's entourage is experiencing now what are by no means good times. Pope Wojtyla's pontificate is coming to an end and as a result the influence of the Polish group in the Vatican leadership has notably weakened. Without waiting for John Paul II's death, the traditionally influential Italian group has been trying to get revenge for the almost 25 year long rule of the Polish pope. According to information obtained by NG, a purge of the ranks now is taking place in the Vatican, during which "Wojtyla's people" are quietly being removed from their positions.

The position of the Italian group, including that on matters of the foreign policy of the Vatican, is often at variance with the policy of the pope and his entourage. In the first place, this pertains to the Vatican's "eastern policy" and its relations with RPTs. In the dispute over the establishment in Russian of Catholic dioceses, Italian Catholics frequently have spoken out on the side of the Russian Orthodox church. In the past six months, several delegations from various Italian dioceses of the Roman Catholic church have visited the Moscow patriarchate and they have openly expressed support for the position of RPTs.

Apparently, John Paul II's sharp statement against the Russian authorities was a last desperate attempt of the Polish group in the leadership of the Vatican to show itself as an influential political force. For Pope Wojtyla and his entourage, the policy with regard to Russia is a matter of principle by virtue of national mentality and his essential conservatism. The Poles who are rapidly losing influence are trying to maintain the former line of the Vatican in this question that is a matter of principle for them. However, in the final analysis, these attempts are doomed to failure. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 January 2003)

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