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Appeals on behalf of suspended priest


TO: His most holiness, the most holy Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus

FROM: Parishioners of the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki, Moscow

Your most holiness, most holy master, bless us!

We appeal to you with regard to the investigaion of the incident that happened on 29 June in the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki. We ask you, your most holiness, as our archpastor to participate personally in this matter to determine the truth. Otherwise unrighteousness may triumph, although temporarily, on the basis of human prejudices.

Right off on the day of the incident, without having investigating the matter or even not wishing to, the radio station Radonezh and then the Radonezh newspaper and the television program Russian House made careless reports. The complex, dramatic situation was presented by them to a mass audience in a one-sided manner and with horrible distortions, that provoked a literal beastly attack upon our parish by other Orthodox believers (to say nothing about misleading unbelievers). However it is we who are accused of the misleading, as if there had not been two whole months of uninterrupted provocations and humiliations of parishioners and our rector, Father Georgi Kochetkov, on the part of Father Mikhail Dubovitsky, who was directed by the people who later began to accuse us (for example, Hegumen Tikhon Shevkunov).

We had hoped to be defended by the dean, Father Oleg Klemyshev, and by Archbishop Arseny, to whom we frequently appealed, but their actions (as well as inaction) only intensified the complex situation. Naturally the unfortunate situation could disappear by itself. Both Father Georgy and we have done everything we could to find a peaceful outcome for the situation. However the mass media already identified and their broadcasts and the named priests have been forcefully representing the congregation of the Dormition church and Father Georgy as solely guilty in creating this conflict. We are charged with amazing crimes: beating a priest in the sanctuary, injecting him there with psychotropic drugs, and finally, preparing beforehand his enforced hospitalization. To prove these charges they are using obviously counterfeit documents, while they completely ignore the testimony of direct eyewitnesses of the events, including medical specialists and representatives of the police department.

Unfortunately, members of the investigative commission for these events did not try to determine the truth when they questioned members of the parish council of our church and parishioners, but they operated with a "presumption of guilt." They insistently tried to force each person to admit it, despite the absence of evidence and their readiness to swear on the cross and gospel. They ignored copies of personal written testimony, which were sent to you. They used pressure, cross-examination, and unproven accusations of perjury. Sometimes clearly leading questions were posed.

Your most holiness! Don't let iniquity triumph! By no means do we consider ourselves to be "without need for repentance" and we regret what has happened. But they are requiring us to repent of something we have not done. What has been happening is not so much like a church investigation as a court with a prearranged sentence. The prosecutor and judge are one and the same person.

With our whole Christian conscience we swear to you, our primate before the Lord, that not one of our fraternal acolytes, much less Father Georgy, either insulted or beat Father Mikhail, and his hospitalization came about because of his own unhealthy and incompetent behavior, to which both physicians and police testified independently. The necessity of hospitalization was confirmed by the medical supervisory commission.

Your most holiness. We testify that everything that has happened, beginning not from 29 June but much earlier, could have happened only because the ministry of Father Georgy to God and the church over the course of several years has evoked attacks that are nonchristian in spirit and form from the parachurch media. And now any means, including evil ones, are being used to denegrate him and his activity, just so long as they can achieve his removal and the destruction of the parish that he has created with God's help, a parish that is engaged in the evangelistic work that the church so needs.

The press and the television illegally have published the confidential videotapes of events (although selectively and tendentiously), our testimonies to investigative agencies and the patriarchate, and documents from your office, the ministry of health, etc.

We cannot fail to note that the information presented to you, calling for the removal of Father Georgy from his position of rector and forbidding him to perform his ministry, was prepared in an extremely tendentious manner, while at the same time information was suppressed and there was no consultation with him nor objective investigation. This causes many people to have great concern and scandal. Could God really be not in the truth but in external power?

Your most holiness, most holy master! We place our hope in you that you will reestablish the truth. On our part we, as before, are prepared to tell you and the church about everything that has happened in our parish church of the Dormition. We now humbly beg you with tears not to deprive us of our spiritual pastor, who has brought us to God and the church. Restore Father Georgy, who has endured unjust persecution, to his priestly ministry and rectorship in the church building that was opened and restored under his leadership. Support him in his fruitful and blessed ministry to the glory of God and the holy Orthodox church. Help the slandered members of the parish council and accolytes. May all that is "crooked by made straight," so that peace within the church will be strengthened and the internal and external life of the church not be obscured by falsehood and an unrighteous judge.

Your unworthy, faithful, and true servants and devotees. (signatures appended) (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text.

by Mikhail Sitnikov, Moscow
Russkaia mysl, 4 September 1997

The incident in the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki and the subsequent events provoked a strong outcry not only in the church public media but also in the secular media. Materials about the congregation of Father Georgy Kochetkov, who was barred from ministry by a decree of Patriarch Alexis II, have appeared in Moscow and Russian newspapers. The dispute in the press between defenders of the Orthodox priest and supporters of the position of the Moscow patriarch has become sharper and, it seems, has raised questions pertaining to the principles of ecclesiastical and human rights.

Essentially what happened in the society of the church in Pechatniki? If one judges by outward signs, then the squabble which developed is somehow petty. Whoever may have been guilty, it was more or less unprecedented: a confrontation arose at the altar and the conduct of an immature appointed priest caused members of the congregation to call psychiatric aid, which took him to a clinic, and all of this seemed blasphemous with regard to the church. But if one gets beyond the purely external aspect of the case and investigates the source, the true cause of what happened, then everything appears extremely serious. And the congregation of Father Georgy Kochetkov seems more like a victim of internal church machinations than an eccentric religious organization that is prepared to use any means to preserve its own distinctives.

The parish of the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, which is distinguished both at the level of its use of the Russian language in the liturgy and in its approach to internal parish activity, long ago became the thorn in the side of the administration of the RPTs. The principal and basic cause of this, in my view, is particularly formal: while the episcopacy in its sessions wavers back and forth on the matter of introducing into the divine liturgy the Russian language which believers understand, Father Georgy has for a long time been using it, which has led to an influx into the church of people who are mostly educated and rational, that is, who are accustomed to intellectual awareness about their actions. This upsets numerous parasitic groups within the RPTs who oppose any enlightenment, including religious education. For the half-literate "soviet" and cynical "new Russian" church administrators, an independent and self-standing parish means a devaluation of their own "leading and directing" role.

I think that rather many agree with me that the distinctives of Father Georgy Kochetkov's parish are not comfortable for everyone and can evoke a sensation of excessive sharing of the intimate aspects of faith, of a kind of "spiritual collectivism" and one-sidedness. But at the same time it seems to me that it is unethical and generally impermissible to commit any intrusion into the achievement of this sincere attempt of a profoundly believing priest, who has dared to restore more than one church out of ruins and to join together in it a complex contingent of people into a strong spiritual family, which in other circumstances, in another parish, would not even be possible.

At the same time it must be said that despite the systematic ostracism to which Father Georgy has been subjected, he himself never has promoted his own style of parish activity for other Moscow parishes.

Against this background the placement in an already complex congregation of someone who was not simply an inexperienced priest but a person of doubtful maturity, who also was burdened with instructions to fight against the rector, seems very much like the appointment of provocateur priests to successful parishes in soviet times. The difference is simply that at that time such measures were authorized by the agencies of the police and now they are authorized by the remnants of such agencies within the church. In the case of the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki, whether the actions of the Moscow patriarchate were the result of evil intent or of simple incompetence is of little importance: the outcome is the same.

The actions of the administration in the immediate aftermath of the incident only confirm this in a way that reveals the truth: the inexplicable prejudice of Archbishop Arseny in taking information about the incident from the church's eldership, the collection of evidence from people who were not eyewitnesses of the incident, irresponsible reports on the radio by fathers Dmitry Smirnov, Anatoly Berestov, and Tikhon Shevkunov, and the intimidation and pressure on members of the congregation that have continued until now with the goal of forcing them to embrace the version prepared in the patriarchate--all of this bears signs of the organized persecution to which we have become accustomed.

But whereas in the not so distant past the activity of church offices was covered in secrecy and the majority accepted it suspiciously as a kind of forbidden territory, today the indicators of religious activism of the public and the new details of church life evoke intense interest and are taken into account by the public. Thanks to this the actions of the administration of the Moscow patriarchate--the appointment of the inexperienced priest, Mikhail Dubovitsky, the close involvement of the Moscow vicar, Archbishop Arseny of Istrinsk, and the emergency decree of the patriarch removing Father Georgy Kochetkov from ministry "for inability to stabilize the internal parish life" after the provocation within one of the largest and most stable Moscow parishes---were not entirely unexpected.

It is necessary to say that much that was secret has become clear. Against the background of the scandalous attempt to force the president to sign the counterfeit draft law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" the administration of the Moscow patriarchate of RPTs, choosing this path for its own popularity, now is simply obliged to create more situations of disagreements among various groups within its jurisdiction. After the failure of the attempt to discriminate against other confessions it was necessary in some way to justify its activity intended to acquire a position of the governing religious-political group at least within the limits of Russian Orthodoxy, which, as is known, is not limited to the Moscow patriarchate which was created by the Stalinist NKVD in 1943.

One can suggest that in this entire situation rather little depends on the patriarch himself. The reputation and personal qualities of his most holiness, which are known from soviet times, do not allow one to suspect him of such initiatives. However, there is no basis to reject the possibility, in regard to the hierarchy, of deceit and blackmail against which anyone could be defenceless.

In mentioning above the possibility of the incompetence of the church administration, I had in mind those consequences of the incident which any literate administrator could easily have foreseen from the start. There is no doubt that the "completion of the investigation of the incident," which the patriarchal decree states is necessary, would lead to the publication of all the details of the role of the administration of the Moscow patriarchate in it, which is quite unlikely. It is more likely that they will hold the priest in an indeterminate state as long as possible or finally accuse him of mortal sins and punish him still more severely.

However in all this for some reason they are not taking into account that the parishioners of Father Georgy are not scared and defenceless old men but intelligent, educated, and, in the main, genuinely believing people. It is difficult to understand how Archbishop Arseny could not think of this, who until now has continued to summon regularly parishioners from the church in Pechatniki, demanding from them repentence for the sins of others. The kind of strong Orthodox congregation that is needed in the church's life does not abandon its pastor, but it even obliges him as a priest and spritual father to take church action. It turns out that the one who immediately undertook and advanced the provocation in the parish in Pechatniki has become the chief initiator of the situation which threatens a new schism at any moment. Does the church need this? It seems unlikely. Is there any advantage to the patriarchate to suggest that it has initiated this? I think that also is unlikely. So what is the issue?

Apparently the cause lies in the inertia which sooner or later appears in many groups or separate leaders which have had a taste of power and are trying blindly to increase it. Political events of the recent years in Russia have unfolded with amazing rapidity. This has given convincing evidence that the syndrome of the incorrigibility of the powers that be, which many works of social psychology reveal, is not at all a myth but is a very real illness. Politicians are not immune to it, nor are public leaders, nor any other kinds of leaders. At a certain moment (which is quite individual for each person) it quite often begins to overtake them. Turning away from the reality that guaranteed their existence, they prefer externally adequate, but strategically short-sighted, actions. The efforts with which they thus try to stabilize their position turn out to have an opposite effect of equal proportions.

It might seem that such a model would not operate in a place where the basic value of an organization is the Word of God. But the conviction that "if there is no God then everything is permitted" was reached by a figure in the novel Brothers Karamazov, and the goal of church groups that are continuing to compromise the RPTs in the public eye is sufficiently transparent: it is power. However even here, while fervently creating for the church the image of a religious mafia, they are destroying by their own hands the very object of their aspirations, which is still a rather great and authoritative religious association. At the same time they are creating precedents whereby the opinion about who is suffering for the faith is turning out to be one-sided. And this does not escape the notice of society which every day is learning more and understanding more.

The position which the Moscow patriarchate has occupied in the organization and subsequent investigation of the incident in the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki cannot be considered illogical. It is the natural continuation of the activation of "Orthodox" fundamentalists who retain few evangelical principles in their notions. In the first place they have forgotten that "by this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves" (Jn. 13. 34).

The unfounded ostracism to which the activity of Father Georgy Kochetkov has been subjected at bishops councils, diocesan meetings, and so-called theological meetings has inevitably grown into open persecution and finally has led to a criminal provocation.

It is not worth talking about the frankly pseudo-Orthodox actions, since they know what they are doing. But it is possible to understand their consistency in inciting hatred toward a priest and his parish among the overwhelming majority of ordinary Russian clergy, who are not distinguished by their general and religious literacy and who believe not so much in God as in the patriarchate and their diocesan bishop. The general characteristic of all administrative structures which have grown in soviet soil is their frantic fear that everyone will learn the truth about them and not what they pretend to be. Thus the patriarchate's situation is practically inescapable: to maintain their authority they must create in believers faith in the structure, since people's faith in God, which could not serve a lie, would mean the failure of the soviet church.

One of the "neotheologians" who specialize not so much in theology as in speculation upon illiterate trust and the heat of passions, regularly declares: "Orthodoxy is undergoing today difficult times." And it is impossible to disagree. Orthodoxy, which was preserved in the depth of the religious consciousness of Russians, despite, not thanks to, soviet ideology, today is under threat of a new postsoviet distortion in the form of pagan isolationism disguised as Christian ritual.

Once I called the arrogance of exculusivity which reigns in many church groups a sickness. But I do not claim that that concept exhausts all the possibilities. A sickness in a given case is only the condition or cause of certain actions. A sincerely mistaken leader cannot be distinguished from one with evil intentions in terms of the results of their activity. Thus a maniac, drug addict, and psychotic are all sick, but the disorder that they do does not thereby cease to be disorder. At the present the damage that Orthodoxy and the church are suffering is more important than the cause that is bringing it about.

Unfortunately the feeling of universal membership in the church of people who call themselves Orthodox has been replaced in the overwhelming majority of cases by membership in a jurisdiction. Such "partisan" isolation produces corresponding fruits: confrontation, inability to accept the existence of other Orthodox congregations calmly and kindly, envy, and nervous animosity based upon religious professions.

The situation which has arisen in the parish of the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki can be considered the first radical precedent of the manifestation of intolerance of any dissenting thought on the part of the Moscow patriarchate. There is no doubt that others will follow it, since this organization can please only itself. Essentially none of the parishes and priests of the Russian Orthodox church that are periodically subjected to withering reviews by the church administration are at all agressive. They are guity only of sincerely sharing with their flock the treasures of faith that they have acquired. Continual paractice has shown that in order to evoke a wave of indignation a parish or priest does not by any means need to violate regulations or fall into heresy; it is quite enough to display responsibility before one own conscience and other people.

Father Georgy Kochetkov's congregation long ago annoyed the administration of the RPTs by means of its own unique visage. But if the red-browns had settled in there as they have in the yard of the Saint Daniel's monastery where cossacks wander restlessly among frightened old women with whips, then such "uniqueness" would have been considered pleasing to God. When I have had occasion to read publications of the persecutors of Father Georgy, where one frequently stumbles across sarcastic comments like "well, of course, in that parish is the intelligentsia," I have recalled a statement of the writer M. Zadornov: "What can be said about a society where the word 'intellectual' has become a curse?"

We are rather well aware of our own country. Sometimes recognizing with difficulty our own newly acquired capacities we, nevertheless, almost on an intuitive level always are ready to make the kind of turnabout which Europeans find shockingly unexpected. And thus how can someone be surprised by the development of events that began in Pechatniki and have gone further in the same direction? The bureaucrats of the Moscow patriarchate will find many prospective candidates for persecution. Perhaps even too many. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: "Formula Dostoevskogo"

Orthodox priests murdered in Russia

from Fr. Alexander Lebedeff

On Sunday, September 1/14 early in the morning, the Rector of the Church of The Holy Nun-Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth (ROCOR) in St. Petersburg , Russia, Archpriest Alexander Zharkov, was murdered under circumstances that are not yet known. His body was found near Tsarskoye Selo at 10:30am. We ask your holy prayers for the martyred Archpriest Alexander, and for our persecuted brethren, who are subjected to persecution, violence, and murder.

Father Alexander Zharkov was accepted into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on June 11, 1997 from the Moscow Patriarchate, after he could no longer tolerate the continued involvement by the Moscow Patriarchate in the ecumenical movement.

A week ago, on September 6, 1997 (n.s.), armed militia stormed the chapel at the Hospital of the Holy Nun-Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth during Divine Liturgy and, in the presence of the faithful, verbally abused the two clergymen there, using the foulest language imaginable. One of the priests, Fr. Alexei Tarkhov, was stood up against the wall (while wearing his vestments) and forcibly searched. The other priest, Fr. Alexander Zharkov, was threatened with violence if he did not give up the keys to the chapel, which does not belong to the Moscow Patriarchate and was built by the efforts of the hospital morgue staff and the parishioners. The militia claimed that their goal was to shut down this parish of the Russian Church Abroad.

The authorities confiscated all the finances of the parish and forbade any activities, claiming the parish lacked registration. One should note, that during the past seven and a half years, the city authorities have blocked all efforts at obtaining registration by communities loyal to the Church Abroad.

After a long interrogation at the chapel, the clergymen were taken to the local police precinct, where they were futher interrogated for several hours, in an attempt to have them reveal details about other communities of the Church Abroad. Finally they were released, but told that they could not participate in any financial operations, including selling religious literature or candles, or receiving remuneration for their services. The interrogators stated that this action was taken on the initiative of the local diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate. The two priests were told that there future activities would be closely scrutinized by government authorities.

A week later, one of the two priests has been found murdered.

Nevskoe Vremia, summary by Russia Today

On Sept. 14, Russian Orthodox priest Father Alexander from the church of St. Elizabeth the Martyr in the town of Pushkin, an administrative part of St. Petersburg, was found murdered.

He had been shot in the head and the chest, and then run over by a car in order to make his death appear accidental. The ruse worked for a while, said the daily, because it was two days before the police coroner noticed the bullet wounds.

The police are careful not to comment on the case, said the daily, but they have ruled out random crime or theft. It is clear that this was a professional hit. But, the daily asked, who would want to kill a priest?

St. Elizabeth's is located on the territory of a hospital and has been making a lot of money performing religious rites for the sick.

In May of this year, the Orthodox Church hierarchy in St. Petersburg tried to remove Father Alexander and appoint a new priest who was more compliant. Father Alexander's supporters said the Church hierarchy wanted control of the St. Elizabeth "gold mine," as well as a chapel in the town morgue under Father Alexander's jurisdiction, which also brought in a lot of money.

To head off the Church authorities' takeover plans, Father Alexander and his parishioners defected to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which is a small renegade Russian Orthodox church that opposes the Moscow Patriarch because of the close ties it had to the KGB in Soviet times.

This renegade church now has legal control of St. Elizabeth's and the chapel in the morgue. But Father Alexander paid for it with his life, said the daily.

press release of the Moscow patriarchate
26 September 1997

The Rev. George Zyablitsev of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church relations was brutally murdered in Moscow presumably on 22 or 23 September. He died of numerous knife wounds. An investigation has been mounted.

Father George was born on 2 December 1955 in the Kirovsk region to the family of teachers. In 1977 he graduated from the directing department of the All-Union State Cinematography Institute where he took classes from the renowned cinema director Sergey Gerasimov. He worked at the film studio 'Lenfilm' in what was Leningrad. From 1979 to 1981 he served in the army. In 1981 he entered the 3d grade of the Leningrad Theological Seminary. From 1982 he studied at the Leningrad Theological Academy and graduated from it in 1986 with the Candidate of Theology degree. He was ordained deacon in 1990 and served in the Cathedral of the Holy Transfiguration at Vyborg near Leningrad. Since 1990 he worked at the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, dealing with relations with the Roman Catholic Church. He was ordained priest in 1992. He is the author of many theological articles published both inside and outside Russia.

Father George was a diligent pastor. He carried out his priestly service at the Church of the Life-giving Trinity at Khoroshevo in Moscow, and the parishioners will remember him as a sincere, kind, considerate and sensitive pastor. At the Department for External Church Relations he was known as a modest and conscientious worker who had many gifts and was wholly committed to the church cause.

A requiem office was said for Father George at the Cathedral of the Trinity at St. Daniel's Monastery. As the investigation is still going on, the time of the funeral has not been fixed yet.

(posted 30 September)

PBS News Hour coverage of religion law

29 September 1997

The News Hour with Jim Lehrer included interviews with attorney Lauren Homer and Orthodox priest Leonid Kishkovsky.

Link to Transcript of report and interview.

Religion law benefits few

by Oleg Kuriazev
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 25 September 1997

Since the jubilee year of 1988, the millennium of the baptism of Rus, the notion of the "religious renaissance" in Russia has echoed ever more loudly and insistently. In the end this notion has become a cliche and statement of the obvious that requires no evidence, which also has misled many church leaders, government officials, and legislators. They sincerely believe the reality of the "renaissance" and have begun to orient their actions in a corresponding manner. This has led to the "state establishment" of traditional religious to which they have assigned the place of a kind of general and unified ideology as a substitute for the one that has been lost. There also are antiecumenical tendencies which are gathering strength. And it includes legislative activity that is intended to strengthen the preeminent position of "traditional confessions." All of this, we repeat, has been inspired by the notion of a "religious renaissance."

But has a "renaissance" taken place? This question can be answered only after objective and independent scientific investiation. Fortunately such an investigation has been conducted. No, it was not done under the aegis of the parliament or government, nor even the church, although one should expect such an initiative from them. This bespeaks a general antiintellectual intent. Help came from the side of the academy.

Oleg Vitalevich Kiriazev, the senior academic editor of the "Higher Education" press of Finland, conducted along with the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996 a sociological study as part of the World Program for the Study of Values, which made it possible to construct a picture of the real processes in the religious and moral life of our country. The results were published in the journal Voprosy Filosofii (1997, no. 6) in an article by Kimmo Kaariainen and Dmitry Furman, "Believers, Atheists, and Others (Evolution of Russian Religiosity)."

There is no sense citing all the figures and conclusions given in the publication constituting more than two printed pages, but it is necessary simply to look at the main results of the investigation. The study convincingly shows that the notion of a "religious renaissance" is a myth, which followed the destruction of the official atheist ideology. No "religious renaissance" happened and there is little likelihood that it will happen in the future. The pendulum that made a broad sweep from total Orthodoxy to almost total atheism does not have the energy for a return swing. And thus there is no "renaissance," but it might be asked what was it that was taken as a "renaissance"?

Indeed, there is a widespread positive attitude toward religion, 88% of those questioned, while only 4% have a sharply negative additide. Many consider that religion is useful and provides answers for moral questions (55%). Many consider themselves believers and say that they believe in God. However, as the study shows, this faith in God has no contents: only 38% of "believers" conceive of God as Person, 40% as a "vital force," 20% believe in the resurrection of the dead, but 30% believe in reincarnation (this is not a Buddhist influence but of the mass media) and 41% believe in astrology.

Nevertheless only 7% attend church regularly (once a month) and even fewer pray regularly--only 4%. It is this group of believers that constitutes the contingent of "traditional believers," but even among them 29% believe in astrology and 41% in transmigration of souls. Upon the category "traditional believers" the investigators placed a "very liberal figure"--4%. The sociological study shows that this group of the population comprises clear outsiders from society, elderly and very elderly persons; they are substantially less educated than the "average Russian," and they have low income (27% are above 500,000 rubles per month and the rest are lower); they are dissatisfied with what is happening and they fear change. This is a social stratum that is gradually disappearing.

Convinced atheists also are not more than 6% and these also are elderly people who are oriented to the communist ideology. This also is a disappearing contingent.

As regards the "movement of young intellectuals toward religion," the investigators had to apply a "sociological loop" to observe it in the general process. Indeed, such a movement is a reality, the sociologists concluded, but its "scale is limited and it can barely retard the general process of the 'aging' of the group of 'traditional believers.'"

The investigation shows that we have entered a period of the blending of world views. This is by no means unique to Russia. "Postmodern eclecticism" is growing throughout the world and primarily in the USA, England, Ireland, etc. It is as if throughout the world the "majority has a good attitude toward religion," but "it does not, in effect, believe and almost certainly it will not believe." In our days throughout the world there is a decline of "strict, total" religiosity just as there is generally of strict, including party, systems and ideologies.

"Philosophical indeterminism" is growing along with a departure from tradition of all types. Such is the real state of affairs which cannot be ignored by legislators or religious leaders or members of the government. If the law on freedom of conscience is directed toward the 4% of traditionalists, without taking into account the spiritual needs of the more active half (47%) of the population, then it is easy to predict the fate of this law without recourse to complex futuristic analysis. If church hierarchies, which like the Bourbons forget nothing but also learn nothing, continue to follow their chosen fundamentalist and obscurantist course, then in the future the decline of the 4% contingent of believers is just as inescapable as the growth of proselytism. In this case, "traditional believers" very soon will be transformed into a kind of folkloric reserve which will be displayed to tourists along with the Saint Sergius-Holy Trinity lavra and the cathedral of Christ the Savior. If officials of the government apparatus continue the line of creating a general state ideology within the limits of traditional religious confessions, then their own 1991 awaits them. The world has abandoned general and comprehensive ideologies and religions and the return to the past is impossible. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text.

(posted 26 September 1997)

Yeltsin signs law

Moscow, Kremlin, 26 September

President of RF B.N. Yeltsin signed the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," adopted by the State Duma on 19 September 1997 and approved by the Federation Council 24 September 1997. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text.

ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 26 September. In an interview with a correspondent of ITAR-TASS, Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus expressed his satisfaction with the completion of the process of final adoption of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association," which the president of Russia signed today.

The primate of the Russian Orthodox church noted that the "current law is another step in the achievement of the legislative provision and defense of the rights of believing citizens of Russia" and he expressed the hope that "in the future the coordination of diverse public and state interests will happen at earlier stages of the work [than happened in this case]."

"In accordance with the extent of development of social processes, life will place before legislators ever newer and, for the time, unexpected tasks, many of which do not have a model for solution in the past or in other countries of the world," his most holiness stated. "Thus it is necessary to be ready to discover our own adequate solutions." (tr. by PDS)

from the Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Boris Yeltsin today signed into law a highly controversial religion bill that enshrines the Russian Orthodox Church as the country's pre-eminent religion and limits the activities of other religious groups.

Russia's Orthodox Church and hard-liners and nationalists in parliament have fought hard to pass the law, arguing that the country was flooded by dangerous alien religions seeking to ``sow the seeds of religious enmity,'' as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II said this week.

``This is a source of danger not only for the church but also for the state,'' he said.

Critics say the legislation violates the Russian constitution in curbing the rights of many religious organizations, including Protestant and Roman Catholic groups that have become increasingly active in Russia since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

A top Vatican official said the bill ``complicates the situation of the Catholic Church'' in Russia and will make dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church more difficult.

``The regulations ... clearly complicate dialogue. But from our part, we want to continue it,'' Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's doctrinal chief, said Thursday.

Parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to approve the measure on Wednesday, and the lower house approved it overwhelmingly last week.

Yeltsin vetoed the original bill in July in response to sharp criticism at home and abroad, including that from the Vatican and the U.S. Congress.

The new version included several changes but kept the most controversial clauses largely intact.

The bill pledges respect for Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity in general, but many opponents abroad fear that the Orthodox Church wants to prevent Catholic and Protestant groups from operating freely in Russia.

One clause in the bill says religious groups must be present in Russia for 15 years before they can publish or distribute religious literature, or invite foreigners for preaching activities.

Such groups would not be able to hold worship services in hospitals, senior citizens' homes, schools, orphanages or prisons. They would not be able to form educational establishments, found newspapers or magazines and their clergy would not be exempt from military service.

Only a few religious groups were allowed to operate during the officially atheist Soviet era, and most do not meet the 15-year requirement.


Interfax September 22, 1997
From the "Presidential Bulletin" feature

The struggle regarding the bill on freedom of conscience and religious associations was the most serious political challenge to President Boris Yeltsin since the beginning of his second presidential term, President of the Politics foundation Vyacheslav Nikonov told a news conference in Moscow. The West "has done quite a lot for weakening Yeltsin's positions to a maximum," he said.

The discussion on the bill concerned the interests of a huge number of political groups and religious associations, Nikonov said. That is why the presidential veto of the original version of the bill was "an extremely brave and risky move," he added.

The president managed to organize a conciliatory process which allowed an optimal version of the bill to be worked out, Nikonov said. The presidential version of the bill, adopted by the State Duma Friday, "confirms the freedom of conscience without infringing on any major faith, including (the faith) of Catholics and Protestants," he said. Yeltsin "walked on a very thin line between what was possible for the best result from the political point of view," Nikonov said. However, this result "cannot satisfy everyone completely," he added.

Officials from the Presidential Administration told reporters that representatives of 12 major Russian religious associations had signed an address to State Duma Chairman Gennadiy Seleznev supporting the presidential version of the bill. In particular, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Central Spiritual Department of Moslems of Russia and European Countries in the CIS, and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Russia noted that the new version of the bill "reflects the agreement reached by the sides with regard to some provisions in the law." Also, the new version "adequately reflects the interests of different sides within the Russian religious spectrum and society on the whole," the address reads. The amendments to the original version of the bill take into account a number of legal requirements and in fact do not change the concept and guidelines of the draft law, the authors of the address said.

However, some of those who had signed it announced they were "revoking their signatures" prior to the voting in the Duma on the final version of the bill, representatives of the Presidential Administration said. Such a decision might have been caused by "very different reasons," including political ones, officials from the Presidential Administration said.

Upper chamber approves law

By The Associated Press
24 September 1997

MOSCOW (AP) -- Parliament's upper chamber gave quick and unanimous approval today to a controversial bill enshrining the Russian Orthodox Church as the nation's preeminent religion, clearing the way for President Boris Yeltsin to sign the measure into law.

The Federation Council voted 137-0 to endorse the legislation. Supporters say the measure will protect Russia from foreign sects and cults that have been arriving since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Critics say the law will curb the rights of many other religious groups, including Protestant and Roman Catholic organizations that have become increasingly active in Russia.

Yeltsin vetoed the original bill in July in response to sharp criticism at home and abroad. The Vatican and the U.S. Congress were among those objecting.

The revised legislation easily won approval last week in the lower chamber, the State Duma. It took just a few minutes for the Federation Council to pass it without debate today.

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Tuesday that Yeltsin was ``most likely to sign'' the revised bill.

The new version includes several changes but kept the most controversial clauses largely intact.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II praised the bill as a strong barrier against foreign missionaries who have ``inundated'' Russia, the Interfax news agency reported today.

``I'm deeply convinced that sects and pseudo-missionaries are driven by the wish to sow the seeds of religious enmity in Russia, not to educate people,'' Alexy said while on a visit to the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odessa. ``This is a source of danger not only for the church but also for the state.''

The bill pledges respect for Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and other branches of Christianity, but critics say it violates the 1993 Russian constitution that proclaims equal treatment for all religions.

Many opponents abroad fear that the Orthodox Church wants to prevent Catholic and Protestant groups from operating freely in Russia.

Vice President Al Gore said he raised the issue in his talks with Yeltsin and Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin on Tuesday.

``I've tried very hard to explain exactly why we Americans feel so strongly about this,'' Gore said.

One clause in the bill says religious groups must be present in Russia for 15 years before they can publish or distribute religious literature, or invite foreigners for preaching activities.

Such groups would not be able to hold worship services in hospitals, senior citizens' homes, schools, orphanages or prisons. They would not be able to form educational establishments, found newspapers or magazines and their clergy would not be exempt from military service.

Only a few religious groups were allowed to operate during the officially atheist Soviet era, and most do not meet the 15-year requirement.

Ecumenical News Service report

by Maria Balynina RIA "Novosti"
24 September 1997

The law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," adopted today by the upper chamber of parliament, "took into account the opinions of all sides after prolonged discussion," according to the president of the Federation Council, Egor Stroev, responding to a question from a correspondent of RIA "Novosti." He emphasized that the law "was labored over and thirty-six amendments from the side of the president and the patriarch were inserted. Thus I am sure the law must live and work," said Stroev.

In his turn the vice president of the Federation Council, Vasily Likhachev, declared in an interview with a correspondent of RIA "Novosti" that this law has been adopted "in a civilizaed form, guaranteeing comprehensive observation of freedom of conscience. The law declares respect for both the trational religion of Russia and to other beliefs." (tr. by PDS)


ODESSA, 24 September. "I am sure that the sects and pseudomissionaries who have flooded Russia are motivated by the desire not to enlighten but to divide our people along religious confessional lines. And this poses a danger not only for the church also for the state. For the state, unity of the people is the guarantee of the future." These were the words of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, who is in Odessa for a pastoral visit, spoken to correspondents of ITAR-TASS and "Interfax." He considers that the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," adopted in its new version on 19 September by the State Duma, must regulate the activity of various preachers.

The patriarch recalled that the "Russian Orthodox church, as a peace making force, responded to the summons of the president of Russia to join the reconciliation commission for revision of this bill, because there was a movement to override the veto of the head of state and this would have evoked hostility and opposition in the dyma and then among the people."

As a result of the work of the reconciliation commision, which included representatives of the president's administration, the government, parliament, and the basic confession, "mutual acceptable wording was worked out, but all these revisions, "the patriarch emphasized, did not change the essence of the bill." (tr. by PDS)

Washington Post story

(posted 24 September 1997)

Words of approval of religion law

ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 22 September. The new version of the law on freedom of conscience, adopted by the State Duma on Friday, does not any longer divide religious organizations into "traditional" and "nontraditional," and the fifteen-year registration qualification period that it retains does not work against the rights of believers, in the opinion of the administration of the president of Russia. In its new form, the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" does not violate "either our constitution nor international obligations," Ruslan Orekhov, the director of the chief state-legal administration of the president declared to journalists. It was the divicion of religious organizations into "traditional" and "nontraditional" that was basic reason for the veto of the previous version, which President Boris Yeltsin made. According to Orekhov, the division of religious associations into "organizations" (with right of legal entity) and "groups" (without such rights), which was preserved in the new version, did not evoke any response from the president.

In order to fall into the category of "organization," a given religious association must have documentary proof that it has existed in Russian at least fifteen years. Orekhov stressed that the word is "existed," and not "been registered." In this regard a confirming document could be evidence of acquisition of property or the fact of a judicial investigation "for antisoviet religious activity," etc. Naturally, it was explained in the Kremlin, no one can raise any doubt that, for example, Catholics were in Russia fifteen or a hundred, or more years ago. And a refusal of registration can be thoroughly appealed in a judicial procedure.

And Rusla Orekhov is sure that no one can hinder members of a "religious groups" from exercising their personal rights, associated with religious profession and performance of worship. Although before its transformation into an "organization" a religious group cannot officially invite foreigners and distribute literature, each of its members has the right to do such things on their own.

According to a former aide to the head of state and now an independent specialist, Georgi Satarov, the existence of two categories of religious associations comports with the general parameters of the juridical system of Russia, in particular, with the paraments of the law on public associations. (tr. by PDS) (Russian text)

RIA-NOVOSTI/Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 22 September. Jonathan Jennings, official representative of the synod of the state Anglican church of Great Britain, called the adoption of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" (sic) a triumph of the forces of democracy in Russia. "It is entirely obvious that freedom of religious profession is a fundamental human right," Jonathan Jennings noted. "Thus the fact that the Russian State Duma proved capable to show this in its action and to adopt the law 'On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,' in the full version of President Boris Yeltsin represents, in my opinion, a triumph of the forces of democracy in Russia." According to the official representative of the synod of the Anglical church of Great Britain, "for the Anglican church it constitutes great satisfaction to learn that believers of Russia will be able to possess the freedom to lift their prayers to the Lord each in his own way and in his personal spirit." (tr. by PDS) (Russian text)

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 23 September. President of the Russian federation Boris Yeltsin expressed his satisfaction that the State Duma supported his amendments to the draft law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," the president's press secretary Sergei Ystrzhembsky told reporters today. He noted also that there is every reason to suppose that after the Federation Council votes to adopt this law, the head of the Russian state will sign it. (tr. by PDS) (Russian text)

(posted 23 September 1997)

Press coverage of duma's adoption of law

by Evgeny Yuriev
Segodnia, 20 September 1997

The appeal to the "special role of Orthodoxy" that offended representatives of others confessions remained in the law "On Freedom of Conscience. . . ." The State Duma decided not to use the extremely convenient possibility for a regular attack on power, rejecting an override of the president's veto of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." The problem with the ill-fated law, that evoked broad public support and a stormy reaction from various religious confession, to general satisfaction, was resolved amicably. The deputies adopted it in the new, presidential version.

It was suggested in the duma that the president's amendments of the conception and structure of the law did not upset it, but in essence left it as before. "We did not weaken a single matter of principle," declared a colleague of the president of the duma committee on affairs of public associations and religious organizations, communist Viktor Zorkaltsev, noting at the same time that the president's amendments even "improved the text of the law and essentially developed its ideas."

The law, earlier rejected by the president because of its unconstitutionality and violations of existing legislation, really is little changed. The preamble underwent a bit of correction. However the appeal to the "special role of Orthodoxy," that offended representatives of other confession, remains in it as before. As does the concrete enumeration of "respected religions--Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism," that constitute an "integral part of the historic heritage of the peoples of Russia." In Zorkaltsev's opinion, the main thing is that the new version of the law improves the position of the traditional religions and establishes a control on the activity of those religious associations "whose existence evokes great doubt." He hopes that the law will become an effective barrier on the path of religious expansion and the attack of the totalitarian sects.

The law established an obligatory annual reregistration of religious associations over a period of fifteen years after their formation. It stipulates that reregistration of associations that were created before the publication of the law must be carried out by 31 December 1999. Upon expiration of this period associations that have not undergone reregistration may be liquidated by judicial procedure. All new religious organizations created after the law goes into effect will not be registered until they have existed fifteen years on the territory of the Russian federation. During this time they are forbidden to publish and disseminate literature and to conduct educational activity. They are permitted to engage in charitable activity.

A foreign religious organization may be granted the right to open a representation in Russia. However this representation may not engage in worship or other religious activity. Religious organizations may be liquidated, in particular, if they violate public security, incite racial, social, national, or religious enmity, compel the breakup of the family, encourage suicide or refusal for religious reasons of giving medical care to people whose life or health is threatened.

Before the beginning of the plenary session, more than 100 representatives of various religious organizations gathered outside the duma, who claimed that the adoption of the law would infringe their rights. The picketers demanded that the deputies "not permit religious apartheid." Opponents of the adoption of the law included Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Old Believers, adherents of the church of Moon, and representatives of several Muslim organizations. Old Believers, for example, demanded inclusion in the law of a provision about confessional ownership of church property; Jehovah's Witnesses demanded that they be named among the religions "constitution an integral part of the historical heritage of the peoples of Russia." Moonies and representatives of other newly formed religious movements spoke out mainly against the law's fifteen-year qualifying period for registration.

Viktor Zorkaltsev called deputies not to pay attention to these demands inasmuch a practically all religious organizations that are dissatisfied with the law are not truly Russian and have their centers abroad. The Yabloko fraction tried to plead the case of those who were offended, but it was decided that its representative Valery Borshchev would not be permitted to speak and there would be no discussion of the new version of the law. In an interview with a correspondent of Segodnia Borshchev suggested that the law adopted by the duma will quickly evoke an enormous appeal in the constitutional court by adherents of the injured religions, and that Baptists, who constitute, according to him, a third of Russian believers, intend to appeal to the Congress of the USA requesting to grant them assylum in that country as victims of religious persecution. It should be imagined that Congress will not abandon its brethren in faith to misery. So some of the platitudes from the legislative discussion about the law the duma adopted may be transferred into the sphere of bigtime politics. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text

by Olga Koroleva Pravda,
20 September 1997

Yesterday the State Duma adopted the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" in the version proposed by the president. Supporters of the law managted to defeat an attempt by representatives of the Yabloko fraction that insisted on postponement of the review of the draft. Deputy Valery Borshchov appealed to the fact that the current version of the text is not approved by Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, and preachers of the teachings of Moon. However he was reminded that all traditional confessions, and principally the Russian Orthodox church, have asked for immediate adoption of the document. The authorized representative of the president in the State Duma, Alexander Kotenkov, stated that the new version was the result of the reconciliation procedures and joint work of parliamentarians, attorneys, and religious organizations.

The representative of the Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Viktor Zorkaltsev, also called for support of this bill, stressing that it creates all conditions for the activity of traditional confessions but at the same time erects a barrier for the expansion of totalitarian sects and foreign missionaries. "Working on the new law, we did not remove a single matter of principle. The president's amendments did not change the conception of the law nor its structure. Several amendments even improved the original text and developed basic ideas. The document does not conflict with the position of the Russian Orthodox church and it has been approved by Muslims, Buddhists, Lutherans, and Jews," Zorkaltsev summed up. (tr. by PDS)

Western press coverage:

(posted 20 September 1997)

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