NEWS ABOUT RELIGION IN RUSSIA

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City government continues to harass Pentecostals

MAYOR OF KEMEROVO DOGS PROTESTANTS
by Vadim Akentiev, Radiotserkov, Kemerovo
2 July 1998

A new attempt to evict parishioners of the Novoilinsk Christians of Evangelical Faith church from their premises has been made. It had been reported that Sunday services were being conducted now in one of the shops of an abandoned shoe factory on the outskirts of the city. In addition, the church had rented the "red corner" in one of the public schools for its evening meetings for two years. But recently the director of the school received a letter from the mayor's office and the department of internal affairs of the city with a demand to evict the congregation. However the director refused and proposed holding a "round table" in his office.

The meeting was attended by the pastor of the congregation, Ilia Bantseev, and representatives of the city government, specifically of the department for relations with the public and with religious organizations, as well as an attorney. Despite the legal reinforcement of the attempt to demonstrate that the director had violated the law, this could not be done at the round table. Nor did help come from a rather outrageous article in the central newspaper claiming that Pentecostals cause harm. The representative of the Institute for Continuing Education of Teachers produced the article. But the pastor responded by showing the official state registration of the church and other documents that granted it the right to engage in its activity.

As regards the very technical question of the rental of a state school, the parishioners had not even preached in the street next to it. They try not to disrupt the educational process in any way, and half the teachers, to say nothing about the students, do not even know who meets in the red corner occasionally. In general, the attempt to evict the church from this site has turned out to be a failure.

However, the administration of the city has managed to win. How else can one understand the repeated refusal to grant the church a land parcel for constructing its own building. We recall that in the spring a letter was sent to the governor of Kemerovo region by Valery Borshchev, the vice chairman of the State Duma committee on affairs of public associations and religious organizations, who also is the chairman of the Chamber for Human Rights. In it Valery Borshchev requests that the local authorities allot to the Novoilinsk church a lot for the long-awaited construction. The regional administration sent to Novokuznetsk an assignment "to revisit the question of the construction of the church." However the mayor of the city, Sergei Martin, let his decision stand without change. The Novoilinsk KhVE church remains without the possibility of having its own building in the city. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 9 July 1998)


Baptists seek to train evangelists

INDIGENOUS BAPTIST EVANGELISM WEAK
by Yury Kolesnikov, Radiotserkov, Novosibirsk
8 July 1998

Viktor Vakhov, director of the "Bible League in Siberia," stated in an interview with a Radiotserkov reporter that missionary service in the Evangelical Christians-Baptist churches of Western Siberia has been "put on hold." He said that missionary work in Omsk region, Altai territory, and Eastern Siberia has improved substantially because in those places "senior presbyters are engaged" in this matter.

Concern about the weakness of evangelism was expressed also by two ministers of Baptist churches, youth director Vladimir Skripnik and deacon Nikolai Komov. At the present time they are looking for new forms of evangelization for the districts where Baptist houses of prayer are located.

Recently attempts at young people's group processions about the microdistrict of the city, accompanied by Christian songs, have been made. But this innovation still has not produced tangible results. Vladimir sees the basic cause of this failure in a lack of steadfastness and "weak Christian spark" among the believers themselves. Nikolai Komov, a deacon of the church of the city of Oba, near Novosibirsk, is planning to organize a missionary department within the church and to develop with its help in two directions: work with nonmembers who attend services and training of leaders of small Bible groups. "For the time being we cannot go out in public and tell the good news because of our own lack of preparation," he thinks. Nikolai wants to conduct the preparation of church members for evangelization in the city by means of the celebrated "Evangelism Explosion" plan. The director of the Bible League in Siberia plans to help in this initiative. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 9 July 1998)


Vatican diplomacy in Russia

HOLY SEE REACHED OUT TO EVGENY PRIMAKOV
by Aleksei Bukalov
Segodnia, 30 June 1998

The hill on Smolensk Square seems nearer to Vatican than is St. Daniel's monastery

ROME. The secretary for relations with states (minister of foreign affairs) of the Vatican, Jean-Louis Toran, arrived in Moscow for a purely ceremonial occasion--participation in the celebration mass on the opening of a new building for the papal nunciature (embassy). Ordinarily the presence of a priest of deputy status is sufficient for such an occasion but the Holy See considered it necessary to send to Russia one of its most highly placed prelates.

Diplomats in cassocks have for centuries crossed seas and continents and their persistence and steadfastness have greatly facilitated the growth of the influence of the Roman Catholic church in the world. Today the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with 150 countries of the world; the majority of them are accredited papal nuncios having, as a rule, the rank of plenipotentiary extraordinary ambassadors. Jean-Louis Toran has occupied the post of director of the foreign policy department of the Vatican since 1990. In this capacity he already has visited Moscow in 1991 in connection with one of the last forums of the soviet era, an international conference on "The human dimension of the Helsinki act," and he even met (in the company of other delegates) with Mikhail Gorbachev.

On the eve of Monsignor Toran's present visit to Moscow the ambassador of the Russian federation to the Vatican, Gennady Uranov, explained in a conversation with a Segodnia reporter that the trip by the secretary on relations with states logically continues the chain of contacts between Russian and Vatican diplomats. The previous meeting of leaders of the foreign policy departments of Russia and the Vatican took place at the time of the visit by President Boris Yeltsin to the Apinnines in February of this year. The head of the Russian state was received with full honors at the apostolic palace of the Vatican and had a vigorous conversation with the Roman pope. On the same day the minister of foreign affairs of RF Evgeny Primakov conducted a round of conversations with the state secretary (head of government) of the Holy See, Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Monsignor Toran. The conversation was continued over lunch in the restaurant of Rome's Columbus Hotel. In this sense the breakfast which was hosted in Moscow by the minister of foreign affairs of Russia in honor of his Vatican colleague at the MID residence on Spiridonievka could be considered a return reception. Monsignor Toran was also received at St. Daniel's monastery by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus. Vatican press service refused to disclose the contents of the meeting and the department of external relations of RPTs restricted itself to the report that the meeting was a courtesy visit.

Relations between the two churches cannot be considered uncomplicated. Although the mutual attempts to mark the approaching great jubilee--the bimillennium of Christianity--with reconciliation and fraternal love are continually emphasized, there remains an extremely substantial gap between these words and reality. One can suppose that the most acute question, about a possible pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to Russia, was not even touched upon at the meeting between Monsignor Toran and Alexis II. The issue is that the monsignor is responsible in the Vatican for relations with foreign states and it is from this point of view that no problems would arise: Pope Wojtila has been officially invited to Moscow three times, by the chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet of USSR Nikolai Podgorny, president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, and president of Russia Boris Yeltsin. But the Roman pope is waiting for an invitation from the leadership of the Russian Orthodox church and this invitation Toran, because of his status, cannot take to him. The Moscow patriarch not only is not ready for the arrival of the Roman pontiff in Russia, but he considers that conditions still have not matured even for a meeting "on neutral ground" between the primates of the two Christian churches. However, trips such as this one made to Moscow by an authoritative Vatican hierarch bring closer the possibility of such contacts. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text:

(posted 1 July 1998)


Response on survival tactics

MORE ON "ROOFS"
by Rudy Vins,
Radiotserkov, Los Angeles

On 29 June Sergei Fomenko wrote an article about "roofs" for religious organizations which have existed less than fifteen years. The subject in it was the way many such churches now have begun to join traditional unions of churches in order to continue their existence legally. [See, for example, "Young churches register under aegis of older union."]

The Bible itself confirms Fomenko's thought that it is "better to take refuge in the Lord than to hope in man" (Ps 117 [118]. 8). Nevertheless, unification into some union of churches, when the churches retain their own autonomy and are not obliged to change their trust in the Lord and also the churches share a common charter of the specific association, I personally consider not at all a bad compromise for the benefit of God's work. Such churches continue to trust in the Lord and, possibly, fellowship more reasonably with their brothers and sisters in Christ who interpret a few biblical statements somewhat differently. God often permits certain difficulties in the life of churches so that believers will recognize their true brothers and sisters in the faith.

The new law of the Russian federation "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" unfortunately is discriminatory with regard to separate religious organizations. But the fruits of unification of like-minded people into larger organizations or communities is not a defect. This is how many nonbelievers will learn that we are disciples of Christ, if we have love for one another (Jn 13.35). (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 1 July 1998)


Patriarch addresses church's role in contemprary issues

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PATRIARCH ALEXIS II
by Larisa Rumarchuk
Moscow Magazine, 30 June 1998

--Your Holiness, the twentieth century that is drawing to a close was not a century of peace. It seems that humanity will enter the third millennium from the birth of Christ jaded. Politicians suggest that the coming century will bring with it racial and religious wars, with the most global being the conflict of two religions, Christianity and Islam. What can you say with regard to this prediction?

--Actually, such opinions often receive publicity in the mass media, especially in western Europe, where recently a multitude of Muslim societies have been formed and problems have arisen with their integration into society. Thus I suggest that reporters should examine the particulars of the religious situation in our country and throughout the world with greatest honesty and good intentions to see the influence of the interrelationships of Christianity and Islam upon the development of contemporary society. Unfortunately, tragic conflicts, that have hidden political and economic motives but which take on a religious factor, have arisen now throughout the world, including Europe. Opposition to them is one of the tasks of the social ministry of the Russian Orthodox church, which, having fulfilled its mission for more than 1,000 years, peacefully coexists with its closest neighbors, the large Muslim societies. Orthodox Christians maintain respectful relations toward the adherents of other religious, recalling the descent of all nations and people from Adam, who was created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1.26). We maintain good and trustful relations with our Muslim brothers. We also know that the doctrinal bases of Islam tell the followers of Muhammed to treat Christians as brothers. Many years of fellowship in inter-religious meetings have moved toward a beginning of theological and cultural dialogue of representatives of the two religions. We also have sought and found the possibility of cooperation in charity, peacemaking, and other socially significant areas, in cooperation for the moral improvement of society and its protection from the violence of destructive pseudoreligious cults. In this our dialogue and mutual action have not been restricted to Russia or the Commonwealth of Independent states. Ties with the Islamic societies of Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and a number of other countries, for example, have been developing. The dialogue of Orthodox and Muslims, as well as representatives of all world religions, is vitally necessary. It leads us to thoughtful cooperation embued with responsibility for the fates of our country and the world. In the face of threats of the use in local conflicts of weapons of mass destruction, religious leaders are obligated to prevent and heal the outbreaks of human hostility. It is just such steps of meeting one another which will help prevent global confrontation under false religious pretexts which many are predicting, but which, I hope, humanity will manage to avoid with God's help and a rational approach.

--In standing up for peace and harmony, the Orthodox clergy, however, display a certain distrust not only of those who believe differently but even of other branches of Christianity--Catholicism, protestantism. Praying for the "well being of God's holy churches and the unity of all," several clergy nevertheless see in the ecumenical movement something like the chief danger for the true faith. What is this--the illusions of separate persons or the position of the Russian Orthodox church?

--The main task of our church in its inter-Christian ties is to testify before Christians who believe differently to the truth of Orthodoxy and to demonstrate to them the traditions and uncorrupted faith of the ancient undivided church, of which the church of Orthodoxy is the historical continuation. We know of a certainty that such a testimony is extremely important and critical in today's complex world. Our church in its interconfessional ties is motivated by love for all Christians and a quest for peace and mutual understanding with them. However, Orthodox participation in the work of international Christian organizations like the World Council of Churches has evoked an ambiguous discussion among our believers who are active in ecumenical relations. In particular there is concern about several forms of joint prayers and the presence of elements that might be identified with paganism. One cannot avoid being upset by the departure of some churches and denominations who are members of WCC from the evangelical norms of theological and ethical teaching. All of this has moved us to discuss with fraternal Orthodox churches the forms of our participation in the activity of WCC and the very possibility of its continuing. It is necessary always to create a system of inter-Christian contacts which will not erode the bases of our own faith.

--Russian Orthodoxy always has been distinguished by its zeal for tradition: liturgical rites, church ritual, decoration of the church--all of this has changed very slowly and rarely over the centuries. It is possible that to some degree it is this fidelity that has helped the church to survive the years of persecution. But times change and that which was for the good could become a hinderance for future development. The language is not comprehensible to many and the liturgies are exhaustingly long. Doesn't all of this now seem rather archaic and possibly offputting for contemporary youth?

--The church is called to preserve and transmit to future generations of people the saving revelation given by the Lord Jesus Christ himself and manifested in the fullness of the heritage of the apostolic succession. This heritage, naturally, is expressed in various cultural forms, which have changed and continue to change. The equal-to-the-apostles saints Cyril and Methodius and other authors of translations and original liturgies and texts devoted great energies in order that the Slavic peoples could apprehend in full measure the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and the meaning and beauty of the Orthodox liturgy.

I suggest, for contemporary persons, who sometimes have command of several foreign languages, that regular attendance at church and thoughtful examination of the church service will pose no difficulty to understanding what is going on and appreciating the magnificence of the ancient language that has been saturated with history. And if one sincerely and fervently prays with the heart and mind, then two hours of service will seem like an instant and after the dismissal one will not wish to leave the church. However, what I have said does not mean that nothing changes in the church. Liturgical creativity always has existed and always will exist. It is necessary only that it be in agreement with the collective mind of the church and not be transformed into an arrogant "revolution." One must not forget also that there also is a nonliturgical Orthodox culture that now includes the movies, theatre, various kinds of music, secular literature, and national productions, and many other things. All of this manifests the eternal spiritual and moral truths to the soul and mind of contemporary persons and helps them find a vital purpose in combination with genuine freedom.

--Your Holiness, in our time pastoral activity in places of confinement has again become possible. This is good. People who have broken the law and been removed from society are not forgotten by God and the church; they can ease their mind through confession and receive forgiveness of sins. How has this merciful action affected the fates of those who have fallen? And the moral climate of the corretional labor institutions?

--Actually, today Orthodox pastors often visit places of incarceration. The church treats people who have violated the law as misguided sheep of Christ's fold whom the Lord gives the opportunity of repentence through sorrow and receiving the greatest divine gift--forgiveness in order to transform life consciously and be morally reborn. In performing my pastoral duty I myself have often visited places of confinement where I performed the liturgy and conversed with prisoners. In personal experience I have had occasion to witness this process of spiritual regeneration which happens in a person who has become conscious of the depth of sins committed and who wishes to be freed from them. At such a time the living message, spiritual advice, and any possible help warm the hearts even of those who have completely lost faith in people.

People come to God by different paths. Some through joy and some through sorrow, trials, and fall. Life itself shows that the discovery of faith and growth in it is a mystery performed by God in the depths of the human personality. To help complete this mystery is the church's task, the pastor's task, and one cannot but rejoice that today ever more people, who are serving deserved sentences, are coming to the path of Christ. When churches and houses of prayer are built in places of confinement this in a literal sense transforms the entire life of prisoners as well as the workers of the correctional institutions.

--In the last few years in Russia numerous religious sects have appeared. The federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," adopted recently by the State Duma, is intended to protect the unstable from alien influences. However public opinion on this law is divided. What is the position of the Russian Orthodox church on this matter?

--Without intending to infringe on anyone's rights to free confession of faith and to veneration of one's own sacred things, the new law introduces into the Russian legal field numerous concrete provisions for rational legal regulation of the activity of religious societies as legal entities. In the first place this pertains to various newly created groups. Society must have the possibility of protecting itself from uncontrolled activity of wealthy pseudoreligious adventurists and at the same time to support those religious societies which do obvious good for the people. One cannot but note that the classification of religious associations exists in Great Britain, Greece, Austria, Finland, Latvia and in almost all other countries of Europe. Incidentally, in many of them legislation specifically defines privileges for one or several confessions, which is not the case in the Russian law. At the same time there are active mechanisms restricting the activity of destructive and socially dangerous cults.

It is not unimportant that according to the new law foreign citizens who are on Russian territory may freely participate in the life and ministry of any Russian religious association. Those who view Russia as a spiritual wilderness will have to square their pseudomissionary plans with the opinion of Russian believers.

The prospects for joint action between religious organizations and the state in a number of socially significant areas have been expanded. I am convinced that such joint action will acquire new forms in the future for it is in partnership for the welfare of the people that one finds the chief meaning of the interrelations of church and state.

--Poets, musicians, and artists who try to explain the creative process often affirm that their hand is directed by God. Not by chance is inspiration often called divine. However there also exists a different opinion according to which secular art is the product of human pride thinking of itself as the creator and, from this point of view, it is practically the work of demons. As far as we know, in Orthodox monasteries reading secular books and listening to secular music are not permitted. Where is the truth here?

--Human creativity is an extremely complex phenomenon. The church always has tried to spiritualize various aspects of culture and to make it the bearer and expression of eternal spiritual values. At the same time Orthodoxy cautions against pseudoculture, motivated by sin. Left to itself the creative process is not the result of a genuine spiritual life of the artist or a mark of participation in the work created in the world by its true Creator. In wishing to comprehend God's will for its works, the creative personality must recall that it is impossible to do this by one's own efforts. Seeing God and attaining the mind of the Creator in art is possible only through faith and prayer.

Profoundly sensitive to culture and the meaning of genuine creativity, the great Russian writer F.M. Dostoevsky affirmed that it can only be the fruit of love for people. According to Saint John Cassian the Roman, love makes people "who are perfect somehow more perfect." Examination of one's conscience and review of one's own creativity in the light of gospel truths and of love illuminate the mind of the artist and help him reveal God's truth to people. And then creativity, within the dimensions of whatever form of culture it may be carried out, becomes near to the church and its mission.

--As we know, religion and science are by no means mutually exclusive. But scientists indulge in thought about the existence of other worlds and other civilizations. How does the Orthodox church view these hypotheses?

--It seems that the person who is seeking contacts with so-called UFO's should ask himself the question: what are the moral consequences of these searches? Why should one hope that the spiritual and material problems of contemporary humanity can be solved by some "emissaries from the cosmos"? What are the spiritual consequences of communion with forces whose nature and origin are extremely dubious? The church's consciousness clearly sees that in this area we must manifest extreme caution. The Apostle John warns: "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God, because many false prophets have appeared in the world" (1 Jn 4.1). Sacred scripture, pointing to the worth of the human soul, stresses that it is unrepeatable and unique. In Orthodoxy the human personality is viewed as a God-given reality that is called to a spiritual transformation into Christ. In this context the role of the church in the economy of our salvation is recognized. The church building is the house of God and also the highest image of the harmony of the entire cosmos, recalling the original Paradise and the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Christianity recognizes that at the base of creation lies the supreme law established by God to which the world and humanity are subject. In this world order there is a center--God himself, and there is an invisible spiritual world, but so far as we know from God's revelation in all of the great varieties of his living creatures only humanity has been given the right to rule the earth and all that is in it and to bear undivided responsibility before God for this home.

I suggest that scientists should pay heed to this testimony of the Bible and the more so when the topic is hypotheses, many of which have been disproved by the Book of Books and church tradition. The moral meaning of any hypothesis must never be overlooked. One of the last elders of Optino, Saint Nektary, said that vital success can come to a person who is studying the various sciences when his science is not a hinderance to his moral and spiritual life, but the spiritual life is not a restriction on the study of science. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 1 July 1998)


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