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Conservative paper rebuts criticism of Russian church

by Archpriest Valentin Asmus
Radonezh, June 1998

(editor's note: The following anti-Kochetkov article objects that the Russian version of the Clement article distorted the French original. I posted my English translation of the Russian version on RNN. I must report that Russian associates of Fr Georgy Kochetkov told me that there were minor problems in the Russian version, as this article also claims, and that they preferred that I use the French version. I told them that I could not do that since I did not have access to the French version. I ask RNN users to take this information into account while evaluating this article.)

The Paris newspaper Le Monde published on 10 June of this year the article of the Paris Orthodox man of letters Olivier Clement "Indisposition and scandal in the Russian Orthodox church," and in Russkaia mysl for 18-24 June appeared an "abridged" (as the editorial note indicated) Russian translation under the moderated title "Difficulties and indispositions of the Russian church." Having compared the original with the translation, I found the latter not an abridgement but a bunch of variant readings, sometimes moderating and sometimes intensifying the original, and always distorting it.

For example, speaking of Fr Alexander Men, Clement calls him a "converted Jew," having in mind that he came to the faith himself. Russian translators, wishing to conceal from the reader Clement 's fundamental ignorance about the life of this man of whom he writes with such enthusiasm, quietly have corrected it and report that Fr Alexander Men was baptized in infancy.

It would not be so bad if Clement distorted the facts simply from ignorance. Far more frequently he does this consciously and with malicious intent. For example, he declares that in the early part of his patriarchate, Patriarch Alexis II condemned "antisemitism . . . which nevertheless lies like a burden upon the Russian church." Indeed, the most holy patriarch really did condemn antisemitism as a phenomenon of public life. But was it at the same time in the Russian church? Antisemitism is not a Russian phenomenon, and it has never been an essential feature of Russians, in the strict sense of the word, Great Russians. Pogrom excesses happened on the distant borders of the empire, in Kishinev, in Odessa.

After the second world war when the Russian people rescued millions of Jews from civilized Europeans at a cost of tens of millions of those fallen in battle, the only ones who dared to talk about Russian antisemitism were those who were embarrassed by their own national shame. Jewry will never forget how readily the people of Poland, Galicia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and even France itself readily turned over Jews to the Hitlerian executioners. Antisemitism is the general sin of western Europe and those who associate themselves with it, but if within Russian society (but not within the Russian church) there were times of the appearance of antisemitic attitudes, this happened under the most powerful influence of the West. Berdiaev, to whom Clement so loves to appeal, considered that all of Russian liturature that dealt with the "Jewish-masonic" theme was a slavish copy of analogous French literature.

From the amazing general accusation of the Russian church and the Russian people of anti-Jewishness, Clement turns to a no less amazing concrete accusation: having noted that the murderer of Fr Alexander Men remains unknown, he "solves" the crime ideologically; having said that the murderer's weapon was an "axe, the weapon of the pogroms," Clement implies that the murderer was one of the above-mentioned "ecclesiastical antisemites." To say nothing of the fact that the axe was not a "weapon of pogroms" (the pogromist with an axe supported by the state operated in the courts martial), this accusation was so awkward that the Russian translators considered it better to excise the words about the axe.

However the main point of interest in Clement 's article deals with Fr G. Kochetkov. The passages that pertain to him are particularly carefully retouched in the Russian translation, which justifies one's assuming that admirers of Fr Kochetkov are not only the editors of the Russian translation of the article but even the inspiration of the original. In the Russian translation the conservatives want "to freeze" liturgical practice (the French is "to immobilize," which is somewhat less firm), they "cling" (the word is absent from the original) to the Church Slavonic language "whose roots are found in the preaching of the Byzantine apostles to the Slavs." This latter text echoes the original: "liturgical language derived from the works of the Byzantine apostles to the Slavs." The sense of the Russian version is that the language of preaching was understood in the ninth century but ceased to be so in the twentieth. The sense of the original is that the translations of the holy brothers established the basis of the liturgical language. There are many such stylistic and substantive distortions in the translation: the Russian reader has to empathize with the indignation of the French public. But let's get to what is more substantive. Clement writes: an "associate priest and colleague was appointed" for Kochetkov. This phrase was expanded by the translators into a long evasion: "intentionally performing his role in the attack." Clement declares that this priest was an "indubitable psychopath." The translators moderate this expression by substituting "in all likelihood" for "indubitable." On the one hand, it is impossible to disagree strongly with the conclusions of some investigations conducted immediately after the incident in Pechatniki; on the other hand it is impossible to stress the incompatibility of the two simultaneously generated versions. Clement accentuates the "psychopath," while the Russian editors emphasize the "colleague." But in the main the two texts more or less coincide. "In the presence of witnesses who had been dispatched (what good would it be to ridicule without outsiders!, V.A.) and people with videocameras, this priest began to shout that he was being beaten and killed." Actually the videocameras belonged to the Kochetkovites themselves. On request of the patriarchate, they disclosed some of the videomaterials, but then they frantically began to request their return. They understood what kind of indictment they had created by their own hands. This can be comprehended by anyone who sees just a few shots. When these materials were shown in Paris very many of Kochetkov's ardent supporters backed away from him. Similarly even the patriarchate was forced to impose canonical punishment on those who had committed the outrage against Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky. Accusing the patriarchate of "totally soviet methods" of retribution, Clement doesn't say a word about the violent and baseless hospitilization of Fr Mikhail in a psychiatric hospital, which also was precisely in purely soviet style. Mr. Clement , are you not afraid that your French readers who are aroused by your article and who seek broader documentation will discover pictures taken by the Kochetkovites themselves that show evidence against them?

Other paragraphs of Clement 's article can be corroborated similarly. Regarding Archimandrite Zinon Teodor he reports that he was excommunicated for taking communion at a Catholic mass. The Russian translators corrected this lie and spoke only about the banning of Fr. Zinon. Besides this, Clement propounds another lie when he says that as a condition of forgiveness Fr Zinon was required to admit that the "Catholic eucharist has no meaning nor substance." Fr Zinon was not required to do this but he was only required to acknowledge that he has committed a serious disciplinary and canonical violation when he communed with Catholics with whom the Orthodox church does not have eucharistic communion. And Father Zinon in his pride did not want to make such an admission.

Generally speaking, the spiritual distortion Fr Zinon experienced was evident even in his works. At one time a remarkable icon painter, he had come upon a dry period in the opinion of many who admired his talent. The Greeks described for me a similar case. When the most remarkable contemporary icon painter, Rallis Kopsidis, succumbed to the offer to paint the Uniate church in Athens, he (as they told me) lost his talent. Clement declares that Hegumen Ignaty Krekshin "was deprived of all possibility to work within the patriarchate." This was said about a cleric who combines the leadership of a monastery and an active pastoral evangelistic work (of which Clement himself speaks with enthusiasm) with membership on two synodal commissions, the theological and canonization. He is the secretary of the latter. Specifically explaining the "persecution" of Fr Krekshin by the fact that he protested against the Chechen war, Clement wishes to contrast the actions of the "merciful" priest with the official position of the patriarchate, ignoring the most holy patriarch's frequent protests against this war in official declarations.

Finally, Clement gets to what disturbs him most, the notorious Ekaterinburg incident of 5 May of this year. On this date supposedly Bishop Nikon of Ekaterinburg conducted a confiscation from students of theology of books by fathers A. Men, J. Meyendorff, and A. Schmemann and held a public burning of these books.

Actually everything was quite otherwise. First of all, it is interesting to note that already last year, long before the notorious 5 May 1998, there were accusations against Master Nikon of the very same thing. In the book by N. Mitrokhin and S. Timofeeva, "Bishops and Dioceses of RPTs" (M. 1997) on page 205 we read: "In September 1994 Bishop Nikon conducted a public auto-da-fe of books of fathers A. Men, A. Schmemann, and J. Meyendorff." It remains uncertain whether this really happened since there was no public outcry in 1994 or 1997. Apparently at that time they could not mobilize the requisite number of false witnesses or any other important strategic statements. In any case, we see that Bishop Nikon had already been accused and denigrated in the eyes of public opinion, and whatever he may have done on 5 May, he was in for it.

But what really happened on that day? We know that Master Nikon did not order the burning of the books of fathers J. Meyendorff and A. Schmemann, but all he did was establish a special control over the circulation of these books in the library. The issue was that Kochetkovites had appeared in the diocese several years ago. I myself saw that at the end of 1993 a small group of Kochetkovites aggressively opposed the basic portion of Ekaterinburg believers. The Kochetkovites' methods have been known for a long time: when Orthodox believers get upset by their barbarian innovations, they take recourse to a definite genteel assemblage of respected writers to whom they appeal without any basis as their mentors and predecessors. If informed people, including Master Nikon, understand that the geneology alleged by the Kochetkovites is fallacious, then, on the contrary, those who trust their claim are making an inaccurate equation of the sectarian teachings of Fr Kochetkov with the historical studies of respected American professors and archpriests. This is what the Kochetkovites count on. They count on an illogical syllogism: Meyendorff and Schmemann were good; the Kochetkovites are the same as Meyendorff and Schmemann; thus, the Kochetkovites are good. And for the enemies another syllogism has been designed accusing the Kochetkovites; opponents of opposing the very truth that was enunciated by the greatest theologians of our time. The Kochetkovites set their genteel assemblage in opposition not only to their critics but also to the whole church tradition. They state directly that the holy fathers who worthily responded to the questions of their time do not apply to our time.

Hearing such talk from these obvious misfits, the well-intentioned Orthodox person who is not acquainted with the works of Fr A. Schmemann and others naturally conceives a dislike for him and others to who the Kochetkovites appeal. The works of the "selected" writers are distorted by the Kochetkovites. They take quotes from them which they then reinterpret and begin to proclaim in an entirely novel fashion.

I do not consider that Fr. Alexander Schmemann's work is beyond dispute but his works and the Kochetkovites' interpretations of them are two different things and there is an enormous gap between them. That's the meaning of this Ekaterinburg incident, which certain forces will continue for a long time to put forth. This is necessary in order to terrorize Fr Kochetkov's opponents and to rehabilitate him himself. The very same goals are served by the more general claims of Clement . He divides the church's history of the past thirteen years into two periods: wholesome "perestroika" when everybody expected something from the Russian church, and post-perestroika crisis as the result of which the church "lost the aura on which it could have counted within society."

In order to prove this, he clearly juggles the facts. The growth of the number of monasteries pertains to the first period. But a sinister spirit of "intrigue" of almost all monasteries is the characteristic of our days, although we all know that monasticism is and always has been the preserver of church tradition. Clement cites the frequently understated number of practicing believers, two percent. Perhaps that was the case fifteen years ago. But who is it that attends the 11,000 new churches and 450 new monasteries? If "Russia is a more secularized country than France," then one should not blame the church for this but the atheists who tortured it for seventy years.

After the totally unprecedented, mind-boggling persecutions which the Russian church endured, to reproach it for the secularization of Russia is simply godless. Clement does not wish to see how the church has grown in the past ten years. Whereas ten years ago 20 percent of the population consded themselves Orthodox, now it is 55 percent. Clement claims that last Easter only 48,000 received communion in Moscow. I do not know which statistical bureau provided him these numbers, but I would guess that they came from VPSh (the Higher Orthodox School of the Kochetkovites, which they seem to wish to turn into a spy school). But even if this figure, which seems low to me, is accurate, I would remind Fr Kochetkov that thirty years ago no laity at all took communion in our country at Easter since according to ancient Russian custom communion was received on Great Thursday or, in the case of those who could not make it, on Great Saturday. So that this number, contrary to Clement 's intent, reveals a great achievement even in liturgical life, where the French writer is prepared to see only stagnation. But I shall try to correct Clement 's figure. In our parish, which has two churches, about 1500 took communion. If one figures that now in Moscow there are about 300 churches and monasteries and monastery annexes that are extremely well attended, and the old custom not to commune on Easter is preserved in a small number of parishes, then the figure cited by Clement must be multiplied several times. And if one includes in this sum alo hose who communed during Passion Week, then one gets a high level of liturgical "practice."

As one can see, those who defend modernism and ecumenism in our church take recourse to extremely unworthy means of defending their opinions: they fear those who oppose innovation and threaten them with isolation and frighten them with the loss of influence. But reality is quite the opposite. In our eyes the church has grown not only externally but also at the spiritual level. In his intense desire to galvanize the Kochetkovite movement and to reanimate the rapidly declining public interest in it, Clement has spared no devices. Clement has not shied away from the cheapest of demagogy: unrestrained generalization. All the particular cases which the article discusses along with false rumors are blamed upon the patriarchate as such and on the head of the Russian local church. When, let's say, one bishop within his diocese has committed some rash act, as Clement reports without any evidence, the responsibility for this is laid directly upon the Moscow patriarchate. The approach is extremely dishonest. It is also necessary to take into account that Russkaia mysl, which fell silent for several months and lost its vigilence, has now returned to the attack upon the Moscow patriactad the Russian church. A whole series of articles in recent issues of the paper display this, especially O. Clement 's article which was published not only without commentary but even with intensification of some of the Frenc writer's statements. We have allowed ourself to dwell in such detail on Clement 's article because it profoundly unsettled many Orthodx both in our Russia and in France. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 12 September 1998)

Another neopagan movement in Ukraine

by Svetlana Stepanenko, Radiotserkov,
2 September 1998

Having declared themselves independent, contemporary Ukrainians have decided naturally to use the freedom of conscience that events have created and have begun to resurrect their pagan past. It is known that for several years now there has existed in Ukraine a neopagan religious movement called RUNVira. Its adherents worship Dazhbog and they advocate the complete replacement of Christianity by paganism.

Subsequent to RUNVira there appeared in Ukraine the so-called Perunists, people who are trying to resurrect the heathen cult of the god of thunder Perun. The religious society "Runa Perun" has been active for some time in Donetsk. According to its founder, Vladimir Pechenkov, the new religious has many sympathizers, but age-old Christian traditions and fear of negative public opinion prevents people from following the founder of the "national faith."

Calculating that his own labor for the benefit of society is useless, Vladimir Pechenkov lives at the present time off of his mother and friends. However this does not prevent him from writing a pamphlet entitled "Svarga Runa Perun." This work contains a mass of pentograms, a mixture of Slavic, Scandanavian, and Indo-Aryan myths with ancient Greek epos, as well as the little understood ideas of the author who considers himself the "heir and revealer of the will of the supreme god Perun, whose name is "Wonder One."

Experts at the Administration of Religious Affairs of Ukraine have noted that the new religion really is the personal cration of Vladimir Pechenkov, who is a trained historian. His long-term interest in Slavic paganism led to the attempt to create a neopagan faith on the basis of his own mythology. It was emphasized at the Administration of Religious Affairs that in accordance with existing legislation in the country, every citizen of Ukraine has the right to make up any religious teaching and, undoubtedly, has the right to believe it. However, one wants to hope that civilized Ukrainians of the twentieth century will not be deluded by the revival of now dead pagan gods and will not exchange the living faith for idolatry. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 11 September 1998)

Native Russian sect reviving

by Yury Kolesnikov Radiotserkov,
2 September 1998

NOVOSIBIRSK. A search for fellow believers in Siberia is being conducted by Antonina Pushkareva, a Molokan from San Francisco. Molokans, or "Spiritual Christians" as they sometimes call themselves, are adherents of the teachings of their founder, Semen Uklein, which arose in the second half of the eighteenth century in Tambov province.

The basic elements of their faith include a transfer to the spiritual plane of the essential ecclesiastical rituals. Thus they consider that instruction in the word of God is true spiritual baptism and there is no necessity of performing baptism by immersion in water. Reading of holy scripture replaced the rite of the eucharist or communion. Veneration of saints and icons was forbidden.

Molokans were subjected to persection for their convictions by both the state and Orthodoxy.

In present-day Russia the number of Molokan communities is small. In the main they are located in the central European portion of the country: in Tambov, Saratov, Samara, and Voronezh.

In conversation with a Radiotserkov reporter, Antonina Pushkareva said that at the present time evangelistic activity among Molokans is undeveloped although there was last year in Tambov a congress of Molokans which adopted the decision to renew preaching activity among the general population.

As regards the forms of worship of Molokan communities in emigration, Antonina said that they have preserved their tradition. In meetings, the men and women sit separately and the women dress in a conservative Russian fashion, a long skirt, lace jacket, and an obligatory head covering. The leaders of the meetings--presbyters, "discussants" and "narrators," sit around a table. The responsibility of the "discussant" includes explanation of the text of holy scripture and the "narrators" recite for the signers the verses of psalms to perform.

Antonina Pushkareva is in Siberia for the first time and she plans to cooperation with the Novosibirsk public organization "Women Together" to organize a ministry of aid to children's homes. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 11 September 1998)

Patriarch speaks about crisis


MOSCOW -- (Reuters) Patriarch Aleksiy II, head of Russia's influential Orthodox Church, urged his compatriots on Tuesday to pray for a speedy end to the country's economic and political turmoil, saying it could lead to civil war.

"In these times we must increase our prayers to the Blessed Virgin, who has protected and saved our Fatherland in other ages," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

"The worst thing that the current political crisis could bring is civil war for surely blood always divides."

Russians have a strong fear of civil war rooted in the memory of the bloodshed that swept their country after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The prospect of anarchy also recalls the dreaded Time of Troubles of the early 17th century.

"We know that for many it is difficult to live right now and perhaps things will get even worse," the patriarch said.

Russia, without a government for more than two weeks, is in the throes of a financial crisis that has sent the ruble into free fall, triggered a run on the banks by worried depositors and raised the specter of hyperinflation.

On Tuesday the patriarch, 69, prayed before the celebrated icon of the Vladimir Virgin, credited with saving Russia at times of national disaster. The icon is kept in a special chapel at the Tretyakov art gallery in central Moscow.

Aleksiy recalled that five years ago during the tense standoff between President Boris Yeltsin and the Soviet-era parliament he conducted similar prayers before the same icon.

Yeltsin finally used tanks and soldiers to shell his opponents into submission but Russia avoided wider bloodshed.

"Then ... the people knelt before the icon with tears in their eyes, beseeching her protection. And our prayers were heard," said the patriarch.

Aleksiy is not the first public figure to sound a warning of major social unrest. Kremlin aides have expressed similar concern while Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and reserve general Aleksander Lebed, a regional governor, have both drawn parallels with 1917.

Russians have so far shown little appetite for any kind of rebellion, though the autumn is expected to witness increased protest actions and strikes.

The Orthodox Church has seen a big revival in its influence since Yeltsin engineered the downfall of the atheistic Soviet Union. Opinion surveys show it is one of the few institutions still respected by most Russians after years of social upheaval.

(c) 1998 Reuters

(posted 11 September 1998)

Anniversary of Father Men's murder marked with dedication and bitterness

Vecherny klub, 10 September 1998

This was the conviction upon which the curriculum of the Orthodox University was built.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the day when Fr Alexander Men began delivering public lectures on the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the history of the Bible and the church and their creative impact upon culture. Thousands of people attended these lectures.

The opening of the Orthodox University was held in the fall of 1990, but without Fr Alexander [murdered 9 September 1990]. Delivery of lectures in the university was continued by his friends and students, clerics and laity. Our interviewee today is the executive director of the university, Dmitry Anatolievich Lisitsin.

--Dmitry Anatolievich, please tell us about the distinctives of your university.

--The distinctives of our university include in the first place its openness: we admit students without examinations on the basis of interviews alone; we do not conduct closed lectures which may be attended only by matriculated students and not auditors. Besides, we do not restrict ourselves to the study of Orthodoxy and Orthodox traditions alone and we try not to forget that not all Christians are Orthodox, but that there are in the world also Catholics and protestants of various denominations, and the Anglican church, and the ancient churches of the East, and that each of the churches and each of the denominations maintains in its own way the doctrine delivered by the apostles and the apostolic tradition, both with regard to liturgy, theology, and practice.

--Could you tell us in greater detail about your academic programs?

--Of course; first, we study the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and the biblical languages, Hebrew and ancient Greek. We study in detail the history of the church and philosophy and the history of philosophy, because it is impossible to understand theology without philosophy, because without knowing ancient philosophy it is impossible to understand the holy fathers. The holy fathers constitute an entire world and a complete manner of understanding; it is not a matter of isolated citations of their works which nowadays are often used and cited in support of one or another theological opinion.

We also study contemporary theology, both Orthodox and of other confessions, because we have little acquaintance with the achievements of the theology of the twentieth century; I have in mind the works of fathers Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, Vasily Zenkovsky, George Florovsky, Sergei Bulgakov, and many, many others; we do not even know the names of contemporary Orthodox theologians. It is especially important to study Orthodox theology of the twentieth century inasmuch as the church always responds to the challenge of the present day. But of course we also study the works of Catholic and protestant theologians of our century: Maritan, Rainer and Baltazar, Barth, Tillich and Bultmann, thinkers for whom theology was intimately linked with the existential situation of contemporary humanity.

--Who teaches in your university?

--We have very bright and interesting teachers, for example, Yakof Gavrilovich Krotov, who heads the department of history, Natalia Leonidovna Trauberg, who has produced skilled translations of Lewis and Chesterton, and Valentina Nikolaevna Kuznetsova, teacher of Bible and Greek, the author of the recent book "Letters of the Apostle Paul," a most prominent specialist on the exegesis of the New Testament. Among our teachers we should, of course, also mention our rector, Fr Georgy Chistiakov, who heads the department of biblical studies, and Fr Vladimir Lapshin, who offers the course on the fundamentals of the Orthodox faith. Naturally, these are people who share our convictions and traditions which were established by Fr Alexander Men, a tradition of open Orthodoxy, tolerance, and humaneness. We also try to invite to our seminars, lectures, and meetings with students professors and ministers who come from abroad, not only Orthodox but also Catholics and protestants.

--Does the university also publish?

--Yes, an edition of the book by Sergei Bulgakov "Lamb of God" is being prepared for press, which was published in Paris in the thirties. Like much of the heritage of the first wave of the Russian theological and religious emigration, this still has not reached our land. We have plans for publishing the unpublished works of Mother Maria Skobtsova. Also books from the New Testament series. These will be new and very interesting translations which are important for a full understanding of the sacred text. There also are many indirect translations, mainly from English. The book "The Letters of the Apostle Paul" is a translation from Greek, from the original source which was done, I reemphasize, by a prominent specialist in biblical studies, dealing with New Testament exegesis. This booklet, by the way, was bought up literally in a few days, but I hope that it will be reprinted in the fall.

--Could you describe how you became director of the university?

--In 1988 Fr Alexander Men began delivering public lectures. I came to the church because of these lectures; from 1990 I was a parishioner in the church of Kosma and Damian. I became a student at the university from the moment of its commencement. Fr Alexander Men had already gone, but there were other priests who continued his work, Fr Vladimir Lapshin, Fr Alexander Borisov. In 1996 I was asked to head this university. As a result of various complications there was a real danger that the university would fail, but we managed to avoid this. We have not received any financial support from either the Moscow patriarchate or the state or the city.

--Who studies in your school?

--Our students are of various ages. They study four years. It is possible to be an auditor and to study some new disciplines or new subjects which are showing up every year. The majority of students are young, but there are people of middle age. We get young people after graduation from high school and many of them are studying at the same time in other Moscow institutions of higher learning. Classes are conducted every day in the evening from six to nine. The first two years are lecture courses, and then in the third year study in the major begins--biblical studies, history of the church, philosophy and theology--in a curriculum of special courses and seminars. At this level we rely on independent study by the students and consultation with teachers.

--What can your graduates expect?

--After graduation the most talented students can transfer to western universities where they can earn an academic degree. Very many of our graduates now are teaching in high schools and Orthodox schools. I want to say that many young men and women are studying ancient languages diligently. It is a delight that our youth are interested in them.

--Is it necessary to be a believer to enter your university?

--Upon enrolment in the university there is an interview at which it is determined what courses are appropriate for each student. We do not require of our students a particular confession of faith nor faith in general, because I am sure that someone who is an agnostic or even an atheist who begins to study the history and fundamentals of faith can be converted to God. Thus we understand that the mission of our university is a mission of declaring the faith, a preaching mission.

--Are there other religious institutes in Moscow?

--Yes, of course. But with a few exceptions all the other institutions are official, belonging to the structure of the patriarchate and the greater part of them are narrowly Orthodox. It is our task to see that at all times a spirit of healthy discussion, a spirit of healthy dialogue between believers and unbelievers, between believers of various confessions, among believers of various traditions rules at the university, because even Orthodox hold to quite diverse traditions. One tradition is represented by Orthodox Georgia while a completely different tradition exists in Orthodox America or Orthodox England.

--It seems to me that in our Orthodox church not everything is right nowadays? Or am I mistaken?

--No, you are not mistaken. At the beginning of the nineties, after a long informational blockade, there was a natural interest in questions of religion and faith. Now we have to say frankly that the situation in our society has changed to the exact opposite. There is a tendency for people to leave the Russian Orthodox church and often this happens because the spirit of intolerance toward other Christians and representatives of other religions is intense. The spirit of love and freedom declared in the Gospel, unfortunately, very often is missing from the church. We are doing everything we can to transform the situation in our church for the better.

We welcome everyone who wants to study in our school or simply to attend interesting lectures as auditors. Join us in September. (tr. by PDS)

by Yakov Krotov
Obshchaia gazeta, 10 September 1998

The echo of the mysterious crime committed on 9 September 1990.

The murder of Father Alexander Men is the premier monstrous unsolved murder of the nineties. Every summer there is a wave of publications trying to represent the murder as purely by chance, ordinary. All these publications have a number of traits in common: they are anonymous, aggressive, and unattributed. In 1998 those "to whom it may concern" were especially distinctive. Komsomolskaia pravda printed an interview with a "superinvestigator who had solved more than 600 especially dangerous crimes" (KP, 22 July 1998). He arrogantly claimed that Fr Men was killed by a chance drunk who was under the influence.

This fabrication is refuted by a simple reference to known facts regarding the murder of Alexander Men. It is possible to kill a passerby while under the influence, but it is impossible afterward to hide the murder weapon and the briefcase of the victim, which have not been found in eight years. The fabrication also contains a direct slander: that a lawyer received an automobile from the accused because he knowingly defended a guilty person. But try to take it to court and the reporter, the author of the article, declares that she was simply relaying "information."

Murderers that cover their tracks try to deflect suspicion from themselves, showing that they deserve sympathy rather than condemnation. And they fear with all their might that they must give account; that the evidence is "incomplete" or that all possible witnesses have not been "found." Men was their enemy: they were communists and he a Christian.

But even Fr Alexander's brethren in faith have tried to murder him in their own way. Here is what was said in the Radonezh newspaper by that warrior against "misled" believers, Alexander Dvorkin, who is dependent upon the Moscow patriarchate and who has tried to represent Alexander Men as not only physically but also spiritually dead: "Father Alexander Men was a splendid orator and a broadly erudite man, but he was not a theologian in the strict sense of the word. Thus he made many mistakes. . . . But even if one considers his mistakes extremely seriously, still the burning of his books was at least an irrational act; at the present moment they are hopelessly outdated and seldom read." (A. Dvorkin, "'Auto-da-fe,' Kochekovites have occasion to rub their hands," Radonezh, 26 June 1998) If Men's books are outdated, then why are they being published and read far more vigorously than the works of the new inquisitor?

However, even though he works for the patriarchate, Dvorkin is not a man of the cloth. Here's the work of one who is: in May 1998 Bishop Nikon of Ekaterinburg ordered four of Men's books burned. And they were burned. This was a ritual murder, committed by a member of the hierarchy. From ancient times people have burned what they hoped to send to oblivion.

Patriarch Alexis has declared that Bishop Nikon did not burn any books, but only extra journals were burned. It is not the first time that the patriarch has used his authority to protect bishops. The patriarch did not travel to Ekaterinburg while the bonfire was blazing. He simply repeated the words of others. But while one could dispute an "ordinary" bishop, nobody would dare object to the patriarchate.

So when the patriarch defends sinners by an excess of mercy, perhaps it is better to keep silent. But in defending Bishop Nikon, the patriarch has contributed to the ritual murder of Fr Alexander Men by declaring: "In his theological audacity Fr Alexander sometimes expressed judgments which cannot, apart from careful study, be considered as fully shared by the whole plenitude of the church." (Vestnik of the Russian Christian movement, 177, p. 287)

These very words were written by the patriarch in a letter that was read over the grave of Fr Alexander on the day of his funeral, 11 September 1990. Even then these words were blatant; when ever have such qualifications been made in obituaries?

The statement which was inappropriate for the funeral is simply indecent after eight years. In those eight years it has been possible to conduct "careful study." It is clear why it has not been conducted; there is nothing to examine in Men's books because there simply are no theological errors in them. This is not surprising since Men did not write theological treatises but sermons. What is surprising is something else. The patriarch's statements ought to have finally discredited Christianity, because in Russia it has been identified with the Moscow patriarchate. If the head of any institution continues to call white black, and to cover up the filth and evil of its subordinates, he discredits both himself and the institution. Of course, in the eyes of many the church has been discredited, but not by commerce in tobacco and not by persecuting its best sons. This can be forgiven easily and quickly forgotten because all this affects others and not oneself.

The debate with Christianity proceeds on a broader scale. Father Alexander wanted just such a debate and so he conducted it. And what kind of patriarchate or matriarchate we have has little to do with humanity and truth, which offends the church hierarchy. It doesn't matter if a waiter challenges you to a duel. Go to another restaurant or try to make restaurant food at home, which is even more reasonable than refusing to eat at all, until the waiters become better behaved in the American fashion. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 11 September 1998)

Orthodox progressives are adamant


A meeting of Orthodox Christians, members of the Transfiguration-Presentation brotherhood and its guests from several Orthodox dioceses of Russia and other countries, was held 19-23 August 1998.

The year that passed from the time of the previous meeting of our brotherhood, the eighth "Transfiguration council," has been eventful. All of us have been blessed with spiritual experience, but it was rather often not very joyful. Most difficult for us was the complete destruction of one of the strongest Moscow parishes (the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki), which was renown for its missionary, catechetical, charitable, and educational activity, and the baseless banning from ministry of its rector, Fr Georgy Kochetkov, and the nearly year-long excommunication of twelve of its parishioners. The mass media reported the insulting statements against metropolitans Vladimir of St. Petersburg and Kirill of Smolensk, and the tragic intrachurch conflicts in Tomsk (Fr Alexander Klassen, Deacon Roman Shtaudinger), Latvia (Fr Vladimir Vilgert), Ekaterinburg (Fr Oleg Vokhmianin, who was banned from the ministry "for life" for refusing to call the books of fathers John Meyendorff, Alexander Schmemann, Nikolai Afanasiev, and Alexander Men "heresy," but now, praise God, has been restored to ministry thanks to the solidarity of the whole Orthodox world with him), Kherson (church of the Presentation), Moscow (Hegumen Martirii Bagan and associates of the Orthodox radio station "Sophia"), and Moscow province (Fr Ilia Dorogoichenko and Hegumen Ignatii Krekshin and the brothers). And this is far from a complete listing of the internal persecutions against the church on the part of fundamentalist forces.

At the same time another danger for the church has become more evident, the danger of modernism, that is, the replacement of genuine creativity with stylization and the secularization of church life and the adaptation of the church to the world and employment of its means in the spiritual struggle. For example, when the quest for truth and justice in the church's life degenerates in essence into a struggle against the Moscow patriarchate. Even support for brothers who have been subjected to unjust penalties can become a form of this struggle and then publication in the press or on the Internet wounds rather than heals. No justice can be achieved in the church "at any price," for where there is no love, there is no truth. One must not forget what Archpriest Valentin Sventsitsky said at the beginning of the twentieth century: "Sin in the church is not the sin of the church but sin against the church." Fundamentalism and modernism encompass a great deal and become a serious danger for those who pursue the fullness of church tradition and its creative restoration by the action of the Holy Spirit.

To overcome both fundamentalism and modernism within and around itself, the church must have responsibility for everyone and everything, by each according to his capacity and in his own place, and it needs genuine mission and catechesis, local communal fellowship, and the full participation of all members of the community in worship, all of which are possible only when there is personal openness to God by every one of its members. As in the past, we face the need for a discussion of everything that was included in the appeal to the most holy patriarch Alexis II from the previous Transfiguration council of our brotherhood in August 1997. (Pravoslavnaia obshchina, no. 40, p. 98-104)

During this year many have overcome their fear of the arbitrariness and mortal threats of the church hierarchy, of the phariseeism and scribalism, and of the pseudocharismaticism and "prodigies," they have been blessed with liberation from a mechanical barracks "obedience," and they have learned to resist the spirit of despotism which can afflict clergy and monks and laity. We have no other way except the way of "exodus" from the kingdom of slavery and fear. Those who have set out on this way and wish to be true to God must continue to its end.

Neither sorrow, nor restraint, nor persecution, nor peril can separate from the love of God those who have put all their trust in him. The experiences of this year have blessed us with the depth of spiritual fellowship with Christ and his church. Thus we do not accept any accusations from those who have no fear of God nor shame before people and who flood the pages of the newspapers and television and radio channels with slanders and who say that we and many others should "go into schism."

The Russian Orthodox church is our mother and we remain true to her. We do not want either schism or disorder. We believe in the spiritual sensitivity, sobriety, and healthy thinking of God's people and in their ability to oppose the spirit of this age, the spirit of aggression which is trying to penetrate the church. We pray for the passing away of the current moods so that the righteousness of God may triumph, and we believe in this. We believe that the Lord is with those who stand not on the shifting sand of hostility, profit and ambition but on the firm foundation of faith and love toward Christ. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text courtesy of Andrei Platonov,
St. Filaret Moscow Orthodox Institute

(posted 9September 1998)

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