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Church and parliament leaders on law



from Nezavisimaia gazeta, 13 August 1997

The president of the department of external church relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, expressed hope that representatives of religious associations and state agencies will be able to reach agreement on the wording of revisions in the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" that was rejected by the Russian president. Speaking on Tuesday to a press conference in Moscow he again confirmed the point of view of the Russian Orthodox church that the vetoed law "does not contradict the constitution of the Russian federation nor infringe upon anyone's rights, including Catholics and Baptists." "I have never seen a more liberal law on religion than is this law. Why is not anyone upset that a number of countries declare themselves Catholic countries, but we are frightened that the law's preamble simply points out the historic role and value of Orthodoxy in Russia?" he said. (tr. by PDS)

c. Nezavisimaia gazeta, 13 August 1997

RIA NOVOSTI, 11 August 1997

MOSCOW 11 August. "If the duma tries to revise the law, then we certainly will join the reconciliation commission," President Egor Stroev of the Federation Council said on 8 August in a conversation with a correspondent of the RIA Novosti agency. "If the duma chooses to do something else, for example, if is wishes to override the president's veto, then that will deprive us of the possibility of revising the law." Emphasizing that "reason promotes" the necessity of an attentive review "of all the opinions that have arisen with regard to this law," the speaker of the upper chamber called for "calm acceptance" of the law, taking into account the existing opinions, because "it is extremely necessary for our nation." In Stroev's opinion: "Orthodoxy should occupy first place on the list of religions," but "it would be possible to do without a list altogether." "The main thing," he emphasized, "is that standards of conduct within the life of society be observed in keeping with the rules that exist in our country, as well as with Russia's treaties within the European Union." (tr. by PDS) GENNADY SELEZNEV: STATE DUMA WILL NOT OBJECT TO CATHOLICISM Segodnia, 12 August 1997 (ITAR-TASS) The conceptual principles of the law on freedom of conscience will not be changed, but on a repeated review of the document the deputies will take into account the suggestions of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In particular, Catholicism will be included in a listing of the basic religions of Russia , according to the president of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznev. He considers that a majority of the disputes over this law, which has evoked discussion in Russian society, are connected with the question of the activity of nontraditional religions and sects. "The State Duma cannot give them the right to work on equal footing with the Russian Orthodox church, and if the president does not agree with this, we shall override his veto," the speaker of the lower chamber declared. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 13 August 1997)

Patriarch versus president

by Gaiaz Alimov, Gennady Charodeev
Izvenstiia, 9 August 1997

A document has reached the editorial office of Izvestiia from the chancellery of His Most Holiness which states the point of view of the Russian Orthodox church on the law on freedom of conscience and religious associations, which President Boris Yeltsin, as is known, has vetoed. If hitherto the essence of the disagreements of the sides was a matter of conjecture, now we can evaluate them. Actually this is a public polemic which, in our opinion, is of interest to society. [tr. note: the wording in this article suggests that the document referred to here is pretty much the same as the one that was published in the magazine Radonezh with the title Expert Commentary on the Draft of the Law. . . .]

What the president disagrees with:

"In rejecting the draft of the federal law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, adopted by the State Duma, the president argued that provisions of this draft contradict provisions of the constitution, federal laws, and the bases of the constitutional system of Russia."

What the patriarch insists on:

ˆIt is impossible to agree with Boris Nikolaevich's position. The draft as prepared was the fruit of long efforts of its creators and it fully conforms with existing Russian legislation and with the generally accepted legislative practice of foreign countries.

Article 2 of the draft gives the definition of legislation on freedom of conscience and religious associations. In this definition there actually is no mention of international standards and legal acts. However this does not mean that these acts of international law, in the lawmakers' opinion, are not a part of the Russian legislation on freedom of conscience. According to part 4 of article 15 of the constitution these acts constitute an essential part of the legal system of the Russian federation and consequently, independent of the enumeration of standards and legal acts contained in article 2 of the draft, the legislation on freedom of conscience and religious association includes analogous provisions: "principles and standards of international law and international agreements of the Russian federation."

What the president disagrees with:

The president considers that the draft law tramples upon "fundamental human rights."

What the patriarch insists on:

An analysis of the indicated standards permits one to draw the conclusion that the president considers the very procedure of registration of a religious organization as "trampling on human rights." In this regard one wishes to note that the creation of a religious organization is a basic, but not the only, form of corporate confession of religion profession. Alongside religious organizations there is another form of corporate religious profession, the religious group, which does not require special registration. Thus, the existence of a special procedure for registration of religious organizations cannot be viewed as a restriction of citizens' rights to corporate religious profession. From the moment of state registration of religious organizations they acquire rights of legal entity. As legal entities, religious organizations, on the one hand, become fully qualified participants in the civil marketplace and on the other hand acquire enormous tax and other privileges which essentially distinguish them from other economic entities. In this regard the state must not automatically recognize as religious organizations those associations who simply call themselves such. The state must attentively examine the essence of the belief systems, their rituals, and the social consequences of the activities of newly created organizations. The need for a special procedure of registration of religious organizations is contained also in international legal documents. For example, in its resolution of 29 February 1996 the Europarliament "calls the governments of member states not to grant the status of religious organization automatically." Thus, the provision of the draft law regarding the procedure of registration of religious organizations fully conforms to the recommendations of the Europarliament.

What the president disagrees with:

The president categorically opposed the provision of the federal law that was deliberately directed toward the restriction of the rights of persons who are not citizens of Russia. In his letter the president of Russia appealed to the provision of the constitution according to which"foreign citizens and persons without citizenship enjoy in the Russian federation rights, and bear obligations, on an equality with citizens of the Russian federation."

What the patriarch insists on:

In this instance it has been entirely ignored that the restriction of rights of foreign citizens is permitted if this restriction is established by federal law or internation agreement of the Russian federation. That is the restriction of certain rights of foreign citizens by the law On Freedom of Religions Confession and Religious Associations" does not thereby violate the constituion. According to the constitution "exercise of human and civil rights and freedoms must not fiolate the rights and freedoms of other persons." Religious Activity of foreign citizens frequently has led to the saddest consequences for Russians. The task of the state is to defend by all means its citiznes from infringement of their rights and freedoms. One of the means of defense of the inerests of Russian citizens is a partial restrictin of the rights of foreign citizens. Obviously this is what guided the president of the Russian federation when he restricted the constitutional rights of foreign citizens to labor. In decree no. 2146 of 16 December 1993, justifying the restriction of foreigners in their right to labor, the president of Russia said: "In the interests ... of guaranteeing the priority of the rights of citizens to occupy vacant posts." Further by decree he established a complex procedure for receiving permission for employing foreign citizens in Russia. A number of federal laws also have established certain restriction of the rights of foreign citizens and this fully agrees with the constitution. For example, in accordance with article 7 of the Russian law of 27 December 1991, no. 2124-1 "On Media of Mass Information" the founders of media of mass information cannot be "citizens of another state;" in accordance with part 4 of article 18 of federal law "Concerning Changes and Additions to the RSFSR law 'On banks and banking activity in RSFSR,'" "the bank of Russia has the right to limit the appreciation of capital of credit organizations at the expense of nonresidents." The state resorted to these restrictions of the rights of foreigners because it determined that in these matters the activities of Russians must have priority over those of foreign citizens. Can anyone be persuaded that religious activity is less significant for Russian citizens than banking activity or the activity of media of mass information?

What the president disagrees with:

Analyzing a number of articles of the draft the president draws the conclusion that requiring the state to give financial, material, and other kinds of support to religious associations to assure the teaching of general education subjects in educational institutions, created by religious organizatins, does not comport with the constitution of Russia.

What the patriarch insists on:

It is necessary to note that in accordance with the federal law "On Education," non-state educational institutions that have received state accreditation already have the right to state and municipal financing provided that they are implementing the basic general education curriculum. The standard of the draft of the law under discussion in this case does not introduce into Russian legislation anything new.

His Most Holiness considers the chief culprit in creating in the head of state a mistaken understanding of the document to be a "small group of experts who from the start had a negative attitude" toward the law. "We know these people and we are ready to discuss openly with them in the eyes of all society," Alexis II declared. It has become known that President Boris Yeltsin has authorized his chief of staff to conduct before 1 September an expanded sessino of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations in order to agree with representatives of confessions, deputies, and senators the essential question: whether it is necessary to introduce serious changes in the draft of the law on freedom of conscient.

We shall see how well this can bring about a convergence of the positions of the two sides. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Patriarkh Aleksii nastavaet na svoem

(posted 15 August 1997)

Journalist honors Yeltsin's political skill

by Natalia Kalashnikova
Segondia, 7 August 1997

The patriarch consecrated a chapel whose cornerstone had been laid by the president

"If the vacation had not interfered, many of the celebrated difficuties never would have arisen," His Most Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus said, drawing a line under the disagreements which had seriously escalated in relations between the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs) and the president. "Boris Nikolaevich, addressing a number of legislators, said that a compromise must be found," the primate noted; "The law most certainly must be adopted." Boris Yeltsin promised that the law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Asociations can be adopted after revision: "A reconciliation commission will be created that includes representatives of the church, the duma, the presidency, and the government. . . . After this the way will be cleared for the law."

The reconciliation of the church and the government came about on the right day: yesterday the Orthodox commemorated in their prayers the holy passionbearers Boris and Gleb. And on the right spot: Alexis II and Boris Yeltsin met at the ceremony of the consecration of a church-chapel dedicated to the pious princes on Arbat Square. [see report Yeltsin meets patriarch] The chapel was erected on the very spot where earlier had stood the church of Boris and Gleb, which was destroyed in the thirties. The new church was finished within three months, and the president had participated in the laying of the cornerstone, giving special honor to Boris (for whom he is named), who was murdered in 1015 by his brother Sviatopolk the Damned, and to Gleb (for whom his younger grandson is named). The princes, we recall, were the first Russian saints to be canonized.

Evidently such a fortuitous concurrence of place, time, and circumstances explains the extremely diverse composition of the assemblage of state figures at Arbat Square. Here there were the minister of defense Igor Sergeev, and secretary of the security council Ivan Rybkin, and vice-speakers of the State Duma Artur Chiligarov and Sergei Baburin, and officials of Moscow. Having received the prayers of the archdeacon for the health of the president of Russia, the mayor, and members of the government of the "divinely preserved city of Moscow," those present proceeded into the church.

However let us return to the theological discussion. Alexis II yesterday, it seems, laid out more fully the position of the RPTs with regard to the law we have mentioned. And judging from the sharpness of his points, the government has now been shown its path for retreat. The patriarch's sermon alluded to the campaign that arose in the west and even in the American Congress (Americans threatened to "freeze" Russian aid) because ofthe law's nonrecognition of "nontraditional" religions: "No foreign intervention and generally no one and nothing can save Russia from chaos and ruin until . . . the nation itself is cleansed in the font of repentance from its years-old evils." The patriarch mentioned the crimes of Aum Sinrikyo and the White Brotherhood. And for the first time there was a curt commentary by the RPTs on a major dispute--onrecognition of Catholicism as a "traditional" Russian religion: "In tsarist Russia the main place of residence of Catholics was in Poland and Lithuania. In Petersburg and Moscow there were Catholic churches for foreigners. Catholic parishes on Russian territory were ruled by the metropolitan of Mogilev," he recalled. Finally, after a certain hiatus, the primate issued abundant words of gratitude about Boris Yeltsin himself. [see report of patriarch's statement]

In a word, the victory seems to have been snatched from the grasp of the duma that the president so dislikes: it had been planned to begin the fall parliamentary session with the Lord's Prayer. But the president is going along with the West and is discounting the Orthodox people. The president is not being led by anyone because he has chosen--as he usually does--a third way: he ordered both that the law be adopted and that the constitution be observed. How? a reconciliation commission will decide. He even had declared 1997 the year of concord and reconciliation.

Russian text: President poshel po tretemy puti

Orthodox church will accept few changes in religion law

RIA Novosti, by Alexander Utkin
7 August 1997

MOSCOW, 7 August. Archbishop Sergius of Solnechnogorsk, chief of staff of the Moscow patriarchate, declared that the current position of the Russian Orthodox church is to insist upon the principles contained in the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," [text of law] which Russian President Boris Yeltsin vetoed, while "working for the achievement of compromise."

"We do not want to get into the basic conceptions of the law on which a great deal of energy and effort has been expended," he said. At the same time Father Sergius stressed that the Russian Orthodox church would not wish for tensions among the president, State Duma, the government, and representatives of the primary religious confessions, and thus it is ready to find a mutually acceptable version.

In connection with this he expressed "satisfaction and joy" over the decision of Boris Yeltsin to create a reconciliation commission, which will include representatives of the church and state agencies, in order "to review" the law, removing the provisions which, in the president's opinion, violate the constitution.

Archbishop Sergius expressed great hopes that the expanded session of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the Presidency of the Russian Federation, which was ordered by the head of state to meet before 1 September, "would reach a common denominator." The monseigneur (vladyka) stressed that the Russian Orthodox church will insist upon the preamble of the law, which takes note of the roots of Orthodoxy in Rus and to which the president has expressed no dissent.

The main problem in revision of the document will deal, in his opinion, with the right to religious freedom for a person who is not a citizen of Russia , as well as the questions of the registration of religious sects and organizations and of the representation of foreign churches of various denominations in our country. When all obstacles have been removed," then, the Archbishop of Solnechnogorsk considers, "a compromise acceptable to all will be found." He did not discount the possibility that there may later be a meeting of the president and Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, who today began a ten-day vacation. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Tserkov budet otstaivat na printsipialnye polozheniia

Links to other Web articles on law:

Patriarch Alexi and Yeltsin agree law must be amended, by Keston News Service

Legislation of Church and State: Established Religion in Russia?, by Richard Pipes

(posted 10 August)

Hindus apprehensive about outcome of revision of religion law

For the Hindustan Times
from Fred Weir in Moscow,
6 August 1997
(from Johnson list)

MOSCOW (HT) -- President Boris Yeltsin moved this week to head off a politically dangerous rift between Church and State over a controversial religion law, but reconciliation could come at a high price for foreign confessions -- including Hindu ones -- that want to practice freely in Russia.

Mr. Yeltsin and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church have quarelled this summer over the President's veto of a law that would grant national status to just four "traditional" Russian faiths -- Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism -- making them, in effect, Russia's official religions.

The law, passed by the opposition-dominated parliament last month and strongly favoured by the Church, would restrict all other confessions, and cancel their existing rights to publish, conduct missionary activity, own property and maintain schools.

Mr. Yeltsin vetoed the law after the United States State Department published a report warning that religious freedom was being curbed in Russia and the U.S. Congress threatened to cut off financial aid to Moscow. The veto seriously undermined the Kremlin's good relations with the Orthodox Church, and created the prospect of political crisis when parliament returns in September from its summer recess. Most experts believe opposition deputies could easily muster the two-thirds vote required to overturn the veto, throwing a Constitutional hand grenade into Mr. Yeltsin's lap at a time when he has no shortage of other headaches. The Kremlin has argued that the proposed law violates Russia's Constitution and severely restricts minority rights. Any "non-traditional" sect wishing official sanction would be required to undergo a 15-year bureaucratic process of registration -- during which it would be forbidden from seeking converts or even holding a bank account. Even after registration, it would only be permitted to exist in localities where it could prove a continuous presence.

"We are very grateful that Yeltsin vetoed that law," says an Asian diplomat, who asked not to be further identified. "It would represent a serious departure from the secularism that has characterized the post-Soviet Russian state, and would impose terrible hardships on small confessions, and ones that are new to Russia."

The Krishna Consciousness Society, which has been very active in Russia in recent years, along with several other lesser known Hindu groups, would be effectively banned under the legislation.

A large number of Christian missionary groups, and even the powerful Roman Catholic Church, would be similarly affected. But Mr. Yeltsin, who has always been careful to maintain close relations with the Orthodox Church -- Russia's traditional faith and one that claims 80-million followers -- appeared this week to be backtracking from his determination to squelch the law. The President has said that some version of the law is necessary to "protect the spiritual health of the Russian people" against doomsday sects and crackpot cults, and has urged a joint parliamentary commission to find an acceptable compromise.

On Wednesday Mr. Yeltsin attended the opening of a new church in Moscow together with Patriarch Alexy II, spiritual head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and indicated that such a compromise is near. "No obstacles shall separate us, because we know the role and the importance of the restoration in Russia of Orthodox Christianity and the Orthodox Church," Mr. Yeltsin told the Patriarch, according to news agencies. Patriarch Alexy told journalists that Mr. Yeltsin had assured him the law will be enacted in its basic form, and that it would provide protection from "destructive pseudo-religious cults and foreign false-missionaries".

For many, that signals the end of separation between Church and State and a new era of official patronage for a few religions -- and discrimination against others -- in Russia. "Whatever compromises may be made, we doubt they will include small confessions, such as Hindus, who have been active in Russia," says the diplomat. "Perhaps some accommodation will be made for the Catholic Church, or big Western Protestant groups. But others, who have also been part of the new diversity in this country, will suffer. That's very unfortunate," he says.

Sectarian crimes

Prosecutor enflames opinion by alleging criminal activity of sects
from ITAR-TASS and Pravoslavie v Rossii
8 August 1997

MOSCOW (8 August) The activity of many foreign religious organizations on Russian territory has been accompanied by violation of existing legislation and the constitutional rights of citizens and has resulted in numerous criminal cases, according to Viktor Navarnov, a prosecutor of the department for supervising implementation of the law on international relations of the general procuracy of the Russian federation, who spoke with a correspondent of ITAR-TASS in an exclusive interview. Citing information from his office, he noted that the expansion of nontraditional religious associations (totalitarian sects) in Russia that promote antisocial behavior and rejection of constitutional obligations and pose a threat to the moral, psychological, and physical health of citizens present a serious threat to the state and to society. Dividing people in the religious sphere and setting them against one another on the basis of religious convictions, totalitarian sects destroy the spiritual and moral foundations of society that have been created in the thousand-year history of Orthodox Russia, according to the representative of the general procuracy. On the basis of expert opinion, he said, the belief system of totalitarian sects is intended to achieve a complete transformation of people's system of moral values, which is achieved by overt psychological manipulation of the consciousness of a person in the form of sermons, rituals, and the like. In analyzing video tapes and printed materials they have identified psychological techniques to achieve intellectual and emotional influence that is aimed at a social and economic reorientation, change of standards of values, and retention in the religious organization. Investigations that have been conducted have established that the attraction of young people into antisocial religious groups leads to destruction of family relationships, arrests their psychological and social development, deforms their personality structure, and requires special psychological and social therapy. In Volgograd district alone, according to data of the general procuracy, there are 37 religious associations that are operating without registration, that is, surreptitiously, which pursue mercantilist goals, namely the "White Brotherhood," "Bah," "World Center," and "Black Moon," and others. All of them are characterized by an internal hierarchy, subordination of the rank and file to the leadership, and total control over the personal life of the adherents. In the "Church of Scientology," for example, illegal manipulation of consciousness is conducted among the members, in the process of which penetration into the subconscious of a person is achieved, which creates real conditions for damaging the moral, psychological, and physical health of citizens. The religious association of "Jehovah's Witnesses" has achieved wide distribution in the European part of Russia (144 congregations). Numerous declarations made to law enforcement agencies by citizens whose relatives are members of Jehovah's Witness show that the leadership of the society, who draw people into their ranks by deceit, stirs up hatred toward traditional religions, "makes zombies" of the parishioners' psyches, forbids the fulfillment of the constitution duties to defend the Fatherland and serve in the military, and breaks up families. The teachings that are harmful for society that the Jehovah's Witnesses spread, according to the representative of the general procuracy, include the doctrine about the "imminent end of the world," which is used vigorously for enticing new members and also for frightening and retaining others in the sect. The teaching about a world catastrophe creates a mass psychosis and is characterized by extreme immorality, he added. Inasmuch as the leadership of Jehovah's Witnesses have frequently predicted the "end of the world," expert psychologists consider that it could lead to actions of mass destruction with dire consequences, such as occurred in the case of Aum Shinrikyo, where members of the sect planted poison gas in a Tokyo subway, leading to mass death. (tr. by PDS)

ITAR-TASS, Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 10 August 1997)

Liberal paper defends reformist priest

by Dmitry Sergeevich Gorin, journalist
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 9 August 1997

reply to Olesia Nikolaeva

The conflict surrounding the congregation of the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki and its leader, Fr Georgi Kochetkov, already has received rather broad publicity in both the secular and church press (the article of Olesia Nikolaeva in NG, "Orthodoxy as dissident thinking" represents a point of view different from mine). The event really was unprecedented--the largest Muscovite Orthodox eucharistic community has been deprived of its rector and spiritual father. Much has been written, both true and false, about what happened in Dormition church on 29 June when the second priest of the church, Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky, was taken by First Aid in the presence of the police from the sanctuary or the church and put into the 14th psychiatric hospital. We shall not linger long on this matter but turn to what happened afterward, for the development of events is more interesting than the incident in the sanctuary itself.

The first question that arises in a detailed study of the documents of this story is where did the story about a beating of Fr Mikhail come from? On the day of the incident, 29 June, Fr Dmitry Smirnov, a well known priest in Moscow, on radio Radonezh declared that Fr Mikhail was taken "directly from the church with the police after having been beaten." One wants to ask Fr Dmitry: "Father, who told you this?" Father Dmitry did not witness the incident and even, according to his own words, did not talk with any eyewitnesses, but for some reason he explicitly talked about a beating of Fr Mikhail. Perhaps he met with Fr Mikhail and he told him that he had been beaten, bound, and the rest? No, this also did not happen. Moreover, in his first interview after 29 June Fr Mikhail also did not mention that he had been beaten. The physicians also found on Fr Mikhail on scratches which, alas, are unavoidable in situations of compulsory hospitalization. So who gave to Fr Dmitry the version about a beating?

On the evening of the twenty-ninth Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky was released from the 14th hospital with the conclusion: "At the present, there are no observable signs of psychic disturbances." We note that the physicians, who assembled on the June Sunday evening in the hospital, not without pressure, for examination of the patient, by no means implied in their conclusion that Fr Mikhail was "practically well." But this is the way the doctor of medical sciences Fr. Anatoly Berestov interpreted this document on the airwaves of Radonezh on 30 June. Why did this humble monastic priest make such a mistake? Who forced him to deceive the church public?

We go further. On the first day after the event in Dormition church its warden went to the office of the vicar of the patriarch in Moscow, Archbishop Arseny of Istrinsk. After hearing the account of the warden of the church regarding what happened the master declared: "That's your version." It turns out that by the morning of the thirtieth the bishop has his own firm version of the events. It would be interesting to learn which of the witnesses of the tragedy of Fr Mikhail Archbishop Arseny had managed to hear? Which documents had he studied by that time?

But if there were no documents then someone had to provide Master Arseny his version. Fr Alexander Abramov, aide to the director of the chancellery of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vladimir Divakov, was engaged in "collecting evidence." As has been learned, Fr Alexander on 30 June appeared in the office of the commander of the 18th precinct of police in Moscow, Senior Lieutenant Rimsky, with the question from Archbishop Arseny on what basis the unit from the precinct "had used violent actions on Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky, resulting in his arrest and removal to the police department at the time of the worship service, that is, at the time when he was performing his ministerial duties." What! On first glance the question seems absurd. But this is only on first glance.

On 2 July the answer reached the patriarchate (NG 26.07.97) in which the chief of the department of police, Rimsky, said that a departmental review had determined Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky was not arrested by a police squad and not taken to the department, but he was taken to the psychiatric hospital by First Aid physicians, who restrained him after a fight with Fr Georgi Kochetkov, while the former had traces of struggle and torn church vestments, so that the "behavior of the officers of the department are considered legal, proper, and justified, which also was confirmed by the testimony of eyewitnesses, the ministers of the Moscow Presentation men's monastery . . . who were present during the resolution of the conflict." We recall, that they (the ministers) led by Hegumen Tikhon Shevkunov had three years earlier expelled the congregation of Fr Georgi Kochetkov from the Vladimir cathedral of that monastery. In a word, they are interested persons in this case. Not one of the "eyewitnesses" was a witness of the events in the sanctuary of Dormition church on 29 June. We also add that Senior Lieutenant Shunaev, who was the one who was in the sanctuary of the church of the Dormition on the 29th and who addressed the crowd with the words: "no violence has been committed. . . the father (i.e. Fr Mikhail) is somehow not himself," in a conversation with journalists said that he knows nothing about any investigation and that he cannot give any explanation in connection with this. So what investigation is the chief talking about in his response to Archbishop Arseny? Rimsky himself acknowledged in conversation with parishioners that he was not in the church and he composed no response. Who prepared this document? Were the "eyewitnesses" from the Presentation monastery?

As we have seen, there were many lies in this matter from the very beginning. Under such conditions it is quite natural that they got into the documents which were prepared for the signature of the most holy patriarch. The resolution signed by him on 1 July (we recall that the response from the police arrived only on the 2nd) states as fact that on 29 June in the church of the Dormition "sacrilege was committed upon a clergyman of the church, Fr. Mikhail Dubovitsky, and he was beaten and taken by force to the psychiatric hospital." On the basis of this evident lie Fr Georgi was dismissed from his position as rector of the church and the parish council was told to "resign from its responsibilities," and "people who participated in the sacrilege upon a priest and in his beating are forbidden to partake of the holy Christian Mysteries and in divine services until they repent before the confessor of the city of Moscow." It appears that the last phrase, in which there are no names, pertains to the altar boys of the Dormition church. And that it was put into the document in hopes of creating fear (the formula is really quite old) and that one of them would be unable to stand the pressure and will inform on himself. This is all well known, isn't it?

We return to the collection of "evidence." On Monday, the 30th, Fr Mikhail returned to the emergency room in his neighborhood where on his medical report was recorded "numerous contusions of the upper and lower extremities," and "wounds on the right half of the chest." At this emergency room, on 20 July, Fr Alexander Abramov (according to the personnel it was evidently he) appeared with a request for Fr Mikhail's diagnosis. This document, it seems, was given to Fr Alexander. True, in the document which Fr Alexander received there is no mention of a small detail that was contained in other documents of the emergency room, namely that according to Fr Mikhail he "was beaten by unknown persons on 29 June." If the wounds of the priest and the document about them are not a complete fake, then it turns out that Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky was beaten on Sunday after his release from the 14th hospital. But by whom and for what? However, perhaps the document actually is "fake"? We all know how it is possible to get such documents in Russia.

And so Master Arseny got what he wanted. By Wednesday he had in his hands "undoubted proof" of the commission of a crime: a paper from the police which told of the fight and the evidence of the presence of Fr Mikhail in the emergency room where the "beating" was established. Who has opposed these "arguments"? Indeed it is possible to imagine what was said about this to his holiness and how the picture and consequences of the horrible crime in the sanctuary of the church of the Dormition were described. So it is quite predictable that there would be the resolution the most holy patriarch signed on 2 July dismissing Fr Georgi Kochetkov, rector of the largest Moscow congregation, from priestly service "until the completion of the investigation of the incident" "for inability to stabilize the internal parish life and...also for offensive actions besmirching the honor and dignity of the clergy of the church, Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky, and for bringing about physical attack upon him in the sanctuary of the church." Just so.

What the opponents of the congregation of Father Georgi had not been able to achieve in numerous so-called "theological" and "academic-practical" conferences and round tables, nor get from the last two bishops' councils, they were able to achieve in three days as a result of a direct provocation with pathological elements. "Opponents" of Fr Georgi, who failed to conquer him externally by more appropriate methods, carried out their plot with the help of overt criminality. The methods of struggle with the Dormition parish are disturbing. "This Carthaginian lie must be destroyed," declared Hegumen Tikhon over the airwaves of Radonezh. And really, there was not much hope that the parish could withstand the blows of lies and slanders.

But there still is hope. Not in the church commission which was appointed for "examination" of the current affair on 11 July, after the patriarch's decision already had been made. According to witnesses who were summoned to its sessions in the New Savior monastery, this investigation was more like interrogations in certain well known offices than a genuine ecclesiastical quest for truth. The hope is that the parish of Fr Georgi is a community or, using the words of the witness Serafim Chichagov, a spiritual family. It will not be so simple to break up a strong family, even when it is left without means for existence. The family can resist the "system" and triumph over it. This cannot be done in isolation.

In the end one wants to express one observation about this. Many people, with whom I have talked during these days, refuse to help Dormition parish, citing this crude intrachurch affair. But, first, the violation of the law in the church was a violation of the law. And second, Orthodox fundamentalism, which is rapidly gaining strength in the church recently, is both a church and social phenomenon, since its basic goal is the struggle for power not only in the church but also in society. What yesterday was viewed as a masquerade--the parades of cossacks and black hundredists, etc.--today represents a real threat to peace and freedom in society. After liberation from the communist "system" it is important for all of us to be sure that another "system" does not come to power tomorrow. (tr by PDS)

Russian text: Kto zakazyvaet izbienie sviashchenikov

(posted 9 August 1997)

Nationalist Orthodox journal refutes president's veto of religion law


Radonezh, issue no. 13, August 1997

In rejecting the draft of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association," which had been adopted by the State Duma, the president of the Russian federation stated that provisions of this draft contradict provisions of the constitution of Russia, federal laws of Russia, and the foundations of the constitutional system of Russia. It is impossible to agree with the Russian president's position. The prepared draft of the law was the product of intense efforts of its developers and it fully corresponded with current Russian legislation and generally recognized legislative practice of foreign states.

"Radonezh" suggests that its readers persuade themselves of this. We are presenting the full text of the statement of the president with corresponding commentary from our group of experts.

Complete article: Expert Commentary

(posted 8 August)

Holy Synod again hesitates on question about royal family

From the report of the meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church, July 17, 1997:

CONSIDERED: the work of the State Commission on the Examination and Re-burial of the Remains of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II and Members of His Family. . . . [The report contains a synopsis of the synod's consideration.]

1) that the questions posed by the Church at the Holy Synod meeting of 6 October 1995 and those worked out by the Commission on 15 November 1995 be considered crucial for the completion of the work of the State Commission;
2) that the biased presentation of the work of the Commission and the position of the Russian Orthodox Church by the mass media is regrettable;
3) that the position taken by Metropolitan Juvenaly at the Commission be approved.

English translation of entire report is available on the Web page of the Moscow patriarchate

Russian version on the Russian Web page of MP

Yeltsin meets patriarch

President Boris Yeltsin and Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, at the consecration of the restored chapel of saints Boris and Gleb on 6 August 1997, with a model of the chapel.
(photo from ITAR-TASS)


MOSCOW (AP), 7 August. President Boris Yeltsin and the leader of Russia's Orthodox church kissed at a religious service Wednesday and pledged to mend their longtime alliance, frayed by a divisive dispute over competing religions. Yeltsin and Patriarch Alexis II, standing together near the newly built chapel of St. Boris and Gleb, vowed to strengthen their cooperation. . . .

"I am satisfied that the president has moved to meet the aspirations of tens of millions of our church's faithful," Alexis said. . . .

Complete text of AP story

AMERICAN ANALYST CONCLUDES: ". . . This reassertion of Russian caesaropapist traditions of close links between the state and one church is likely to become one of the most important obstacles to the possibility of creating a democratic system. . . ." Analysis from Washington, by Paul Goble.

from Presidential Press Service, 6 August 1997

Your Most Holiness!

Dear fellow citizens!

Not quite three months have passed since the day when we were participants and observers in the laying of the first stone of the chapel-church of the faithful prince saints, Boris and Gleb. And now its construction is completed.

Here, at the Arbat gates, for more than 500 years stood the church of the holy martyrs Boris and Gleb, which believers esteemed. It was destroyed. But today, on the eve of the 850th jubilee of Moscow, its renovated form has appeared.

It is our moral obligation to restore the sacred places that have been destroyed. We sincerely rejoice that Moscow again is illuminated by the light from the cupolas of the largest church in Russia, the cathedral of Christ the Savior. But just as much joy and emotion seizes us when we see that city and village churches and chapels are being restored and repaired. This shows once again the attitude which the state is displaying toward the church in restoring all that the years of sorrow destroyed. Participation in the rebirth of churches unites people of the most varied convictions, ages, and professions.

This sacred work is so very important for strengthening the moral foundation of our lives and for cleansing our souls.

I place great value on the substantial strengthening of relations between the state and the Russian Orthodox church that has happened in the past few years. I cannot help but not the contribution of the Russian Orthodox church and of the patriarch of Moscoe and all-Rus, Alexis II, personally in peacemaking and educational activity and in philanthropy.

The role of the church in social aid and in preserving and expanding our cultural heritage is enormous. I am sure that our fruitful cooperation will enhance the welfare of Russia and no hinderances of any kind, which have arisen recently, will ever be able to separate us, in so far as we know both the role and significance of Orthodox Christianity and our Orthodox church in the rebirth of Russia.

I want to express my gratitude and thanks to the artists' collective which drew up the splendid draft of the church-chapel of the holy faithful princes Boris and Gleb and to the builders who brought it to reality in such a short time.

I express my thanks to the government of Moscow and Mayor Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov, who three months--less than three months--ago on this spot at the laying of the cornerstone gave his word to have the church built by this time. And, as always, he kept his word.

Special thanks to the Fund for the Unity of the Orthodox Peoples and to all who cooperated in the hastening of this lustrous day of consecration of this chapel.

I wish you, Your Most Holiness, and to all present here good health, peace, and strength for new achievements in the name of our fatherland. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Vystuplenie presidenta

from Moscow patriarchate, press release, 6 August 1997 (partial text)

The state authorities must realize that the national spirit must not be left to the tyranny of the elements of this age:

Addressing the people assembled, the primate of the Russian Orthodox church thanked everyone who began and carried out the construction of the memorial church, including the governments of the country and the city of Moscow and the Fund of the Unity of Orthodox Peoples, and many others.

The patriarch said: "This day and this event again shows how the historical memory is being restored to our people, which from ancient times has resided in its spiritual and cultural image. In a profound sense it is no accident that the second baptism of our people proceeds hand and hand with the regeneration of Russia and with its gradual transition from the times of troubles to the creation of civil peace. Just as many centuries ago, Rus is being created and united on the basis of the native faith. In this way and only in this way can the fatherland restore its energies and its beauty. Hope for a better future lies only in fidelity to our native spiritual path."

Addressing the head of the Russian state and all those present, Patriarch Alexis again touched upon the question that is disturbing the whole of society today, the draft law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." The head of the Russian Orthodox church said in particular: "Recently discussions were again stirred up about the extent to which our society has the right to protect itself from spiritual corruption and to create a barrier to destructive sects and false missionaries. Much depends on the outcome of these discussions, whether our Rus will preserve itself spiritually. And I am satisfied that the president has come to grips with the hopes of tens of millions of believers of our church, since he has discussed these controversial questions with the church's representative. In the course of the discussion we became convinced that if it were not for the vacation many of the obvious problems never would have arisen. I thank Boris Nikolaevich for his expression in our conversation of his firm conviction of the role and significance of Orthodoxy in the history and contemporary life of the Russian state and its people. Saint Tikhon, patriarch of Moscow, in the dramatic postrevolutionary period wrote: 'No kind of outside intervention and generally noone and nothing will be able to save Russia from ruin and devastation until the Righteous Lord turns his wrath to mercy and until the people itself is purified from its ages-old evils in the font of repentance and thereby is spiritually reborn into a new man, created after God's image in righteousness and true holiness.' We Orthodox Christians know from centuries of experience the truth of these words. We also know that hatred and division, deception and vice, immorality and impiety, the blindness of false ideals, and desecration of the native faith and the national traditions will bring devastation, suffering, and death. "The government also must recognize this. For if the spirit of the people is abandoned to the tyranny of the elements of this age then all that remains for us is to face the future in fear and trembling. What kind of Russia will we, the older generation, leave to our grandchildren? This is being determined today; it is being determined by the government and by the people. So we shall never forget the enormity and the urgency of the responsibility that we bear before God, the nation, and history." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Dukh naroda

ITAR-TASS, Pravoslavie v Rossii

Moscow (6 August) "The law on freedom of conscience and religious association which I returned for revision soon may be adopted." President Borin Yeltsin declared this today in Moscow after the ceremony of consecration of the church-chapel of saints Boris and Gleb. The president said that the law must be revised in a reconciliation commission which will consist of representatives of the government, presidency, as well as the Russian Orthodox church. the head of state noted that the commission must revise the law and review all of its provisions that violate the constitution. In response to the president, Patriarch Alexis II acknowledged that today he has become optimistic with regard to the fate of the law.

"The law on freedom of conscience and relgious associations is not discriminatory and it does not restrict any confessions," Patriarch Alexis II declared today to journalists after the ceremony of consecration of the church-chapel of saints Boris and Gleb on Arbat square in Moscow. In the opinion of the primate of the Russian church "the law regulates the activity of destructive foreign sects." In all European countries, the most holy patriarch recalled, there is a procedure that requires accreditation for each activity. "Moreover," he added, "it is for activity which influences the minds and consciousness, and the faith of people. We must know who is preaching on our territory and who is ideologically educating our citizens." The tragic situation in the Tokyo subway involving the Aum Sinrikyo sect should make us cautions, his holiness said. He also cited the example of the "White Brotherhood," whose founder's portraits, Maria Devi Khristis, were plastered all over Moscow. "In November she is supposed to be set free and is she going to come here to found a religious organization? The offices that deal with registration must be very attentive to such cases," Patriarch Alexis thinks.

As regards the Catholic church in Russia, the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus is convinced that Catholics have no reason to be anxious. "The Catholic church in Russia has existed here more than fifty years, so it will have no problems with registration." But it cannot aspire to the historical role and label of being a traditional religion for Russia. "In tsarist Russia before the revolution the principal region of residence for Catholics was Poland and Lithuania. In St. Petersburg and Moscow there were Catholic churches for foreigners. The metropolitan of Mogilev ruled the Catholic parishes in the territory of Russia," he recalled.

His most holiness acknowledged that today had inspired optimism in him with regard to the future fate of the law. After today's meeting with Russia's President Boris Yeltsin and also the recent lengthy telephone conversation with the head of state, the patriarch said that he had been assured that a reasonable compromise will be found. "This is what the president called for in his appeal to a number of lawmakers," said the most holy patriarch Alexis, expressing his conviction that the law absolutely must be adopted. (tr. by PDS)

Also from the Presidential Press Service, 6 August 1997

President of Russia B.N. Yeltsin authorized the leader of his administration, V.B. Yumashev, to conduct before 1 September 1997 an expanded session of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the presidency of the Russian federation for reaching agreement with representatives of confessions, deputies of the State Duma, members of the Federation Council regarding necessary changes in the draft of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Eltsin poruchil

(posted 7 August)

Patriarch interviewed


Izvestiia, 5 August

Summary from Russia Today Home Page

The daily interviewed the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksiy II, regarding his upcoming meeting with President Boris Yeltsin.

The two will focus on the controversial draft law on religion, which the president refused to sign despite the fact that it was supported by the Russian Orthodox Church.

"We agreed that all amendments to the law will be discussed in advance between representatives of the president and of the (Russian Orthodox) Church," the Patriarch told the daily. "I have told the president that the law is not discriminatory. It might not conform to the American pattern, but it corresponds to the European model," he said. "Legislation in a number of countries speaks about traditional or state religions," he adding citing the examples of Greece, Ireland, Sweden, England, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

However, the Patriarch is opposed to granting the status of a state religion to the Russian Orthodoxy. The Church should be separate from the state, he said. He also rejected the idea that Catholicism is traditional in Russia, and spoke out against the activities of various sects that he said have invaded Russia.

(posted 6 August)

Conflict between traditional and reform Orthodox turns violent


Moscow priest Georgi Kochetkov has made a name for himself as a religious innovator. His actions have divided opinion both in Moscow and throughout the world. The division reached what seems to be a crisis point on 29 June in an incident at his parish church of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Pechatniki in the Seretenka region of Moscow. Reports about the details of the incident are extremely contradictory.

One of the first accounts came from Maxim M. Obukhov (, which is reproduced here . This text has been slightly edited for English style.

Last week Orthodox Moscow was shocked by an awful incident that happened at the church of Dormition of the Mother of God in Pechatniki. This parish is led by the well-known celibate priest Fr. Georgi Kochetkov, who is famous for using his own (unauthorized) translation of church services from Slavonic into Russian and for his complaints about being oppressed.
Fr. Kochetkov is known as one of the radical reformist group of Moscow clergy. Many innovations of this parish have been opposed by the majority of Russian priests: women entering into altar, laity having the Holy Chalice after the Divine Liturgy, new theological views, and extreme ecumenism. All these innovations caused a division within the Orthodox public of Moscow.
Recently the auxiliary priest Fr. Mikhail was assigned to the parish. He refused to use the Russian translation not authorized by ecclesiastical authorities and was reprimanded by Fr. Kochetkov. The latter even refused to have Communion with him - "because of the different points of view".
The covert conflict erupted in tragedy. On 29 June, when Fr. Mikhail began to read prayers of confession in Slavonic, he was told not to do this by Father Kochetkov's altar boys . They grabbed his service book, seized the priest, and took him to the altar where he was beaten and bound. (This fact is confirmed by witnesses). After a call for first aid, a psychiatric service ambulance arrived. (By the way, it arrived unusually soon, in thirty minutes instead of the three to five hours usual for Moscow. Persons living in Russia know what a psychiatric ambulance coming so soon means.) The priest who had been bound and beaten was taken to the hospital, where he received an injection of tranquilizer. Just after that he was released as psychologically well but still with traces of violence. The traces of violence and trauma are confirmed by medical examination. His mental condition is confirmed in documents by physicians of the hospital.
The beating of a priest in the sanctuary and withholding of fellowship are such extraordinary and shameful crimes that after petitions from a majority of Moscow clergy, including two bishops, His Most Holines Patriarch Alexis II suspended Father Kochetkov. (ed. by PDS)

Five days after the incident Nezavisimaia gazeta published a different account by someone who evidently is more sympathetic to Father Kochetkov than is Obukhov.

by Ivan Chernov
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 4 July 1997
The first three words of the title belong to our national philosopher Vladimir Soloviev. He included within the indicated crises the inability of traditional Orthodoxy to deal with the challenges of modernity and to turn its face toward contemporary people. Instead of giving to the suffering a word of consolation and gospel truth, Orthodox pastors speak only about the preeminence of traditional ways, the apostasy of Catholics and protestants from the truth, and the unprecedented number of heresies and heretics. Some parishioners pay attention to the Orthodox zealots, and others leave since they are unable to bear the interminable abuse and to practice politics in the religious dimension.
Moscow. Church of the Dormition in Pechatniki in Sretenka. Large. One of the largest in the capital. The parish of Father Georgi Kochetkov, a famous reformer priest.
What and how is he trying to reform? He has translated some of the liturgy into Russian. He tells his flock to take the sacrament of baptism seriously. He reads aloud the so-called secret prayers. He celebrates with the royal doors open. He organized classes for baptismal candidates and created a higher theological school bearing the name of Moscow Metropolitan Filaret. He deals with the challenges of his enormous and extremely demanding flock. And in everything else Father Georgi maintains completed Orthodox views, preaching the Gospel and reading the patristic tradition. However, many are displeased.
The most unsubstantiated rumors are circulated about him and his parish: that they are ordaining priests there autonomously and that they conduct some kind of dubious dinner conversations. In a word, they are sectarians and heretics among the Orthodox.
The church authorities have long wished to bring the obstinate parish to heel. They appointed a second priest, Father Mikhail, a younman, a traditionalist from Kursk. The conservatives were heartened. They began to call together people to make their confession to Father Mikhail. Most of them came from the neighboring monastery of the Presentation of the Christ Child: the service there wearies them and here they are more timely. Everything would be fine but there is a problem: there are too many intellectuals in the parish of Father Georgi Kochetkov and too many discussions and questions. Father Mikhail could not bear the intellectual pressure for long. Last Sunday he suddenly began screaming at the top of his voice in the sanctuary during the liturgy: "They are killing me!" Altar boys approached the priest in order to comfort him. He kept crying out. They had to call the psychiatric ambulance. Monks came running from the Presentation monastery. It was said that one of them threw himself under the wheels of the vehicle. But nevertheless they took the poor man somewhere and then gave the diagnosis of "acute psychosis."
There's a crisis for you! Comedy? Tragedy? (tr. by PDS)
Russian text: Krisis srednevekogo mirosozertsaniia

The newspaper published a rebuttal to Chernov's article on 26 July: ORTHODOX THINKING AS DISSENT by Olesia Alexandrovna Nikolaeva.

Two days earlier the newspaper provided a broader perspective on the issue, which was written by two of the paper's regular contributors, Maxim Shevchenko and Oleg Mramornov: THE LARGEST MOSCOW PARISH REMAINS WITHOUT ITS BELOVED RECTOR. "Conflict in the church of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Pechatniki could have far-reaching consequences for the Russian Orthodox church."

The Keston News Service, which represents a substantial body of western observers who sympathize with the reformist wing of Russian Orthodox clergy, published a story that presented the pro-Kochetkov perspective: RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MISSIONARY PRIEST BANNED BY MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE, by Xenia Dennen.

Information from the anti-Kochetkov perspective was provided by the extreme nationalist Orthodox organization Radonezh: RENOVATIONISTS HAVE RESORTED TO CRIMINAL ACTIONS. This long document contains eyewitness accounts from Vladimir Sergeev, a layman, Fr Mikhail's wife, and Fr Mikhail himself. (It seems significant that Fr Mikhail never describes his mistreatment as a beating, although this word occurs in many reports of the event.) Then there is an interview with the sect fighter A.L. Dvorkin, who is known as the subject of a court case brought by Gleb Yakunin. Finally, there is a long anti-Kochetkov indictment by the abbot of the nearby monastery, Hegumen Tikhon.

Other references to Kochetkov in Subject Index

(posted 5 August 1997)

Orthodox as persecutors

by Robyn Dixon

Sydney Morning Herald, July 26, 1997

WHEN Baptist missionaries invaded a small, conservative village, not far from the communist stronghold of Smolensk, several hundred kilometres west of Moscow, it was too much for the local Orthodox priest. Watching the slow parade of his competitors handing out their Protestant brochures, he was seized by a hot surge of ungodly rage. He snatched a Bible from one of the Baptists and whacked him over the head with it.

After suffering 74 years of religious persecution in the Soviet Union, something very strange is happening in the Russian Orthodox Church. It has become the new oppressor, trying to hound out foreign churches and missionaries competing to save the souls of Russians. Harassment of members of foreign religions by Orthodox priests has turned violent on several occasions.

The Hare Krishna organisation claims a Russian Orthodox priest led an attack on one of its temples in the southern Russian town of Rostov-on-Don during a religious meeting in June last year. Ten Hare Krishnas went to hospital after they were beaten with shovels and clubs. One was unconscious for a week. The organisation claims another of its devotees in the town of Nizhny Novogorod was grabbed by a priest after she tried give him a Hare Krishna leaflet. The group alleges the priest took the young woman to his church, beat her and then took her to the police station, demanding she be punished.

Despite the religious freedoms permitted since perestroika, there is still not much religious tolerance in Russia. In ancient times, the Church was conservative and xenophobic. Today, it remains suspicious of outsiders.

Recently, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Communist Party formed a strange alliance to try to undermine foreign churches. Both pushed for a law that would restrict the activities of most of the churches operating in Russia. But the Russian President, Mr Yeltsin, clashed with the Orthodox Church for the first time when he vetoed the law on Wednesday. His decision stunned the Orthodox hierarchy. At Moscow's ancient Danilovsky Monastery, the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church, a team of gardeners manicures the formal garden, spread like a floral eiderdown beneath the glittering golden cupolas of the churches. Equally measured and formal is the church press conference in response to the veto, held in the luxury hotel in the monastery grounds. The atmosphere is plush and powerful. Overhead, icons of Christ and the Mother of God hang poised above the debate. On the table stand bottles of Saint Springs mineral water, a handy little earner for the Church. Mr Yeltsin vetoed the law because it undermined the rights of many Russian churches and contradicted the Russian Constitution, which guarantees equality of all religions.

The law, attacked by Pope John Paul II and the United States Senate, gave favoured status to four "traditional" Russian religions - the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism - while all others have to prove they have been operating for more than 15 years or face a 15-year bureaucratic struggle for registration. Every new branch would have to go through the 15-year registration process and could not proceed without the permission of the "traditional" churches in the area. Those without registration could not own property, preach publicly or distribute literature. The Catholic administrator of European Russia, Archbishop Thaddaeus Kondrusiewicz, said that although Catholicism in Russia dated back to the 12th century, there were only two Catholic churches left by the 1930s. There are now 23. The Archbishop fears that under the law, the Catholic Church would be forced to surrender all but the two churches it owned 15 years ago, facing a 15-year delay to register any new church.

The battle over Russia's law on religion is far from over. Communist deputies say the Parliament is likely to overturn Mr Yeltsin's veto. Mr Victor Ilyushin, chairman of the security committee of the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, said the law was required to limit Western pressure on Russian minds. "The free and uncontrolled activity of foreign religious confessions in Russia is a threat to state security," he said. One of the law's main advocates in the Duma, the communist deputy Mr Victor Zorkaltsev, attacked the President's veto, saying: "Russia has been trampled underfoot."

In the days of the Soviet Union, members of the Church hierarchy learned to co-exist with communism. Some Orthodox priests were persecuted but others colluded with authorities and survived. And there was, at least, no competition from outside. The coincidence of the interests of Orthodox faith and orthodox communism reflect where the natural conservatives lie in Russian society today. They are nationalistic, anti-foreigner, against change and opposed to outside competition. The Church and the Communist Party share supporters, with many elderly Russian Orthodox believers also being pro-Communist. When Mr Yeltsin vetoed the law, he took a principled stand at considerable political peril. It is difficult for a president to win a debate against God and his earthly envoys. And it is risky for a Russian leader to alienate the powerful Russian Orthodox Church with its vast and devout constituency.

Indeed, Mr Yeltsin's stand is unlikely to win him any political friends. On the day of the last presidential election, the Russian Patriarch, Alexy II, made his preference clear when he blessed Mr Yeltsin, which suggested the President and his people understand the power of the Church.

But now the risk for Mr Yeltsin is that the shared conservative persuasion of the Orthodox Church and the Communists could evolve into a more permanent alliance.

Uzbek restrictions on religion

by M.S. Zapisal
Russkaia mysl, 24 July 1997 (full text)

MOSCOW. A group of protestant believers arriving from Uzbekistan carried across the border material about the state of religious freedom in that country. Here is what was described by a member of this group, a Pentecostalist pastor who requested anonymity.

"According to the constitution everything should be normal but the legislation about freedom of conscience contains an article prohibiting missionary activity. It states specifically: "Missionary activity is forbidden," although there also is an article which says that religious organizations are formed for the profession and dissemination of faith. But no one pays any attention. And because there is no precise definition of what missionary activity is, it is understood in whatever way is convenient, beginning with the distribution of booklets and extending to evangelization.

"Religious activity is forbidden to all foreign religious organizations. What is more, because of different interpretations of the provisions of the law, it often happens that actions are prohibited which actually are permissible. For example, dissemination of faith is forbidden. If a person begins to distribute booklets or religious literature on the street, they can easily detain, arrest, and accuse him of distributing religious teachings and charge him under article 241 of the administrative codex.

"Such an attitude toward religious organizations is arbitrary: If churches do not disseminate religious teachings among the native nationality, if they cooperate with the authorities or security services on the basis of secret or open agreements, then they have fewer problems. If a church is active and goes beyond merely conducting worship services and engages in overt profession of faith, evangelization, philanthropy, and education, then problems and insurmountable difficulties begin.

"The law on freedom of conscience theoretically permits worship literature in accordance with one's wishes, but actually there is a multitude of restrictions connected with particular activity among the native population, the Uzbeks. It is simply interpreted as missionary activity. Even when an Uzbek or Kazakh believes in Jesus Christ and tries to share his faith, restrictions begin.

"There are cases where students of the university have been persecuted by their deans' office simply for speaking about God or going to church.They are required to renounce their faith and threatened with dismissal on some basis or other.

"The criminal code has an article against inciting religious hostility and about conducting meetings, processions, protests and demonstrations. Now many religious organizations which are not registered are threatened with criminal charges on these articles.

"In September of last year there was an incident in our church, for example, when believers were assembled and a raid was conducted. About twenty people were detained. They were shown a photograph of the pastor and asked: 'Do you know this pastor? Answer yes or no.' After this they made use of those answering 'yes.' They went to the pastor's home and served upon him a charge of violating article 241 of the law for teaching religious ideas, without permission, on a private basis. The same happened in November--a round-up and interrogation, but only the pastor was charged with violating two articles, 241 and 201, and taken to prison.

"Those who do not want to be registered are rare. The basic problem is different--to achieve registration. Although registration requires the presentation of four or five documents, actually many more are demanded. Artificial hindrances are created: a person arrives without suspecting anything and brings everything that had been suggested. He is not refused but is told that the documents cannot be accepted because a comma is out of place or a date must be changed or a signature is incorrect, etc.

"And this is not said at first but only after the documents have been submitted to several offices and the time limit established for the registration has elapsed, and then they say: 'You know, this won't do. You must do it all over.'

"There are churches which have been trying to register like this for three years or longer. And, for example, the charity fund Khydoka khlakha (God will provide) has sought registration about six years, after which it was forced to cease its existence entirely.

"Several evangelical churches (Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, and others) have been subjected to demands of reregistration in this way. They say to them: 'We registered you incorrectly and this is the mistake, and now you must remove this item.' That is, they actually demand that believers limit the activity that their own bylaws specify. Basically this concerns such things as education, work with children, evangelization, and publishing. It is required that worship services take place only at the location of registration.

"Conversations with children younger than six are forbidden, and then written consent from the parents is required in the case of minor youths. Frequently ministers are summoned to offices and told: 'You do not have the right to work with children. Suppose children drop in at your place who do not have parental permission, or in the case of some that have permission, suppose that a boy or girl friend who accompanies them has Muslim parents?' All of this is done so that the churches themselves will turn away believers or restrain themselves out of fear of ban and loss of registration.

"In Karakalpakia a church of Pentecostals tried for a long time to receive registration, but the minister of justice refused them on that basis that they engage in spreading their faith.

"Generally, in Azerbaijan all protestants have been charged with conducting antistate activity. A Bible society there was registered, but under the guise of a society of booklovers called 'Kikap.'

"The authorities make no secret that they expect the adoption of a strict new law in Russia, andthen it will be more convenient for them to make things even tougher in our country." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Svoboda sovesti na bumage

Other articles on Uzbekistan

(posted 3 August)

Completion of Savior cathedral nears

by Inna Kolomeiskaia
Segodnia, 1 August 1997 (full text)

A patriarchal prayer service and consecration of the walls of the cathedral of Christ the Savior will occur on 7 September. The new cathedral will have different basement facilities than the old. This is because the old cathedral stood on a hill but now the hill is gone and in its place there is an enormous pit left over from the palace of soviets and the Moscow swimming pool. It was decided to build a subterranean storey to house the patriarchate, which for many years has been forced to squeeze into cramped quarters that were inadequate for its needs. Now the offices, library, TV studio, meeting hall for church councils and the Holy Synod, and the patriarch's office will be located below the cathedral of Christ the Savior. There even will be an underground parking garage, part of which evidently will be leased. This information came from a press conference of a representative of the Fund for Financial Support for Restoring the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Sergei Semenenko. He said that in the three years of its work the fund (a noncommercial charitable organization) raised more than three trillion rubles for construction.

The overall cost of all work on restoration of the cathedran of Christ the Savior was estimated in 1994 at 350 million dollars. The actual total could turn out to be much less because several construction firms have given volunteer labor and materials have been donated.

The solemn patriarchal prayer service and consecration of the cathedral will be on 7 September. At that time the lower gallery with memorial plaques honoring the donors who gave money for the restoration will be opened. By the time of the jubilee of the capital the cathedral will be completely covered in white marble and its external appearance will correspond completely with the historical pattern. The landscape also will be completed, with lawn and benches and a small pool and observation deck. Incidentally, the land still belongs to the city and its transfer to the patriarchate is just now being arranged. The official opening of the territory of the cathedral of Christ the Savior, which should be attended by the patriarch and Mayor Yury Luzhkov of Moscow, will be on 3 September. At that time a great concert of church singing is planned.

The interior artistic decoration of the cathedral and its equipment will be completed by the year 2000. But this will not interfere with the clergy or worshippers. Almost all the bells of the cathedral have been hung. The Transfiguration church (the lower cathedral) now has regular services and its own parish. On 19 August, an elaborate patriarchal service with the traditional consecration of fruits was held on the Apple Savior's day. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 3 August)

Yeltsin and Alexis II


Segodnia, 1 August (full text)

President Boris Yeltsin is expected to meet with Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus at the beginning of August, according to a source in the Moscow patriarch. The source specifically did not rule out that the meeting would occur on 6 August at the time of the ceremony dedicating the restored chapel of the martyr-saints Boris and Gleb. The source suggested that the president and the head of the Russian Orthodox church will agree on principles for the direction in which the revision of the law on freedom of conscience will go.

Meanwhile yesterday the assistant chief of the administration of the presidency, Maxim Boiko, exchanged views about the adtoption of a law on freedom of conscience with reprsentatives of the ROC and Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist religious organizations. The religious leaders expressed their readiness for constructive dialogue and agreed that the document must not contain provisions that violate the constitution of the Russian federation. (tr. by PDS)


MOSCOW, AUGUST 1, RIA NOVOSTI - Federal President Boris Yeltsin had a long telephone conversation with His Beatitude Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, to discuss the vetoed bill, On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations.

"It was a long, hearty and mutually well-wishing talk," says presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky.

The President shares the Patriarch's apprehensions as sinister sects and cults are mushrooming in Russia to bring moral and physical damage to people they entice. The President is sure that they will be neutralised through official efforts, and their proliferation stopped, the presidential press service says in a statement circulated today. text of statement

The President and the Patriarch agree that Russia needs the freedom of conscience law after all its premises are amended into constitutional compliance. They regret that they are both absent from Moscow--Boris Yeltsin on vacation, and Alexis II on ecclesiastical affairs--and so cannot confer eye-to-eye about the disputable bill. If it had taken place in due time, such a conference would have prevented many misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the developments by the mass media.

The President and the Patriarch agreed to join hands for bill amendment and adoption.

(posted 3 August)

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