NEWS ABOUT RELIGION IN RUSSIA

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Ukrainian Orthodox church advocates Russian-style law

FOLLOWERS OF WHITE BROTHERHOOD APPLY FOR LEGAL STATUS
Ukrainian Orthodox Church

KIEV. 1 July. Ten residents of Kiev, citizens of Ukraine, applied on 20 April of this year to the State Committee on Religious Affairs of Ukraine for registration of the charter of the religious society "Universal Church of the Great White Brotherhood Yusmalos," in order to receive the rights of legal entity. The so-called "ten" that is necessary for registration of the society consists of representatives of the liberal wing of the "White Brotherhood," which considered that for the promotion of the ideas of the White Brotherhood changes in the doctrine of the organization and its registration are needed. The leaders of this wing are Marina Krivonogova (Maria Devi Khristos) and Vitaly Kovalchuk (High Priest John-Peter II), who recently were released from prison and registered their marriage.

The conservative wing consists of followers of the currently imprisoned Yury Krivonogov (Patriarch Ioann Swami) and does not wish to have contact with authorities. At the same time the liberal wing of White Brotherhood has declared Yury Krivonogov the "incarnation of Judas" and accused him of "dictatorial leadership of the society by despotic methods." Marina Krivonogova has ordered in her own name the removal of all fasts and dietary restrictions established by Yury Krivonogov.

At the general assembly of the society on 11 April 1998 a charter was adopted for the society and members of the council of the society and an auditing commission were elected. The charter of the society defines the Universal Church of the Great While Brotherhood Yusmalos as a "religious organization of citizens who believe in the living God Maria DEVI Khristos, who are at least eighteen years of age and voluntarily join for the purpose of communal satisfaction of religious needs." The society "is led in its activity by the Final Testament of the Lord Maria Devi Khristos, her living word, and this charter, and it obeys the existing legislation of Ukraine." The society "is a member of the Universal Church of the Great White Brotherhood Yusmalos, of which it is the center." [tr. note: "Yusmalos" is an acronym from YUoann Swami (Krivonogov's assumed name), MAria devi, and LOgoS (Jesus Christ)]

The White Brotherhood defines the purpose of its activity as "facilitating the spiritual rebirth of humanity, profession and dissemination of faith in the living God Maria DEVI Khristos, delivery of her Living Word the Final Testament of Love and Eternal Life with the ten commandments of Christ to people, and satisfaction of other religious needs of the members of the society." The essential elements of activity are defined as "organization and conduct of collective and individual worship services, preaching, other religious rituals, rites, and ceremonies" and study and distribution of the teachings of Marina Krivonogova "employing all contemporary means of mass communication."

The supreme organ of administration of the society is the general assembly of members of the society. It is interesting that neither Marina Krivonogova nor Vitaly Kovalchuk are members of the "ten," although there are reports that they have tried to obtain exit passports and to emigrate for permanent residence in one of the countries of western Europe. In all likelihood, it is in that country where the hard currency account of the White Brotherhood is located. However, exit passports have not been given to the "divine couple" since many parents of young "white brothers" have substantial property claims against the leadership of the sect. The Committee on Religious Affairs of Ukraine still has not made a decision about registration of the charter of the White Brotherhood.

Why does the White Brotherhood need registration and the rights of legal entity so much? Obviously it is in order to have the corresponding privileges and possibilities for broad proclamation of its teaching in order to collect a still larger number of "disciples" who again will sell their apartments and bring money into the sect and will work gratis for the sake of the "living god" with a criminal past. All this is quite obvious, but formally the state cannot refuse registration to the White Brotherhood or any other harmful sect, including satanists. Alas, the currently existing legislation gives the possibility of registration to any religious organization which is smart enough not to declare in its charter the antisocial goals or methods of its activity. If the White Brotherhood now is registered, then after six months in Ukraine there will officially exist a "church of satan" and a couple dozen other organizations like it. Incidentally this is actively facilitated by such respected international organizations as the Administration of the High Commissioner of the United Nations on Human Rights, which protested against the "fabrication of a case with violation of the law and criminal procedures" against the leaders of the White Brotherhood or the Ukrainian committee "Helsinki-90," which considers the case against them "acts of crude infringement of human rights in Ukraine." It is strange, but for some reason these organizations do not consider as violations of human rights the blatant destruction of the psyches of teenagers and even children which the Krivonogov couple has conducted throughout Ukraine and in other countries of FSU. Society must have the possibility to protect its children from organizations like the White Brotherhood. If it does not have legitimate protection in the form of discriminatory legislation with respect to such sects, then sooner or later it will take recourse to illegitimate protection, common lynch mob justice. Is it worth tempting our own people? Wouldn't it be easier to give serious consideration to a new edition of the law on freedom of conscience, designating a special group of religious traditional for Ukraine, composing a list of prohibitted religions, and establishing a probationary period for new religious movements? There is no need to talk about this being nondemocratic; all of these exist in many fully democratic west European countries. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Ukrainian Orthodox Church

(posted 18 August 1998)


Why did patriarch skip funeral?

THE EMPTY SEAT AT THE TSAR'S FUNERAL
by Richard Price
The Tablet, 25 July 1998

Why was Patriarch Alexis absent from the ceremony in St Petersburg when the remains of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, were buried? The Russian Orthodox Church thus missed this great opportunity for national reconciliation. A lecturer in church history at Heythrop College in the University of London offers an explanation.

THE state burial of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family on 17 July in St Petersburg was marred by the refusal of the Moscow Patriarchate to take part, which struck a sour note. The grounds given were the supposed uncertainty of the genuineness of the remains ; a curious explanation, since there can be few relics venerated in the Russian Church today that have been equally well authenticated. It is true, however, that there is the embarrassment that the Russian Church in Exile has a set of rival relics in Brussels, which the Patriarchate may be reluctant to discredit at the very time that it is conducting difficult negotiations in the hope of reunion.

A more serious reason lies in the danger that a state burial blessed by the Patriarch might strengthen the demands for the canonisation of Nicholas II, who has already been declared a saint by the Russian Church in Exile. Despite the quiet dignity of his months of imprisonment, his reign was disfigured by a chilling indifference towards loss of life by his subjects, whether in the suppression of the 1905 risings or in the First World War. Moreover, the Patriarchate bitterly resents the fact that when Nicholas abdicated he gave no thought at all to the consequences for the Church of which he was head.

But the reason for the Patriarchate's absence from the St Petersburg ceremony that appears to have weighed most heavily was fear of annoying the Communist Party, since the murder of the Tsar and his relatives was the deliberate policy of Lenin. There is still a widespread feeling in Russia that Yeltsin's regime is insecure and that, if he were to fall, the Communists would be likely to recover power.

The desire of churchmen to ingratiate themselves with the Communist Party takes striking forms. An event that went unmentioned in the Western press was a New Year's concert in the Kremlin at the beginning of the year, organised by the Patriarchate and attended by the Patriarch and a large number of clergy. There were only three lay guests: Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, and two other people with strong Communist connections. During the interval, I was informed, there was a long queue of priests asking for Zyuganov's signature and assuring him of their support.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation has certainly changed its stripes; if it returned to power, it would not persecute the Church. But it is hard to see Party members, still largely atheists, showing the same degree of concern for the well-being of the Church as it receives from so many of the present officials in local government. In any case, shouldn't history exclude any enthusiasm for a link-up with Communists?

Nostalgia for the good old days of Communism is not, however, an absurd position for a Russian churchman to hold. The fall of the Soviet regime has landed the Russian Church, like its counterparts in other ex-Communist lands, with problems far more complex than they faced before, when they had to survive under Communism. The position of the Churches in the Communist era could even be called enviable, for the decision of the Eastern European governments to tolerate church activity while openly deploring it made this the one oasis of public life free of the state ideology. Simply by continuing to exist, therefore, the Churches found they could fulfil an inestimable role and win the support of an utterly diverse constituency, without having to address the enormous problems of accommodation to the modern world.

Of course, even then some criticised the Russian Church for its conservatism and collaboration with the State; but most people conceded that the Church's prime task was to survive rather than update itself and that collaboration with the state organs was the condition of its being tolerated. Certainly the restrictions on church life, including a ban on charitable and educational work, were keenly resented. But at least churchmen could imagine that the Russian people still possessed Orthodox roots and that all they had to do was wait patiently for a return to freer conditions, when they could expect with confidence an immediate surge back to the Church.

It is one of the deepest disappointments for all observers of the Russian scene that no such massive return to the Church has taken place. Certainly the number of working churches and monasteries has vastly increased, and at least in the main cities most people now get baptised. But often they have as little real belief as nominal Christians in the West, and church attendance remains lower than in any other major European country. A survey in the newspaper Sevodnya (Today) in 1996 showed that only six per cent of the population claimed to go to church at least once a month. But even this figure is suspiciously high. Earlier this year, a count of attendance in the churches of Moscow at the Easter Vigil (the main service of the year) discovered 140,000 worshippers, from a population of 10 million; and church attendance is greater in the capital than in the country at large. To feel a supportive population around closed churches in the Communist era was a happier situation than the present one, when thousands of open churches are miserably attended.

This glaring evidence that there is only marginal support for the Orthodox Church in Russia is poorly compensated for by the new favour it enjoys from those in power, who see political advantage in having bishops in tow and exploit the Church as a symbol of nationalism. This gives the Church a prominence that is dangerously out of proportion to its real social base, threatening to make it unpopular and distracting it from its real task of adjusting to a market where religious denominations have to compete for adherents.

LAST year the Moscow Patriarchate keenly promoted the passing of a new law on freedom of conscience which recognises the special position of the official Orthodox Church and places some restrictions on rival sects and denominations. The Russian Church continues to insist that ethnic Russians are Orthodox at heart and should not be subjected to the blandishments of better-funded faiths that, in its own view, cannot meet the real needs of the population. It calls on Russian citizens to recognise the unique position of the Orthodox Church in society. Patriarch Alexis recently said to an audience of factory workers: "I do not care whether you are believers or not; what matters is your attitude to the Church." Patriach Pimen in the late Soviet period described his position as "a golden cage"; the Church now hankers after the gold without the cage.

But quest for social recognition is no substitute for winning back hearts and minds. The Department for Evangelisation set up a few years ago remains ineffective, and the Church is poorly equipped to instruct converts who have questions to ask, let alone to engage in dialogue with the liberal intelligentsia. A notorious episode in May, when works by three leading Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, Schmemann, Meyendorff and Alexander Men, were burnt by order of the local bishop in a seminary at Ekaterinburg, cannot be dismissed as merely untypical, since it reflected a widespread hostility towards theology, however orthodox by normal standards, that takes the problems of the twentieth century seriously. The great theological renaissance that has taken place in the Russian diaspora since the Revolution is viewed with suspicion; it is typical that when one of the leading representatives of this current still alive, Olivier Clement, visited Moscow at the end of April, he lectured in the Moscow State University and the school of the suspended Fr Kochetkov, but not in any of the institutions recognised by the Patriarchate. Meanwhile, the bookstalls that one finds in churches in the big cities are stacked with reprints of pre-revolutionary books and rarely display any current theology (of which, to be fair, little is printed).

The scene is not wholly bleak. A conference in Leeds at the beginning of July, organised by the university and the Keston Institute, devoted itself to the less controversial area of initiatives by the laity, pastoral and educational, that flourish in much of Russia, sometimes connected to parishes and sometimes quite independently. The Russian Church has a long tradition of lay brotherhoods and lay theologians who have realistic expectations of the degree of support they can expect from the official Church, with its often political bishops and uneducated clergy. The task of building bridges with the new Russia goes on unobtrusively in the lay world while the clergy continue to feel nostalgic for the simplicities of the Communist era. Under the surface a new Church is beginning to be born.

(courtesy of Gleb Glinka)

(posted 17 August 1998)


Religious scene becoming more complex

SEMINAR ON RELIGION IN KUBAN TERRITORY
Volnaia Kuban, 20 June 1998

KRASNODAR. At a seminar, the head of the department for religious affairs of the administration of Kuban territory, L. Zub, described how the law [of freedom of conscience] is being implemented in Kuban, a region that is one of the most saturated with religious associations in the country.

The number of such associations has grown; at the beginning of this year 519 of them were registered. The Russian Orthodox church has the greatest influence in the territory. It is represented by 263 associations, which are subordinate to two dioceses, the Karasodarsk-Novorossiisk and the Maikop-Armavir. their leaders and pastors as a whole have embraced the new law with respect. Despite enormous material difficulties, the number of Orthodox parishes in the territory has grown and their influence on public life has expanded. Agreements for cooperation with hospitals, schools, educational instituions, and the corrections administration have been concluded. Annexes and monasteries have been created. In the village of Kabardinka the "Salvation" Orthodox children's health center is operating.

The positions of Muslim organizations and the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches have been strengthened. The construction of a Catholic church in Sochi has been completed and on in Krasnodar is being built. All priests, who are Poles and Germans, face the question of permanent residence in the Territory. They view the new law on religious associations negatively.

As before, protestant organizations are active. They constitute a third of the overall number of religious formations of the territory. Especially active are the adherents of the "Jehovah's Witnesses." Certain particulars of their teaching, including the requirement of refusing service in the army and the emphasis on the exclusiveness of their confession, set the adherents of the Jehovists against state institutions and society and evoke a negative response from the population. Residents have demanded that local authorities prohibit their activity in public places and in the homes and apartments of citizens, viewing the actions of the Jehovists as aggressive and violating public order and the rights of privacy.

Alarm among the population has been evoked by the appearance of groups of a satanic cult. Many youth participate in such religious innovations and pseudoreligious mystical teaching, black magic, occultism, and kabala are popular. The cult of violence and hostility with regard to the surrounding world has become the center of life.

At the seminar another tendency was also noted: some societies which do not declare themselves religious and are not registered as such nevertheless conduct vigorous religious activity. These include the followers of Porfiry Ivanov. They deify nature and declare it to be a new personification of God. They attract people with the promise of healing from all diseases.

The head of the department for relations with religious organizations and public groups of the apparatus of the government of the Russian federation, G. Mikhailov, described the religious situation in Russia and answered questions. He pointed out the growing attact against Orthodoxy in some of the mass media. According to information possessed by the government, such materials have a made-to-order character and are generously funded by foreign states that are interested in weakening the traditional faith of Russians.

Interesting data from sociological investigations were presented by Professor L. Embulaeva of the department of philosophy and culture of Kuban State University. Surveys of the population have shown more than 80 percent of participants point to the existence of problems in inter-ethnic relations. Most often they are defined as religious. Almost a third of those questioned expressed concern about the growth of the activity of nontraditional, mystical cults like Aum Sinryko, Krishnaites, theosophists, and the Hubbard society. Representatives of the infamous religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses are seen as the most aggressive in the territory. Approximately half of those questioned are convinced that inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations will worsen. (tr. by PDS)

abridged Russian text at Religioznaia zhizh v Rossii

(posted 17 August 1998)


Nature sect in south Russia

FALSE TEACHING OF PORFIRY IVANOV
by A. Shpakov, instructor of Kuban State University, kandidat of biological sciences,
Volnaia Kuban, 20 June 1998

KRASNODAR. According to the teachings of the Ivanovites, Christ brought community among people, but Ivanov bestowed a higher degree of community: between people and nature. In Ivanov's teaching there is no place for Christ. This place is occupied by Porfiry himself. It is no accident that he denies the immortality of the human soul and the inevitability of punishment for sins. Ivanovites affirm: "We have one mediator, one advocate for us before the Spirit of God the Father and nature, the life-giving lord Porfiry Korneevich Ivanov."

Mystical consecration ("baptism") by Ivanov or his disciples makes sectarians open for the action upon them from the fallen spirits of the invisible world. As a result many Ivanovites display extrasensory capabilities, hear voices, and have direct fellowship with the spirit of "the teacher." In the end some become simply hysterical (possessed by an unclean spirit that has entered them) and others go along the path to the destruction of their souls.

Contemporary persons are attracted to Ivanov's teaching first of all by the promise of complete healing from all diseases and of vigorous health for all their lives. According to the collection of rules for life by P.K. Ivanov, "Detka," all Ivanovites must wash themselves with cold water twice daily, which they begin with special breathing exercises, and raise their hands and declare: "Teacher, give us strength, give us energy!" By itself, washing with cold water, without invoking the teacher, will not bring the Ivanovites the expected effect. A suggestion that instead of invoking the teacher they recite the prayer "Heavenly King" gets no response from the sectarians.

Besides washing in cold water, Ivanovites try to fulfill the eleven commandments of the teacher presented in Detka. They have not relationship to Christ or the New Testament. It is no accident that Ivanovites do not attend church nor confession, nor do they take communion or read the New Testament and Psalter. (tr. by PDS)

abridged Russian text at Religioznaia zhizh v Rossii

(posted 17 August 1998)


Church and international forces check Yeltsin's wish to be tsar?

IDEALIZATION OF NICHOLAS II
by Yury Vasilevich Borisov, professor of the Diplomatic Academy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian federation
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 5 August 1998

The present regime is seeking support for autocracy

The most mighty and noisy campaign during the existence in Russia of the present regime has died down. At last in St. Petersburg the remains of the supposed last Russian emperor, members of his family, and domestics have been buried. All of the basic mass media participated in the campaign and it proceeded under the guise of humanism and justice. But it is quite obvious that the condemnation of the crime committed eighty years ago in the capital of the Urals was used by Russian propaganda not for a restoration of historical truth but for the creation of mass recognition of an idealized image of the Russian autocrat.

Of course, time brings correctives, sometimes extremely substantive, in the exposition of historical events. But there exist in our national history long established and indubitable truths on which the organizers, writers, and producers of the propagandistic spectacular wagered. We can identify several examples in the contents of the serial film "Nicholas II. Course of a Life."

First example. The tsar is portrayed as a strong governmental and military figure. But documentary materials testify that it was Nicholas II who bore direct responsibility for the decline of the Russian army, for its failure in the war with Japan, and for its defeat in World War I.

Second example. If one believes Russian television, the monarch was a person who did not tolerate violence. But for objective historians, it is unquestioned that with the consent and on the orders of the tsar the bloody events of 9 January 1905 occurred, as well as the massive executions in the period of the first Russian revolution and the Lena shootings of 1912 after its defeat.

Third example. Was the tsar capable and decisive? The serial film answers this question affirmatively. But an ocean of materials, including memoirs, proves that the tsar constantly wavered in making decisions on political and military matters and appointing governmental and military leaders. Nicholas II submitted to his wife's will, suffered from the negative influence of his courtiers, and was a pawn in the hands of the adventurist Grigory Rasputin.

Fourth example. In the film we have cited, the tsar performs the role of the faithful mate and loving father. His long romantic affair with the ballerina Kshensinskaia supposedly did not exist.

However the main point consists in the answer to the question: for whom and why was it necessary to rehabilitate and idealize the last Russian emperor, who among the Russian people was known as "the Bloody"?

The point is that Nicholas II, who has been transformed into an official icon, could reestablish the historical and legal succession between the Russian empire and the presidential republic of Russia. The present regime could surmount its faulty traditional legitimacy.

Many facts testify that Boris Yeltsin has nostalgic feelings for monarchy, its traditions and its symbols. We recall how he once (it is hard to believe it was by chance) called himself Boris the First (true, why not the Second?). Quite recently the regime entertained us with the restoration of the imperial order of Andrew the First-called.

Without doubt, as a result of the idealization of Nicholas II among the Russian political elite and its higher echelon--the president of Russia and his entourage--there have appeared new possibilities for the critique of revolution in general, and the February and October revolutions in Russia in particular. The old propagandistic schema can be filled with new contents. For example: the executed emperor supposedly was one of the most cultured and educated people in Europe who competently ruled his country, although it seems he made some insignificant mistakes. Russia in the period of his rule prospered economically. Industry was developing successfully. Grain was exported. The remarkable governmental leader Petr Stolypin undoubtedly would have made the village flourish, but he was seized and murdered. Even in war time, in 1916, the Trans-Siberian railway was finally finished, extending 7000 km. From all of this comes the conclusion of official propaganda: had it not been for the bolsheviks, under Nicholas II Russians would have lived in paradise.

But that is not all. The idealization of the personality, life, and activity of the last Russian autocrat opens for idealogues of the present regime new possibilities for the official formulation of the ideology of the presidential republic. The absence of a specific ideology is one of the decisive sources of the weakness of the contemporary regime in Russia. Any person in society without an ideology can only exist and operate "on taste," that is in accordance with interest and desire and not by substance.

The authors and the executors of the pro-imperial propagandistic campaign clearly have tried to present the tsar as a statesman and ruler. The idea itself is not new. State interests of the country determined the official ideology of tsarism. In the end the very concept of "state" united the three elements of the famous motto of Count Uvarov, president of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences, minister of national education: "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality."

The participants in the conspiracy of Belovezh, which liquidated the Soviet Union, delivered a crushing blow to the very idea of autocracy, guided in that significant ( if not definitive) step by their personal political ambitions. A decisive role also was played by the famous call, directed to the component parts of the Russian federation, to assume sovereignty "however and as much as they can handle."

However gradually the ruling Russian elite was forced to return to the sources of state power. They are simple and obvious. The state must maintain power and strength. The victory of the soviet people in the Great Patrioric War was the greatest event in world and national history. The authorities were forced to recognize that it is impossible in any way to sever and eradicate by the will of the rulers the historical memory of the people, irrespective of whether the issue is the ideals and state values which enjoy political universality and are now recognized by both pro-government and oppositional forces of Russia (although differently and from various points of view).

Nicholas II the autocrat hardly has evoked condemnation from the Russian president. The present constitution creates the legal preconditions for an authoritarian regime in the country. The president of Russia enjoys more unrestricted powers than the heads of state of USA, France, Germany, or Italy. The principle of autocratic power in democratic guise in the form of a powerful presidential republic with an omnipotent president could become an essential part of the ideology of the regime that exists in our society. However there are serious impediments to this. Autocracy of the authorities requires independence in both domestic and foreign policies. It now is extremely difficult and perhaps impossible to find in the history of Russia (there is no need to talk of the Soviet Union here) examples when its government was receiving direct instructions from abroad and the entire Russian power structure, literally holding its breath, was awaiting the decisions of international financial organizations for rescuing its credit.

Finally, the role of Orthodoxy in the history of tsarism (and especially under the last Russian emperor) is extremely instructive for the formation of the ideology of the present regime in Russia. In our days the "officialization" of the Orthodox church in Russia has made great progress. The sign of this process was the restoration in the shortest time in Moscow of the cathedral of Christ the Savior. Orthodoxy exercises influence on the armed forces, the system of education, and the organization of culture and sport. At the same time the authorities are not taking into account that Russia is a multiconfessional country and the emphatic preference of the state for Orthodoxy inevitably engenders conflicts on religious bases.

What is more, the burial of the remains of the tsarist family has shown that the president of Russia and his entourage overestimate the cooperation of the church. Orthodoxy in Russia has more than a thousand years of political experience and it maintains fidelity to its dogmas. Despite harsh pressure from the state, the patriarch, unlike the president, did not go to Petersburg. The rupture in relations between state and church was significantly more profound than the political leaders and mass media tried to portray it. The Orthodox church openly declared its independence from the state. The example was infectious. It is naive to conclude that the cream of the political elite--governors, mayors, deputies of the federal assembly--did not go to Petersburg because the president initially confused them by declaring that he would not go to the funeral. For the elite this was no more than an excuse. In reality the conflict had deeper causes. A substantial number of politicians and fathers of the church actually expressed disapproval of the official course on the matter of the burial of the remains of the tsar and his family.

Can the pro-presidential forces use the idealization of Nicholas II for a formulation of an ideology of the current regime in Russia? The political and ideological impediments to this course are great. But there is no doubt that this is the goal that the regime has set. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Idealnyi Nikolai II

(posted 15 August 1998)


Anti-Islamic sentiments stronger

ISLAM IS NOT A THREAT TO THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Izvestia, August 13, 1998

Since the war in Afghanistan and, especially, in Chechnya and with the Taliban forces having come close to the borders of the Commonwealth of Independent States, anti-Islamic sentiments have been growing stronger among the Russian public and a widespread opinion is that all Moslems are Fundamentalists. But in Russia Islam, like Russian Orthodoxy, is one of the traditional religions which was born hundreds of years ago. Nonetheless, there is an intricate knot of problems connected with Islam and the attitude to it. Some of them Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of the Muftis of Russia and chairman of the religious board of the Moslems of Russia's Central European region, discusses in his interview with Izvestia's Yuri Buida. Question: As far as I know, Russia's thirty Moslem religious boards have a different structure than, say, the Russian Orthodox Church--they have no common centre. That is why they not always manage to come to understanding with one another which may even cause conflicts between them.

Answer: Thank goodness, there are practically no conflicts today between Russian Moslem boards. In 1995 they embarked on a course of unification, but not organisationally. The issue at hand is coordination of the religious and moral efforts of the Moslems who would like to make a big contribution to the life of the country.

Question: Was it connected with the war in Chechnya?

Answer: No. The thing is that our country, Russia, is gradually recovering. I do not speak of the remaining economic difficulties, I mean politically. It carries more weight in the world and is able to uphold its interests and pursue an independent international policy. When we, the heads of the Moslem boards, received freedom, we did not know how to use it. Gradually we began to realise that it is impossible to live in isolation without communicating with one's neighbours, including foreign Moslem leaders. I mean not centralisation but unity. The times when all matters were decided by fiat, when the mufti was the boss of his fifty imams are gone. Today we have more than eight thousand imams, mosques and religious associations. One person cannot know all about each mosque. That is why local self-administration boards are created. All information is coming to the Council of the Muftis of Russia. It is a new body of management, which does not give out orders but elaborates consensus.

Question: Of late, there have been more and more talk of a dialogue between Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Answer: Islam is the second most important religion in Russia after Russian Orthodoxy. We should find a common language and we find it. Have you noticed that mosques and Orthodox churches were and are built in the same neighbourhoods. Our confessions are not at daggers drawn, and such a position becomes a factor of social stability. When hostilities broke out in Chechnya, we jointly with the Russian Orthodox Church publicly stated that it was not a religion-related conflict.

Question: Would you mind if I asked you about your attitude to Wahhabism?

Answer: Not at all. But I must say that there is no such a school in Islam. Followers of the recognized Islamic schools--Hanbalite and Maliki--can be representatives of Wahhabism. Wahhabism is sooner a notion. To a certain degree we ourselves facilitated its appearance. Many of us have the feeling of deviation from genuine, Arab, roots of the doctrine. By criticising us, Wahhabites become increasingly radical and intolerant of other views. This is what frightens many Russians and other people. We all oppose Wahhabism. Over the past one thousand and one hundred years moderate Islam--the Khanifite school of Sunni has been developing in Russia and of the Shafite school in the Northern Caucasus. We have always been good neighbours with representatives of other religions and cultures who spoke different languages, realising that there should be peace and tranquillity in our Russian home. The Russian Moslem clergy, I repeat, are categorically against Wahhabism. There may be only around ten thousand Wahhabites in Russia and they should not be identified with the rest of Moslems, which sometimes happens and which alarms me a great deal.

Question: In your remarks at the recent workshop "Islam in Russia: Traditions and Prospects" you actually accused the Ministry of Education of nearly facilitating the fast growth of animosity towards Moslems among the young people.

Answer: I want to quote my remarks almost word by word on this issue of great importance for us. The inculcation of ethnic and religious tolerance should begin precisely in school. In our opinion, the existing high and secondary school textbooks fail to cope with this task. Many of them contain incorrect and even distorted ideas of Islam and its doctrine and of Islam-Christianity relations. Is it normal? Or take the army, where there are practically only Russian Orthodox priests. The Interior Ministry's schools teach only the fundamentals of Christianity. Moslems remember the Russian policy of conquering the Northern Caucasus, and they are very apprehensive of all these facts. In addition, the mass media, in my opinion, inadequately and inefficiently cover Islam-related issues. We are ready to organise a conference on Islam for the mass media.

From RIA Novosti via Johnson's Russia List

(posted 15 August 1998)


Baptist union in Russia

ONE THIRD OF RUSSIAN BAPTISTS WERE BAPTIZED IN FOUR YEARS
by Lilia Solomonova, Radiotserkov
12 August 1998

The "Spiritual Regeneration" association has distributed some data about the composition of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia (SEKhBR). At the present SEKhBR comprises 1,250 churches, of which 230 were founded between 1994 and 1998. These congregations united 85,000 believers, of whom around 25,000 were baptists between 1994 and 1998. In the past four years, around 200 Baptists houses of prayer were erected in Russia and around 100 are under construction. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 14 August 1998)


New statistics on religion in Ukraine

FULL GOSPEL CHARISMATICS MAKE MOST RAPID ADVANCE
by Lilia Solomonova, Radiotserkov
12 August 1998

The Committee on Religious Affairs of Ukraine recently published statistical data on religious organizations in Ukraine.

The most influential component of religious life remains Orthodoxy. It comprises 10,603 religious organizations of various jurisdiction, which constitutes 50 percent of the religious societies of Ukraine. First place quantitatively among Orthodox churches is occupied by the Ukrainian Orthodox church, with 7,541 organizations.

After Orthodoxy, second place in terms of numbers and influence is occupied by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church, numbering 2,235 societies. In third place is the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Ukraine, with 1,931 societies. The Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) occupies fourth place (1048 societies), the Roman Catholic church, fifth (722 societies, 26 monasteries, 219 monks, 5 religious educational institutions, and 341 clergy).

In the intervening time the charistmatic churches of the full Gospel have substantially increased their numbers. In 1997 they numbered 110 societies, while in 1998, 160; the number of students of religious educational institutions of charismatics grew from 500 to 1,430. Judging by the statistical data, charismatic churches of the full Gospel are the leaders among religious organizations in the rate of growth of their societies. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 14 August 1998)


Local authorities prohibit Baptist activity

BAPTIST SERVICES AND SUNDAY SCHOOL SHUT DOWN
by Lilia Solomonova, Radiotserkov
13 August 1998

Parishioners of the church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (EKhB) of the settlement of Kasplia, Smolensk region, and parents of children who had attended a Sunday school which had been begun in the EKhB congregation in this settlement filed suit in court against the administration of the settlement in order to protest the decision closing the children's sunday school and prohibiting worship services in the EKhB congregation in this settlement.

Everything began when the local priest of RPTs, Fr Dimitry, along with the head physician of the local hospital and deputy of the duma petitioned for a prohibition of services and the Sunday school for children. As a result the former head of the Kasplia administration, Yuzhanova, was not appointed for a new term in office actually because she had given agreement for the Sunday school to appear in the settlement. Believers of the congregation now are praying that the Lord will sustain her.

At the present time the church, along with the former head of the administration of kasplia, have turned to the representative of the president in Smolensk region, who assigned a review of this matter to a reported of the regional newspaper "Smolenskie gubernskie novosti." After a study of the situation and reports from parents and other witnesses, the reporter laid out all the facts in an article. However so far there has been no response from the leaders of the province and district. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 14 August 1998)


Uzbekistan's restrictive religious policy

UZBEKISTAN'S COUNTDOWN TO 15 AUGUST: A CHRONOLOGY
by Felix Corley

On 15 August the period for registered religious organisations in Uzbekistan to apply for re-registration with the Ministry of Justice expires. Many believers in the country believe measures against them will be taken soon after under the provisions of the harsh 1 May law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations. Here we present a chronology of recent events as the deadline arrives.

1 May 1998 - President Islam Karimov address parliament, the Oliy Majlis, calls for harsh measures against Islamic fundamentalists, threatens to shoot them personally. Parliament passes new version of the law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations, amending previous 1991 version. New law bans unregistered religious activity, proselytism and missionary activity. Parliament passes amendments to criminal code and civil code, with punishments of up to five years' imprisonment for religious offences that do not involve violence.

13 May 1998 - Police raid homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in Shakhrisabz and question several people.

Mid-May 1998 - Presidential council officials visit Zaraulbazar labour camp and close prison mosque and Evangelical Christian/Baptist church.

15 May 1998 - Text of new law on freedom of conscience published in the Tashkent Russian-language paper Narodnoe Slovo. The new law comes into force on publication.

19 May 1998 - Text of amendments to civil code and criminal code published in Narodnoe Slovo. The new codes come into force on publication.

19 May 1998 - Text of new law published in the Tashkent Uzbek-language paper Khalk Suzi.

26 May 1998 - Text of new law published in the Tashkent Russian-language paper Pravda Vostoka.

28 May 1998 - Evangelical Christians/Baptists begin two-day meeting in Tashkent to discuss new law and issue appeal to President Karimov that the legislation turns law-abiding Baptists into criminals.

11 June 1998 - Adventist ministers meet in Tashkent to discuss the law and prepare appeal to President Karimov to reduce the minimum members needed for a congregation to register from 100 to 10, to enable groups with two or three registered congregations to form central administrations rather than congregations in eight of the country's fourteen regions and to lift the ban on missionary activity.

16 June 1998 - Adventists issue appeal to President prepared at 11 June meeting. There is no reply to the appeal.

16 June 1998 - Priests and ministers of five denominations (Catholic, Evangelical-Lutheran, Evangelical Christian/Baptist, Adventist and Full Gospel Christian) meet in Tashkent to discuss the law. Issue appeal to President Karimov expressing "concern" about new law and asking for removal of the requirement to have 100 members for a congregation to register and removal of the ban on missionary activity. There is no reply to the appeal.

16 June 1998 - Three Jehovah's Witnesses whose homes were raided on 11 May fined in Shakhrisabz.

20 June 1998 - Council of Ministers (in Decree No. 263 addressed to the Ministry of Justice and signed by the prime minister Otkir Sultonov) issues detailed registration regulations specifying documents and fees necessary for registration applications. Decree requires all registered communities to lodge re-registration applications by 15 August.

24 June 1998 - Deputy Minister of Justice P.A Samatov writes to registered communities instructing them to apply for reregistration and to present the required documentation by 15 August.

25 June 1998 - The procuracy of a district of Samarkand bans a Jehovah's Witness community, declaring that it is unregistered and would not qualify for registration under the new law as it has fewer than 100 members.

Early August 1998 - Adventist communities in Navoi and Samarkand warned by local government officials that they will have problems after 15 August.

1 August 1998 - Unknown assailants attack two Russian journalists, Vitaly Ponomarev and Nikolai Mitrokhin, on the streets of Tashkent. The two had just returned from investigating religious repression in the Fergana valley.

4 August 1998 - The deputy head of the religious affairs committee, Shaamil Minovarov, who coordinates Christian matters, tells several Christian leaders verbally that the requirement of 100 adult members for a congregation to be eligible to seek registration is to be lifted and the deadline extended from 15 August until the end of the year. There is no confirmation of this statement, which is not published.

15 August 1998 - Deadline for re-registration applications to be lodged.

(Those with further information are requested to report it to fcorley@ndirect.co.uk)

(posted 14 August 1998)


More violent conflict over church property in Ukraine

CHURCH RETURNED BY COURT ORDER, BUT WITHOUT PROPERTY

AKHTYRKA. 1 August. Everything began in July 1997 when a diocesan auditing commission was sent to Chupakhova for inspection of the activity of the rector of the parish, Vladimir Gordienko, against whom complaints had been sent to the diocese. The rector of the church, who had beaten an eighty-year-old woman inspector, declared his transfer to the Uniates. It turned out that he had prepared earlier for this and had carried on work in this regard among parishioners. For violation of his clerical vow, hooligan beating of the elderly inspector of the diocesan administration, amoral conduct, and departure from the jurisdiction of the Orthodox church the schismatic was banned from ministry and then was unfrocked.

However the fledgling Greek Catholic with a group of supporters he roused to hysteria seized and held onto the church building. Aid came for him from a defrocked monk Mark Cherkashin, who had been disciplined back in 1992 but had been received into the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church (UGKTs) and began calling himself the administrator of UGKTs in Sumy region (now he has been unfrocked by the Uniates as well).

The more numerous Orthodox community, although less well organized and not reconciled to the resolution by force of the problems which had arisen, was forced to turn to the court for help. A judicial investigation began. Gordienko did not appear in court but behaved defiantly, strewing curses right and left and distributing libels both of his own composing and of things curiously given him in Kiev. However very soon people saw whom they were dealing with and demands increased for the return of the church to the Orthodox community to whom it belonged by right.

The Akhtyrsk district court made a decision for the return of the building. The secretary of the Sumy diocesan administration, the dean of Aktyrsk district, and the new rector of the Orthodox community were sent by the judicial agents to take possession of the building. However what they saw shook them to the depths of their souls. Not a single icon nor vessel remained in the church. And the iconostasis had been completely demolished and the altar was even removed. The walls in one of the rooms were covered with abuses and curses against the Ukrainian Orthodox church. However this did not spoil the holiday and two days later in the house of prayer that had been decorated and reconsecrated after its desecration the first liturgy was conducted. Orthodox believers again had to appeal to court for the return of the property stolen from them. So the dirty buisiness is not finished.

Incidentally, to the official inquiry from the Akhtyrsk district court to the patriarchal curia of UGKTs for confirmation of the clerical authorization of Gordienko, the chancellor Fr Mikhail Kviatkovsky answered that this question is under review. But how could the charter of the parish of UGKTs, which was submitted and granted registration in the administration for religious affairs of Sumy regional state administration, have been approved in that same curia, if the question about the confessional affiliation of the leader of the parish had not been decided? (tr. by PDS)

from Ukrainian Orthodox Church

(posted 13 August 1998)


Ukrainian government threatens church

STATE TAX ADMINISTRATION WARNS ORTHODOX CHURCH OF POSSIBLE DIFFICULTIES

KIEV, 9 August. The head of the state tax administration of Ukraine, M.Ya. Ozarov, evidently in response to the appeal of the Holy Synod of UPTs with regard to the introduction in Ukraine of personal identification numbers, sent a letter to the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox church:

"Your holiness!

"Of late a massive quantity of letters has come to the state tax administration of Ukraine (GNAU) from Orthodox Christians of the Ukrainian Orthodox church with applications for their removal, on the basis of religious convictions, from the state register of physical persons. . . ."

Later in the letter the need and importance for Ukraine and its people are explained and then the fact is stated that GNAU "in assigning identification numbers to physical persons in no way violated the rights of believing citizens, because such numbers must be assigned to all citizens of Ukraine without exception. At the same time, according to article 24 of the constitution of Ukraine 'Citizens have equal constitutions rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. There can be no privileges or restrictions on the basis of race, skin color, or political, religious, and other convictions. . . .' This means that exemption of a certain category of citizens from the universal obligation to receive an identification number would be unconstitutional and discriminatory with regard to all other citizens.

"We request that you assess the full importance of this question and understand the critical situation which has arisen in the assignment of identification numbers. GNAU does not wish difficulties for parishioners of UPTs nor negative publicity in the mass media with regard to one of the confessions of Ukraine.

"We appeal to you requesting that you give an immediate explanation to the Orthodox Christians of the contents of this letter and also that in May of this year the Holy Synod of UPTs recognized that an identification number is not the "seal of Antichrist" (sic) and that you call them to accept identification numbers calmly in accordance with the general procedure.

"Considering that the Ukrainian Orthodox church always has been loyal to the interests of the state and citizens, permit us to rely in the future on your good will, understanding, and support."

We recall that the Holy Synod of UPTs in its letter to the president, Supreme Soviet, and government of Ukraine, clergy, monks, and all faithful servants of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, while stating that the present identification codes are not the "seal of antichrist" nevertheless took an extremely negative attitude toward their introduction and expressed serious concern about possible consequences of this step, even if in the long run: "Many Orthodox Christians are inclined (not without basis) to see in this the fulfilment of apocalyptic prophecy about the sign of antichrist, taking identification numbers as what was called by the holy apostle and evangelist John the Divine 'the number of the beast' (Rev 13.17-18). . . ."

The Holy Synod also called the governing authorities not to impose administrative or criminal sanctions on UPTs faithful who do not at all want to accept an identification number.

It is necessary to conclude that the governing authorities in Ukraine again have not heeded the voice of the church and are beginning to make a transition from persuasion to threats. (tr. by PDS)

from Ukrainian Orthodox Church

(posted 13 August 1998)


Church wins over hotel business

CONFLICT
by Tatiana Vitebskaia
Moskovskie novesti, 11 August 1998

NIZHNY NOVGOROD. Local authorities, who had given foreign businessmen permission to build a four-star hotel in the center of the city, have unexpectedly reversed themselves. The reason is that at the time of excavation it was discovered that on the construction site there had been a church and a cemetery. Authorities kept silent for a half year, but now they have delcared that in place of the hotel will be a chapel. Neither the church nor the regional administration would agree to a reburial of 350 remains. Investors who already have put around two million dollars into the project have proposed a compromise. They are prepared to build at church at their own expense next to the hotel. But the governor of the region, Ivan Skliarov, is persistent. "It is impossible to dance on bones!" However, in accordance with the irony of fate, the Kremlin and Legislative Assembly, according to archaeological data, were built directly "on bones," inasmuch as where the regional administration now is located there once were the churches to which the cemetery was attached. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 13 August 1998)


600 nationally registered religious organizations

JUSTICE MINISTRY ATTEMPTS TO DISPEL RELIGIOUS FEARS
by Andrei Zolotov Jr.
Moscow Times , August 13, 1998

The federal government has been liberal in implementing the controversial law on religion in the past year and has already registered about 600 religious organizations with full rights in Russia, a senior official said Wednesday. The figures cited by Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov at a news conference Wednesday were intended to dispel fears expressed by nonestablished churches and Western governments that the new law discriminates against minority religions in favor of a few traditional faiths.

"Practice has shown that none of this is happening," Krasheninnikov said. He added that the figure of 600 federally registered organizations does not include those registered by local governments.

The religion law created two categories of religious institutions in Russia. "Religious organizations," which enjoy full rights, must either prove that they have functioned in Russia for more than 15 years or prove they are affiliated with such a centrally registered organization. Those that fail this test are classed as "religious groups," a status that denies them some basic rights, such as the right to distribute literature and conduct worship in public places or to own property.

But pressed by Western politicians and human rights groups, the Russian government has given private assurances that the new law would be applied as mildly as possible. The Justice Ministry has registered many religious groups, including some that looked unlikely to pass the 15-year test. The Roman Catholic Church, the Pentecostal and Charismatic unions and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, have all been registered as "centralized religious organizations." In theory, this allows them to register local branches across Russia.

Krasheninnikov said he had received no complaints regarding federal registration. However, at the local level there have been some cases in which officials denied registration to minor religious groups on the basis of the law.

In June this year, a Christian rights group, the Christian Legal Center, filed a complaint with the Russian Constitutional Court on behalf of four provincial Protestant groups that were not re-registered. The suit questioned the constitutionality of the section of the law that differentiates between various types of religious bodies. In a separate issue, several religious groups that rely on foreigners to do their missionary and pastoral activities in Russia have said the Foreign Ministry has issued an instruction to issue only three-month double-entry visas to foreigners traveling to Russia for "religious" reasons. Previously, year-long visas were issued to foreign priests, so the new regulation quadruples the costs for foreign priests.

Krasheininnikov also said that he has instructed his staff to create a national database that would contain information about religious organizations registered at all levels across Russia.

(courtesy of Ray Prigodich)

(posted 13 August 1998)


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