NEWS ABOUT RELIGION IN RUSSIA

Copyrighted material. For private use only.  


If material is quoted, please give credit to the publication from which it came.
It is not necessary to credit this Web page. If material is transmitted electronically, please include reference to the URL, http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/.


Witnesses case opens

 RUSSIA TESTS LAW ON RELIGION. FOREIGN MISSIONARIES MAY BE RESTRICTED
  by Andrew Kramer
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 30, 1998; Page A24

MOSCOW, Sept. 29.  A Moscow city court opened proceedings today aimed at banning the Jehovah's Witnesses from the city, a case that will be an important test of a law restricting foreign missionary activity in Russia.

The case marks one of the first attempts to use the law to limit the activity of a foreign-based religious sect. Despite much criticism in the West, the law was adopted by parliament last year in an effort to proscribe the many proselytizing religions that have established a presence here since the fall of communist rule. A court finding against the Jehovah's Witnesses, which claims to have 100,000 adherents across Russia, could mean other foreign missionaries will face similar legal actions, human rights activists said.

In today's proceedings, a local prosecutor at a circuit court in northern Moscow accused the Jehovah's Witnesses of inciting religious unrest and disrupting family life. Defense lawyers said the prosecution's case targets the group's doctrine and not the actions of its members.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has called for state action against foreign missionaries in Russia, is assisting the prosecution and plans to testify against the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Orthodox Church, which has expressed a desire to lead Russia's spiritual recovery after the repression of Soviet times, has been losing converts to foreign missionary groups.

Galina Krylova, the Jehovah's Witnesses' chief lawyer, said the case will test the willingness of Russian courts to enforce the law. "This is the first time a religious organization faces liquidation under this law, and the court's decision is unpredictable," she said. She added that the prosecution's attempt to use the movement's religious doctrine as evidence could set a precedent in how courts interpret the law in the future.

The prosecution's case, outlined in a deposition, charges that the Jehovah's Witnesses literature, including Watchtower magazine, violates a provision of the law on "fomenting religious discord." The deposition says that Jehovah's Witnesses claim their faith to be "the only true religion; all others are declared to be false, and their imminent end is predicted. . . . [This] cannot help but insult the sensibilities of other believers."

The seemingly theological nature of the charges has left the defense team perplexed. "On the face of it, there is nothing to justify going to court," said John Burns, a Canadian lawyer assisting in the case.

The law, "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association," opens theway for court action against religions termed nontraditional for Russia and  includes several points that analysts have said are aimed at specific religions carrying on missionary activity here. The law specified traditional religions as Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and
Christianity.

Parliament passed the measure, and President Boris Yeltsin signed it into law last September despite official U.S. objections and protests from religious and human rights organizations. The Russian Orthodox Church supported the bill.

The court ruled today that the Orthodox Church can provide expert witnesses on behalf of the state. Alexander Dvorkin, a church official who will testify, asserted in an interview that the Jehovah's Witnesses and other foreign missionary groups have taken advantage of the weakness of Russian Orthodoxy after decades of communist rule to convert Russians.

"We never had time to recover, to rebuild our infrastructure," Dvorkin said. He said the church opposes well-financed foreign missionary groups from moving into areas of the country where the Orthodox Church cannot yet afford to reestablish a presence.

The Jehovah's Witnesses estimate that their congregation in Russia grew 37 percent last year and 50 percent the year before. Yaroslavl Sivulsky, a spokesman for the sect, said he did not expect this case to affect its missionary work in Russia immediately, although he considers the law a threat. "From a legal point of view, this is absurd," he said.

c  Washington Post

(posted 30 September 1998)


Court action threatens religious freedom

LUTHERAN MISSION LOSES REGISTRATION
Religion News Today, 29 September 1998

A Lutheran mission in the Russian republic of Khakassia has been closed. The Supreme Court of Khakassia, an autonomous republic in southwestern Siberia, revoked the registration of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in Tuim Sept. 23. Hearings were conducted in an atmosphere reminiscent of Soviet-era trials against Christians, Compass Direct News Service said. Witnesses reportedly were subjected to intimidation by the judges, a witness fainted under the pressure, and an elderly woman said she was ready to renounce her faith if the judges required it. Video and audio recordings of the proceedings were forbidden. "Naturally the [mission] is going to appeal to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation," pastor Pavel Lytkin said. Officials in Tuim have been trying for more than a year to ban the group.

INFORMATIONAL REPORT FROM EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN MISSION OF KHAKASIIA
by Pavel Zaiakin, director of Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Khakasiia
Radiotserkov, 25 September 1998

On 23 September, at 16:45 the republical court of the republic of Khakasia rendered a decision on the case introduced by the procurator of the republic of Khakasia (RKh) "in defense of the interests of state and society" against the Evangelical Lutheran Mission, or more precisely, its registration which was implemented by the Ministry of Justice of RKh on 13 June 1996 (registration no. 24).  In the court's decision, A Fishman held the registration of the religious association to be INEFFECTIVE and in this way the authorities tried to put an end to the more than two-year history of the existence of a small but active religious association.

The decision was preceded by two days of judicial investigation on 22 and 23 September. The plantiff, defendent, and witnesses were heard. It would be possible to write about that but I will continue and say that at this trial the rights of Russians citizens associated with freedom of religious profession were trampled and spat upon.

First, about the attempts of the procurator. The procurator affirmed (this is the central part of the accusation) that "according to results of inspection" only three of the ten founders of ELM have confessed the Evangelical Lutheran doctrine, although article 1 of the charter of ELM states that ELM is an association of citizens "confessing Evangelical Lutheran doctrine. . . ." I repeat, this was the main accusation of the procurator.

Our side insisted that data regarding the beliefs of founders, presented as evidence, were obtained by the procurator illegally, in violation of constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens; pressure was applied to the people and they were intimidated.

In confirmation of the fact of pressure on the founders at the time of taking information from them, the mission summoned witnesses.

Examination of the witnesses really was the most dramatic part of the trial. What happened in the chambers of the court! The examination of witnesses of ELMKh cannot be characterized as anything other than psychological rape. Despite all our protests both the procurator and the judge himself, Fishman, without declareing to ditizens their rights under articles 28 and 29(3) of the constitution of RF and article 3(5) of the federal law "On freedom of conscience. . . " directly ascertained from witnesses what belief system they held to, what they thought with regard to Lutheran doctrine, why they had joined the Lutheran church, etc.

Two of the witnesses immediately refused to answer the question about their convictions, and there were not more questions put to them.  But they imposed upon the rest and extracted  information of a personal character.  When one of the witnesses (he was one of the first founders of ELMKh), S. Vorobiev, was asked, "Well, you write in your deposition that you are generally an nonbelievers, so tell us how could you be a founder?" this man was so frightened that he fainted. At this time, to my words:  "Help him, he's suffering!" a representative of the procurator's office, A Konopelko, ruedly answered:  "It's no matter; this is a trial; everything is in order." The judge also began to shoult that I should not interfere nor approach the witness, but nevertheless I decided to bring him water. When Vorobiev recovered, the examination continued from the very same point.

All of the "testimony" began with the fact that an agent of FSB from Abakan, Mr. Bobrovnikov, visited Tuim. He went to all founders of the mission and many parishioners and inquired what these missionaries who had come were engaged in generally and whether they were spied. You can easily imagine the effect upon the residents of this small settlement made by such a visit by a representative of the intelligence service.

Rumors spread around the village immediately ("they didn't come here for no reason," "FSB doesn't arrive for no reason" etc). Then he came to my house and asked about the Americans and in the end suggested that I report on them if I see anything suspicious in their actions.

Then the head of the administration of the settlement of Tium, V.K. Kachaev (who has frequently declared that Lutherans have no business in Khakasiia and that all Lutherans are American spies, etc.) along with officers of the police conducted visits at home of all founders of ELMKh and "asked" them to write declarations indicating their beliefs and the circumstances of their participation in ELM. Of course, considering our soviet past as well as the authority and pressure of the state in the person of Mayor Kachaev and police officers and, most important, thans to the previous visits to them by the FSB agent who had the very same question, these people wrote everything that Kachaev demanded in according with a "model declaration" he presented. All this was shown in the court. Nevertheless Judge Fishman did not consider this a violation of the law and did not accept the request of the defense to reject these declarations as obtained under pressure and illegally.

When N.K. Vorobiev was examined, who also was one of the former founders of ELM, this elderly woman was so frightened by the questions of the judge and procurator about her faith they she renounced everything, both her former Orthodoxy, her present Baptist faith, and Lutheranism:  "Yes, I was with the Lutherans, but I don't go any more. . . . I went there a lot but I never go anywhere anymore, even on foot. . . ."

The testimony of the witness Surkov that he became a founder so that his six-year-old son would not fall into a bad life but grow up in with normal Christian training and go on hikes (the Christian Youth Club of the mission conducts hikes and youth camps) was interpreted as pressure on the part of the director of ELMKh Zaiakin:  if you will become a founder I will take care of your son in exchange which, of course, the witness denied, but this was included in the accusatory speach of the procurator for some reason. In general, everything was made to seem somehow dirty.

The head of the administration of Tuim, V.K. Kachaev, declared under questioning that in collecting from Lutherans the "standard" declarations, he was acting not on his own initiative but under orders of the assistant head of the administration of Shirin district, N.R. Abdin (who tried to close our mission in September of last year) and he, in turn, was acting under orders of the Ministry of Justice of RKh.

The representative of the ministry of justice who was present in the court and had been summoned as a witness, assistant mininster of justice of RKh Tupitsin categorically denied Kachaev's assertion.

Everything that happened appeared strange. Everything began strangely, as if independent of anybody's initiative. It was strange that in the case there was repeated mention of the agent of FSB, Sergei Sergeevich Bobrovnikov. This figure, who roamed about the court chamber from testimony to testimony, evoked no interest from Judge Fishman; Bobrovnikov was not even called to testify.

It is interesting how Mr. Kachaev explained the presence of the policemen along with him at the time of visiting the founders.  It turns out that there presence was necessary for protection--from me! It turns out that it was I who was spreading "rumors defaming him" about Kachaev. So fearing my (armed, obviously) interference, Kachaev took the police along as body guards. The judge accepted this explanation fully.

The testimony of witnesses Serkov, Vinogradova, Burdina, Osintseva that at the time of the visits and the "requests" for written declarations the presence of the police was taken by them as a kind of psychological pressure and that they were frightened was not taken into consideration. To be continued.  (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 30 September 1998)


Court case against Unification Church group

ST. PETERSBURG PROSECUTOR vs. YOUTH ASSOCIATION
by Konstantin Krylov

28 September, 1998

Since September 21st a hearing has taken place in St. Petersburg City Court on the suit of the City Prosecutor vs. CARP (Collegiate Association for Research of the Principle -- a Unification Church-affiliated organization). The court heard the explanations of the Prosecutor, the representative of the local Justice Department of the City Hall who joined the Prosecutor's suit and the objections of the students representing CARP.

The Prosecutor's suit follows a famous suit of anti-cult activists back in 1995 demanding the liquidation of CARP and the payment for compensation of emotional distress in the amount of $6 million. At that time the St. Petersburg Court for the procedure on the suit accepted the proposed allegations of brainwashing and destroying Russia's genetic pool. The problem for the anti-cult movement was that it did not have the legal right to demand the liquidation of the organization. After CARP pointed out this circumstance to the court, the Prosecutor and the Justice Department joined in the process in 1996. Since then neither the Prosecutor's nor the suit of the Justice Department was scheduled for hearing because it was obvious to all that they served as a cover-up for the anti-cultists' process.

The present hearing came as a consequence of the radical changes that took place in the anti-cult case.

First of all, a Court Psychiatric Expert Examination was requested by the anti-cult activists to prove that due to brainwashing the members of this youth organization had become deeply insane and required forced psychiatric treatment. The examination demonstrated the opposite. Moreover, the psychiatrists, headed by the chief psychiatrist of St. Petersburg, proved that all the examined members of CARP were fully sane and that conflicts in their families originated long before the Unification Church was registered in Russia. The anti-cult activists relied next on a Criminalist Expertise Institute of St. Petersburg. Nevertheless, after studying the documents and publications of the Unification Church and CARP, the examination by this institution proved that there is nothing of a criminal nature in the teachings of these organizations. Later in May 1998 the same anti-cult group lost a court case in Moscow against the Unification Church. That is why the old suit of the St. Petersburg Prosecutor had to be pulled out of the closet. What was its formal basis?

In 1994 a group of student believers decided to register a branch of the Unification Church in St. Petersburg. There immediately came a warning from the Justice Department demanding that they stop religious activities. The stubborn believers nevertheless submitted the request to register their church bylaws in order to have right to rent halls for their services, etc. In response to this, the Justice Department sent a new warning to CARP demanding that they stop religious activities and the Prosecutor solicited the court to liquidate the organization. The students disputed the Justice Department's warning in the court. At the same time the believers of the Unification Church addressed their complaint to the court about the Justice Department's refusal to register their bylaws.

It became absurd. The public organization CARP is to be liquidated due to its religious activities. At the same time the church community cannot register because its teaching is not recognized as religious.

All this would peacefully be resolved but the failure of the anti-cult group created complications. For example, the court has not dealt with the complaints of the student group and religious community for three years. The chairman of the court explained that the hearing couldn't take place without the documents that still have not been provided by the Justice Department. Now the anti-cult group can be saved through the Prosecutor. The group was called to the court in the summer of 1998 and found a pretext to have the court postpone its hearing until November. The anti-cultists made every possible effort to become witnesses in the Prosecutor's case. It was suddenly scheduled for hearing after three years of inactivity. In reality, if the Prosecutor succeeds in liquidating CARP, it will automatically stop the anti-cult group's case and will also solve the problem of refusal to register the church bylaws in St. Petersburg.

Another issue is if the Prosecutor has enough of a foundation to liquidate CARP. The main claims of the Prosecutor have not changed since 1996. These are artificial formalities not required by law, studies of Unification Church teachings (directly stated in the bylaws), no re-registration of the association's bylaws in accordance with the new law “On Public Associations” of 1995. The Justice Department joined these allegations, adding, "the charity programs held by the students violate the law and the organization's bylaws."

Then the students demonstrated in the court that they fulfill the formal duties, even exceeding the legal requirements. Thus their registered bylaws allow them to carry out charitable activities and studies of Unificationist teaching and the Justice Department had refused to re-register their new bylaws, neither the Prosecutor nor the Justice Department changed its claims. At the same time the Justice Department came up with a new argument: It was not aware what kind of philosophy the Unification Principle (the Unification Church teaching) is, even though it had been presented to the Justice Department in 1991 when registering CARP of St. Petersburg. The Judge declined all the questions of the lawyers of CARP addressed to the Prosecutor and the Justice Department, trying to clarify what was the juridical basis for the liquidation claims. A lawyer can see that these claims are not based on law but on the dislike toward a system of values uncommon for contemporary Russia.

The artificial claims were not the worst for the students. It was the obstacle to their active work. For several years they have been conducting charity projects for children in orphanages and were attached to dozens of children, taking care of them.

The court minutes go like this, for example:

"If the study of the Unification philosophy is your goal, then why did you stop it? Does it mean that your organization does not exist anymore?" asks the Prosecutor.

"Your honor," responds the student, "in 1996 the Justice Department considered it an illegal activity. We stopped it until the court considers our complaint about the Justice Department's warning of this and decides if it is legal or not. For now we are focusing our efforts on charity projects, hoping to practice the principles laid down in our bylaws."

"Well," concludes the Prosecutor, "if you do not study the Principle, then you do not need your organization."

One can see the attitude of the Judge just by her refusal to accept into the materials of the case all the evidence and photos confirming the charitable actions of CARP.

By now all the parties have given their explanations. Tomorrow the questioning of the witnesses will begin. These are members of an anti-cult group, invited by the Prosecutor, who go from one court to another testifying about the horrors of brainwashing. CARP protested that the witnesses are juridically interested in the solution of the Prosecutor's case and solicited the court to dismiss the witnesses. If the Prosecutor wins, then they will not have to compensate CARP's legal expenses and will not lose their case against CARP. The court dismissed this solicitation.

(courtesy of Konstantin Krylov)

 
 (posted 29 September 1998)


Foreign support for threatened Jehovah's Witnesses

COURT CASE INVOLVING FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN RUSSIA TO BEGIN TUESDAY
News Advisory
from Watchtower Public Affairs Office, September 28, 1998
 

A civil court case that could result in a ban on all religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow will begin at 10 a.m., Tuesday, September 29, 1998, at the Golovinskiy People's Court.

The case involves a civil action under the new Russian Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. A group banned under the new law on religion can be charged with criminal acts for engaging in public worship, distributing literature, or owning or renting houses of worship.

Criminal charges against Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow were investigated four times previously, with the result that Jehovah's Witnesses were completely exonerated. Starting in 1996, criminal charges were brought by an activist group opposed to religious freedom in Russia, the Committee to Save Youth from Pseudo-religions. After two years of investigation, no investigator found any evidence of criminal activity. The third investigator concluded that the religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses is protected by the Russian Constitution, and the case was permanently closed in April 1998. Unable to pursue criminal charges, the same prosecutor's office is now bringing civil charges.

The hearing has been scheduled to last two days but may go longer. The prosecutor intends to call 27 witnesses and is expected to rely on the same allegations and statements submitted in the earlier criminal proceedings. The defense will show that the court lacks jurisdiction and that the civil prosecution violates the guarantees of freedom of religion and association, as well as the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Human rights advocates have expressed concern about the case and its impact on freedom of religion in Russia. The Moscow-Helsinki Group, a branch of the International Helsinki Federation on Human Rights, held a news conference on September 23, 1998, to protest the actions of the prosecutor's office.

Jehovah's Witnesses, the fifth-largest Christian religion in Russia, have about 10,000 members in Moscow and have been present in Russia for more than a century. Across Russia more than 250,000 are associated with this religion. Jehovah's Witnesses are officially recognized in more than 150 countries.

The courthouse address is Kosmodemyanskikh Zoi i Aleksandra ul. 31, k.2. The telephone number is (095) 450-2814.

INTERNATIONAL OUTCRY GROWS AGAINST NEW RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN RUSSIA
News Advisory
from Watchtower Public Affairs Office, September 24, 1998

Professionals from 37 countries, including the United States, are adding their voices to an international protest against an anticipated Moscow-wide ban on the fifth-largest Christian religion in Russia.

Lawyers, businessmen, journalists, doctors, and others are sharing in a massive letter-writing campaign protesting an upcoming civil court case that could result in a ban on all religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow. Letters are already flooding the offices of 12 Moscow officials involved in the case.

The case, which is scheduled to begin on September 29, involves a civil action under the new Russian Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.  A group banned under the new law on religion can be charged with criminal acts for engaging in public worship, distributing literature, or owning or renting houses of worship. Criminal charges against the Moscow Congregation were investigated four times previously, with the result that Jehovah's Witnesses were completely exonerated. Unable to pursue criminal charges, the same prosecutor's office is now bringing civil charges.

"Allowing this case to proceed can only damage the standing of Russia in the international community," wrote Richard Mack, owner of Mack Financial Group, which recently donated $50,000 to a Russian orphanage. "In my country this group, Jehovah's Witnesses, has long enjoyed a peaceful, law-abiding existence and are known as honest, hardworking individuals. I currently have four Jehovah's Witnesses in my full-time employ, and they are among my most valued employees."

Thousands of letters are expected to be delivered to officials in the State Duma, the Committee for Liaison with Religious Organizations, the Ministry of Justice, the mayor of Moscow, the Russian Federation on Matters of Domestic Policy, the Council for Coordination With Religious Associations, the Commission on Affairs of Religious Associations, and other key bureaus, officials, and departments.

Jehovah's Witnesses have about 10,000 members in Moscow, and across Russia more than 250,000 are associated with this Christian religion.  Jehovah's Witnesses are officially recognized in more than 150 countries.

(posted 28 September 1998)
 


Reports about missionaries' visas mistaken

The following information was sent on 28 September by Ray Prigodich.
 
Beverly Nickles, a correspondent for "Christianity Today" and several other publications, has written to me from Moscow, saying:  "The policy of granting only three-month visas to religious workers in Russia was REVERSED on August 26.  Missionaries can now once again receive one-year multiple entry visas."
 
This information pertained to an Associated Press story that appeared in a number
of outlets over the weekend.
 
In Russia, visa limits for religious workers

MOSCOW (AP) -- Foreign religious workers may remain in Russia for three months
maximum, unlike most other foreigners who can have their visas renewed for a
year without leaving the country. But according to religious workers, when
they seek to renew their visas, they are told they must go to a Russian
Embassy or consulate abroad for quarterly renewals.

Russia came under international criticism last year for a law that limits
foreign religious groups, and the latest regulation could further complicate
the work of missionaries and churches from abroad.

``It will make it all much more expensive,'' said Donald Jarvis, head of the
Mormon church's Yekaterinburg mission in central Russia. Jarvis runs a mission
with more than 100 missionaries, most from the United States. He said they may
have to travel to Mongolia or some other country every three months to renew
their visas.

- from Religion Briefs
AP-NY-09-24-98 1204EDT

Note:  This story appears to be outdated.
 

Courtesy of Ray Prigodich

(posted 28 September 1998)


Round table on Jehovah's Witnesses case

PROCURATOR SEEKS LIQUIDATION OF THE SOCIETY OF "JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES"
by Maria Starinina
24 September 1998

Rights advocates have come to defense of minority

On the eve of the first anniversary of the adoption of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" several human rights organizations met in a round table at which they loudly declared that this very freedom does not exist in Russia. And all thanks to this law.  "Repressions for religious convictions are increasing in Russia" was the sense of the round table which was held yesterday in the Central House of Journalists. The formal organizer of this event was the public organization "For freedom of conscience and a secular state," which grew out of the Moscow Helsinki Group and was registered in 1997. The actual initiator of the meeting was the religious organization of "Jehovah's Witnesses." The occasion was the judicial hearing on the prohibition of the activity of the Moscow society of Jehovah's Witness and its liquidation which is scheduled for 29 September 1998 on the presentation of the procurator of the northern administrative district of the city of Moscow.

The essence of the case is brief is this:  four times upon the request of the Committee for the Salvation of Youth from Totalitarian Sects a criminal case has been raised against the Jehovah's Witnesses, and each time it has been dismissed for failure to prove or absence of the substance of a crime. The the procurator decided to use article 14 of the law providing for requesting the liquidation of a religious organization, for example, for compulsory destruction of the family or influencing seriously ill people to refuse medical care on religious bases.

It was this particular article that all participants of the round table without exception considered unconstitutional. However, the question was viewed much more broadly. In addresses  words about the global attack upon democracy, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and human rights in Russia resounded.

But this round table, on the model of the legendary table of King Arthur, preferred unanimity and not discussion. Neither representatives of the procurator who acted to instigate the case nor representatives of LDPR, which promoted the campaign against the Jehovists, were invited to it. And thus there was no one to remind the gathering that serious problems in many countries have arisen for the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. Even in America, the historic birthplace of the movement, they are registered not as a religious organization but as a publishing company, the "Watchtower Bible and Tract Society." In Germany this organization is not recognized officially, although it is not prosecuted by the law. In the past year the constitutional appeal court of Berlin rejected an application by the society of Jehovists for its legal recognition as a "public corporation." Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Orthodox Cyprus and in countries of the Islamic world. They have problems with registraiton in Austria, Germany, and Greece.

"In European countries this organization is legally not prohibitted but it does not have the status of a 'religion,' which would have rights equal, for example, with protestants or Catholics," reported later an employee of the Informational Consultative Center of Saint Ireneus of Lyon of the Moscow patriarchate, Mikhail Plotnikov, "and this is related to the fact that the Jehovists are asocial. They do not consider any government in the world to be legitimate and they do not acknowledge state symbols, anthems, and flags, and they refuse to serve in the army and to participate in elections. Although they pay their taxes conscientiously."

The Witness John Berns, who was introduced as a member of the judicial college of advocates of Canada, did not understand why the procurator wants for the "court to forbid Jehovists to  read the Bible, pray together, sing religious songs along with their friends, or even talk with other Jehovah's Witnesses." However, in the opinion of Mikhail Plotnikov, "according to the current constitution nobody can forbid Jehovah's Witnesses to pray or meet together; thus the formulation 'to prohibit religious activity" is inaccurate," he said. "Rather, if there is a positive decision by the court it will be 'to prohibit organized activity,' that is, to open a bank account and have tax privileges."  (tr. by PDS)

Russian text from Russian Story Inc.

(posted 26 September 1998)


Monastic priest removed from parish

HEGUMEN MARTIRY BAGIN BANNED FROM MINISTRY
Russkaia mysl, 24-30 September
 

A decree "On granting of leave and temporary ban from ministry," "until the final fulfillment of our directives," was sent on 15 September to the rector of the church of All Saints in Kulishki, Hegumen Martiry Bagin, by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus. The decree was received by the parish council of the church on the next day, 16 September.

According to the text of the decree, the rector received this punishment "for violation of the oath given at the time of ordination as a priest, and slanderous concoctions which defame the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox church, as well as misappropriation of church property, in accordance with rule 18 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, rule 34 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and rule 41 of the council of Carthage."  The decree states further:  "In case of his continuation of slanderous activity directed against the Russian Orthodox church and its hierarchy, we will be guided by the principle of ecclesiastical exactitude."

At the time of making this decision, the document notes, the head of the Russian Orthodox church was guided "by the principle of church discipline" and took into account "Hegumen Martiry's promise to undo" the shortcomings indicated by the patriarch.

As parishioners of the church told Blagovest-info, the decree was delivered on 16 September to representatives of the parish council of the church of All Saints in Kulishki at the patriarchal residence by the director of the chancery of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vladimir Divakov. On the same day the document addressed to Hegumen Martiry was brought to the attention of the extraordinary enlarged session of the parish council of the church. Members of the council and parishioners reached the conclusion that the arguments which the author of the decree used: "violation of the oath given at the time of ordination as priest," "slanderous concoctions which defame the hierarchy of RPTs," as well as "misappropriation of church property" are far-fetched and not in accord with reality.

Members of the parish council informed the chancery of the Moscow patriarchate about the council's session by a telegram with the following content:  "We are reporting the results of a session of the enlarged parish council including the auditing commission and members of the parish assembly. Under the circumstances of the serious illness of the rector of the church, Hegumen Martiry, and of a real threat to his health, the council decided to open the envelope with the patriarch's decree.  The parish council is authorized to inform you that it is aware of its rights and it reserves its right to respond adequately to the slanderous accusations against Hegumen Martiry which are mentioned in the decree. The decree will be delivered to our rector when the physician approves upon his recovery."

Hegumen Martiry Bagin has been rector of the church of All Saints in Kulishki in Moscow since 1991.  From 1991 to 1995 the restoration of the church was carried out under his direction and with the support of "Inkombank."  For his efforts in restoration of a national shrine Hegumen Martiry was given the certificate of the prize in the Moscow government's competition for the best reconstruction, restoration, and construction of buildings in the historic center of Moscow. Upon the conclusion of the restoration work the directors of Inkombank furnished Hegumen Martiry with an apartment in the area of the Novokuznets metro station. He had been living in cramped quarters.

In 1993 a religious charity organization called Philokalia ("Love of virtue") began operations in the church of All Saints as well as a Sunday school and catechetical classes.  The medical clinic of the church received up to 2000 persons a year. The journal "Vestnik Philokalia" began publication.

In 1997 a second priest, Fr Vladimir Voronin, was assigned to the church without the rector's consent. Parishioners of the church told Blagovest-info that the hierarchy of the church began conducting a "silent campaign of hostility." The second priest of the church openly declared that he was the "eye of the patriarchate" and that "everything will be reported where it should be." According to parishioners' testimony, on 9 May 1998 Fr Vladimir Voronin provoked a conflict inside the church as a result of which a choir member, Evgeny Tiunev, was dismissed.

On 30 June Hegumen Martiry was summoned by the patriarchate's assistant archbishop Arseny Epifanov of Istrina to the chancery of the Moscow patriarchate. In the course of the interview the archbishop stated that it was impermissible that "some sick people were wandering" in the center of Moscow, amidst governmental buildings, since "this creates an undesirable background." Besides this, it "disrupts decorum in the church" and sick people "could create some kind of ruckus." Also the archbishop noted the "sorry state" of the church (despite the earlier conclusion of representatives of the specialist consultative council of the Chief Architectural Planning Administration of Moscow.)

On 8 July a resolution was received from the chancery of the Moscow patriarchate in which it was stated that the apartment that had been donated by Inkombank "must be surrendered to the parish" and Hegumen Martiry's evaluation of the "outrageous behavior of the church's choir member Evgeny Tiunev . . . was far from the canonical standards of the Orthodox church."  The document, signed by Archbishop Arseny, speaks of the "benefit for the church's cause" of the transfer of Hegumen Martiry to another Moscow parish for ministry.

On 3 August, by order of Archbishop Arseny, an audit of the financial and economic activity of the church was conducted in the church of All Saints in Kulishki. The auditing commission was chaired by Archimandrite Dionisy Shishigin.  It included archpriests Alexander Abramov and Dimitry Medvedev. According to reports of employees of the church, the work of the commission was accompanied by rudeness and insulting attacks by its members upon the laity who were present.

On 18 August, on the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, the dean of the Pokrov deanery of Moscow, Archpriest Gennady Nefedov, removed Hegumen Martiry from performance of the liturgy. The dean delivered to the rector an "oral request" from Patriarch Alexis II "not to conduct the liturgy" until he had met with the head of RPTs.

The meeting of the rector of All Saints in Kulishki with Patriarch Alexis II was held on 9 September at the patriarchal residence in Chisty Lane. The primate of RPTs instructed Hegumen Martiry to perform public penance for "schismatic activity" and "defamation of the hierarchy of the Moscow patriarchate," namely, the Moscow diocese's vicar archbishop Arseny of Istrina, director of the chancery of the patriarchate Archpriest Vladimir Divakov, the second priest of the church of All Saints in Kulishki, Vladimir Voronin, and the dean of Pokrov deanery of Moscow Archpriest Gennady Nefedov.  The "defamation" of the hierarchy, according to the patriarch, was expressed in the mass media which published information about events in the parish. In the course of the ninety-minute interview Patriarch Alexis II and the administrator of affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, Archbishop Sergius Fomin of Solnechnogorsk, insisted on the need to transfer to the Moscow patriarchate Fr Martiry's property, namely the apartment donated to him by Inkombank. Parishioners of the church told Blagovest-info that the patriarch warned the priest that he would be banned from ministry if he did not perform the indicated act of "repentance."

On 14 September Hegumen Martiry submitted to the patriarchate a request for a leave. This request, in his words, was brought about by the worsening of his state of health and the need for prolonged treatment (the hegumen suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure, encephalitis, and osteoporosis).

However the next day a different decree was issued, for "granting leave and temporary banning from ministry" (in the opinion of experts, the joining of these two decisions represents canonical nonsense).

On 17 September the patriarch issued a new decree, addressed in particular to the parish council and the parish assembly of the church of All Saints in Kulishki.  It states:  "Father Nikolai Krikunov, priest of the Holy Transfiguration church in Bogorodski in Moscow, is transferred to the church of All Saints in Kulishki in Moscow as acting rector and as moderator of the parish assembly." This decree contradicts the rule not to appoint a rector without the consent of the parish community and the rules for administration of RPTs, according to which the moderator of the parish assembly is to be elected by the assembly itself and not appointed from above.

On 20 September, after the liturgy, members of the parish assembly of the church of All Saints in Kulishki informed the new rector of the church, Fr Nikolai Krikunov, of their disagreement with his appointment to the church. Parishioners told the priest that his appointment to the post of rector and also the post of chairman of the parish assembly was viewed as a violation of the rights of believers in Russia, particularly in accord with the new law "On freedom of conscience and religious association."  At the same time the parishioners stated that they had no personal objections to the new rector but they simply disagreed with the actions of the hierarchy of the Moscow patriarchate and the appointment of a new rector without the consent of the parish assembly, which seemed to be an "illegal seizure of the church."

In an interview with a Blagovest-info reporter, parishioners reported that the conversation with the new rector was "peaceful." They just wondered about the presence in the church of "about ten persons in civilian dress" who were observing the members of the parish assembly.

On 21 September parishioners of the church of All Saints in Kulishki sent an appeal to the Chamber on Human Rights of the Political Consultative Council of the presidency and the Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations of the State Duma in regard to violations of their "rights to free religious confession, guaranteed by the constitution and existing federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." The appeal carried 93 signatures.

Along with their appeal parishioners sent to the duma and the administration of the presidency documents (about 30 pages) attesting the "arbitrariness of employees of the Moscow patriarchate" with regard to the parish of the church of All Saints in Kulishki and the rector Hegumen Martiry. The package of documents included resolutions from the chancery of the Moscow patriarchate, letters and appeals of parishioners to the patriarch, and articles from the media that gave detailed descriptions of events around the parish.

Compiled from materials of the Blatovest-info agency.  (tr. by PDS)

Russian text courtesy of Andrei Platonov

(posted 26 September 1998)


Moscow official tries to ban Jehovah's Witnesses

PERSECUTION FOR FAITH CONTINUES IN RUSSIA
Ekspres khronika, 14 September 1998

On 29 September a presentation by the procurator of the northern administrative district for the liquidation of the Moscow congregation of the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses and for prohibition of its activity will be taken up in the Golovin intermunicipal court of Moscow.

The way the Marxist point of view has defined religion is well known. We are not going to dispute here this classical position; like all positions it has the right to exist. But when this idea is put into effect it turns out that opium is forbidden free exercise. And if religion is "opium" then what should be said about us who are defenders of freedom of religious confession? Should we be recognized as harmful elements who undermine the spiritual health of the nation? "Of course," many reply. The forensic psychiatrist Professor F.V. Kondratiev long ago branded it an epidemic, establishing the "sect addiction" diagnosis. At the same time it is difficult to deny that vodka and tobacco, which are traditional for our land, also are dangerous addictions and destructive habits of our nation. Meanwhile our state, which combats all kinds of "opiums," looks after and even monopolizes these evil potions and thus thrusts this poison directly upon the young generation.

This analogy could be developed further. It is obvious that a state monopoly on religion exists in accordance with the very same principle: it distributes the narcotic which, by its action, promotes the basic goal of the state; it subdues the masses in order to compel them to become just that, a mass and not an individual, and to force them to think in the way that is convenient for the authorities. It is significant that the politicized Russian Orthodox church trades in vodka and tobacco. However it is hardly worth delighting the antireligious psychiatrists by equating to heroin and cocaine all that religious diversity with which Orthodoxy fights, employing governmental force.

Speaking of Jehovah's Witnesses, whom the politicized patriarchate views as just about its greatest enemy, we are convinced that this confession is a greater benefit to civil society that is trying to cast off the yoke of totalitarianism. Besides, this Christian denomination echoes the values of a normal civil society and coincides with the middle class which is not developing in our country even though it obviously is necessary. The more religions there are in society and the more diverse and free they are, the less likely it becomes that any one of them that aspires to a "special role" will be able to impose its conditions upon citizens. So that's why it is good that the Jehovah's Witnesses are flourishing.

But in itself this religious community , which renounces hierarchical relations and categorically rejects any form of participation in political matters while at the same time rather sternly and insistently promoting believers' practical fulfillment of biblical commandments, is objectively beneficial for Russia, with its shortage of contemporary, positive values. But what is contemporary is not welcome in Russia. Because in our country both the government is essentially feudal and the religion under this government is feudal. Hence both the government and the church can act only like a mafia, protecting what the government calls its "integrity" and the church, in turn, calls its "canonical territory."

In such a situation Jehovah's Witnesses willy-nilly turn out to be for the affiliated secular and religious authorities another "internal Chechnia," which they want to destroy. But, in contrast with Chechens, Jehovah's Witnesses have never defended their rights by force. They can use only spiritual weapons against RPTs today, which has its own OMON and explosives. Their weapon is their faith alone, and this faith does not permit Witnesses to take up alternative arms. Here, of course, the essence of the crime appears because the state, using the language of military command, needs "personnel resources." But Jehovah's Witnesses will not  join the army. When they will not join, they go to prison for this. Thus Russia now has prisoners of conscience.

To be sure, Russia also has a constitution that guarantees to every citizen who cannot join the army out of conviction or religious belief the right to substitute alternative civil service for military service.  However, in Russian courts all such appeals are met with this answer:  "The attorney's appeal referring to the provisions of article 59 of the constitution of the Russian federation cannot be taken into account in the case of Gushchin," which was the determination of the Kursk district court.  Gushchin was a sectarian whose appeals regarding religious convictions that prevent his serving in the army were recognized to be "insubstantial." This doesn't come from Stalinist or Khrushchevite sentences.  This is freedom of conscience in democratic Russia.

Just back on 10 June 1998, having served a third of his 18 month sentence, the Jehovah's Witness Vadim Gushchin was set free, thanks to the commotion that was raised by Amnesty International. But when Gushchin was being set free in Kursk, in Sochi his fellow believer Vadim Nazarov was being arrested, and to this day he remains in prison on the basis of a sentence of 28 July 1998 for refusal to enter  military service. Nazarov has been condemned twice for this "crime." In the earlier case, in the autumn of 1997, this same Sochi central district court gave Nazarov a year--to be sure, conditionally. Now this malicious believer, who is languishing in the SIZO awaiting appeal, faces incarceration in a general regime colony:  "The court views Nazarov's nonadmission of guilt as an attempt to avoid military service. Service in which there is no oath-taking or wearing of a uniform, which Nazarov will agree to, in the nature of the case does not exist and thus this alternative must be recognized as unthinkable and baseless" (quoted from the sentence written by Judge Chuprina, preserving the original style and wording).

After all, the Russian Orthodox church is patriotic! It blesses the cannons and Kalashnikov automatics and the missile emplacements, all in the name of Christ. But Jehovah's Witnesses simply upset personnel resources:  "The leadership of the congregation . . . forbid the fulfillment of constitutional obligations for the defense of the fatherland and service in the armed forces. . . . The ideological base of the Jehovah's Witnesses contradict the historic and religious traditions of Russia," according to a letter of the senior aide of the procurator general of RF, Yu.S. Zakharov, to a deputy of LDPR N.V. Krivelskaia. Nina Krivelskaia, a police lieutenant, specializes in study of sectarianism, to whom the RPTs priest Oleg Steniaev reports (literally "report"), who is a prominent enemy of dissident belief. The lieutenant's slanderous leaflets are in great demand at the procuracy general. In the letter cited above the procurator Zakharov writes:  "For use in the conduct of procuratorial investigations of the materials of the Analytical Journal no. 19, "Pseudochristian religious organizations of Russia" (a work by Krivelskaia which subsequently went into its second edition with the coauthorship of Zhirinovsky) I request of you a directive for practical help in seeking the possibility of sending this journal to the procuracies of the component elements of the federation and to employees of the  central apparatus of the procuracy general. In all this requires  90 and 25 copies, respectively." And what will these procurators study in order to make up for their ignorance? Excerpts assembled by Krivelskaia from street papers about  "ghastly tragedies" like what the "thirty-five year old barman Kuznetsov endured from his mother, a devotee of the religious organization of 'Jehovah's Witnesses' endured on the ninth floor. According to neighbors, singing emanateda from the apartment  for a long time and then the unfortunate barman was thrown out of the window and, after grasping onto a tree briefly, perished on the asphalt. His mother then appeared in the window and read from the Bible and rejoiced loudly that 'now her holy son is in heaven.'"  In this way the image of a "totalitarian sect" and assemblage of superstitions and villanies is created for an enormous religious movement that numbers in Russia alone no fewer than 150,000 adherents.

Meanwhile the Jehovah's Witnesses have to worry about something else. This very rapidly growing Christian church is sticking in the Moscow patriarchate's craw.  Four times a criminal  case has been presented by the procuracy of the northern region of Moscow (where the Moscow congregation is registered) and each time it has been dismissed for lack of evidence of a crime, the latest on 13 April 1998, although it also was dismissed (because Jehovah's Witnesses do not commit crimes!), but with this conclusion:  "In assessing the materials of the case, the inquest concludes that the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses violates by its activity  international laws on human rights and the Russian laws "On freedom of religious confession," "On education," and others, and infringes on the provisions of the constitution of RF, although there are no specific incidents of commission of crimes by members of this organization, so that it is not possible to hold them accountable for specific crimes."  What are these "violations of international laws" by Jehovah's Witnesses raised  by the investigator E.A. Solomatina, since  the European court has acted in defense of this religious community three times, twice in Greece and once in Bulgaria, all of which are Orthodox states? Meanwhile, no matter how many criminal investigations of the Witnesses are dismissed, the religious sentinals and their highly placed protectors are continuing the pressure on the law enforcement agencies. Like the head of the department for religious cases of the procuracy general, N.F. Zhabin, was "instructed." On 20 April of this year the procurator of the northern district, A.V. Viktoriv, sent to the Golovin court of Moscow a presentation for the liquidation of the religious organization of "Jehovah's Witnesses" and prohibition of its activity in accordance with article 14 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."  The trial is scheduled for the end of September. With what are the Witnesses officially charged, other than the "barman Kuznetsov"? First, "incitement of religious discord."  In view of the patriarchate's anathems this accusation sounds rather good. It seems that (we quote the procurator's presentation) "in religious literature which believers are required to study, there are statements asserting that the only true religious is 'Jehovah's Witnesses," while the others are false and fated to  inescapable destruction."  These statements actually exist, but not only in the Witnesses' literature. Where do they not exist? In Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism? In such a case doesn't one begin with Jews and their idea of "chosen people," counterposing themselves to the other "goyim"? Then comes the accusations of "totalitarian sects" that "compel the disruption of the family." In the opinion of the procuracy,  this is reflected in the requirement of "renunciation of all personal ties of the individual outside the boundaries of the organization," including such measures as those for which the organization would impose sanctions, like "collective and personal holidays (birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, etc)". The bases are ancestral and sacred:  nosh, drink vodka, observe funerals, eat snacks. This defines normal (i.e. traditional) religion and only misanthropic sects leave the dead to bury their dead. The role of defense of the family has been assumed especially by the Committee for Salvation of Youth, a prominent antireligious organization that is ready to ban Jehovah's Witnesses on demand. In July of this year, a Moscow regional court confirmed a decision of the Liuberets city court by which Judge Sherstniakova removed from his mother, Natalia Nikishina, the seven-year-old child merely because in the "spring of 1997, Nikishina joined the religious organization of 'Jehovah's Witnesses.'" The boy was turned over to his father. The "saviors of youth" played a lead role in this judicial farce, introducing their witness, the professional antisectarian babushka Riabinkina, who itinerates from court to court. The babushka testified (and the judge accepted without question) that Jehovah's Witnesses engage in the "destruction o tefamily and state" and that "the expectation of the imagined end of the world damages psychological health." The Orthodox end of the world, by contrast, is not imagined and will not happen before the patriarchates and metropolias have acquired wealth and power. The Liuberets court "found" also that the "defendant took the child to the religious organization of 'Jehovah's Witnesses," and influenced his world view, psyche, and the formation of idealistic views unlike those accepted in our state and society." Which views are accepted in  our state?  In which decade are we living? In which century?!  All accusations against new religious movements (although to consider the Witnesses, who have more than a century-long history, a new religion is qualified) of "destruction of the family" are based on hostility to religion as such.  Long ago Buddha spoke of "freedom from the remnants of one's home" and called domestic life "the hearth of impurity." The state's protection of the family should be expressed not in the natural family ties and not in the creation in children and parents of "patriotic" and such values, but in the social promotion of families, the very things that the state is destroying, both economically and by such cases as here. How many thousands of families will the state devastate spiritually if, after applying the unjust law of 1997, the court manages to prohibit Jehovah's Witnesses? Abandoned, superfluous, uncomprehending and misunderstood in the economic and legal chaos of this country, people need support, fraternal aid, and meaning for their existence. A person is not afraid when his fellow believer is a "herald of the Kingdom," as the Jehovah's Witnesses call themselves.

In the same presentation the prosecutor charges against the  Witnesses that "the society tries to replace the real family for the member." What's wrong with this? How many people have no family, have nobody, other than their fellow believers.  The state requires a mass of isolated slaves who are easily  impressed, obedient, standing at attention, ratting on their neighbor to the police precinct or parish. Jehovah's Witnesses can survive without the state in this sense. Therefore it is persecuting them again.

from HISTORY OF WITNESSES IN RUSSIA

. . . In Russia, where individual adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement and a few small congregations existed from the end of the last century, the active expansion of this movement began after the occupation by the Soviet Union of the eastern regions of Poland and Romania, or, as this action was officially designated in soviet historiography, the "unification of western Ukraine, western Belorussia, and Bessarabia with the USSR." Stalin persecuted the Witnesses for the same reasons that Hitler did. The genius of all times and nations [Stalin] did not permit any dissident thinking or belief and he dealt with the Witnesses just as soon as the armed opposition of the Polish national army and the Ukrainian army of Stepan Bendera had been suppressed. The first mass exile of Jehovah's Witnesses from the western regions of Ukrain was conducted by NKVD in 1946. At that time thousands of Witnesses were exiled to diverse regions of Russia, mainly in Siberia, in a deliberate ideological purge. Stalin and his satraps obviously reckoned that thousands of kilometers from the main population points, in conditions of isolation, harsh climate, and difficult living circumstances this religious movement would wither away by itself. To accelerate this process the most active Witnesses were sentenced to 25-year terms in concentration camps on the notorious 58th article (part 10), which for "antisoviet propaganda and agitation...in cases associated with exploitation of the religious prejudices of the masses" imposed from three years of confinement up to the "supreme measure of social protection--execution." The next mass "antisectarian" action was conducted in 1951, when 7,000 Jehovah's Witnesses from western Ukraine, Belorussia, Bessarabia, Moldavia, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan, the Far East and Kamchatka.  But the result of the repression was counterproductive. Even under conditions of the most horrible dictatorship, the belief system of the Jehovah's Witnesses was spread across the country.

When in 1956 700 Witnesses were liberated from the camps, they found tens of thousands of fellow believers in society. Liberation from the camps did not mean that the struggle with religions had ceased in the Soviet Union. After a brief interlude, persecutions again were intensified, since, according to Khrushchev, "the current generation of soviet people" must live under communism. In the communist future, as the classics of Marxism-Leninism had frequently stated, the religious narcotic would be unnecessary. A new wave of the struggle against religions as a whole and with "sectarians," with the Jehovah's Witnesses, in particular, surged. The Witnesses were charged with the foreign origin of their religion. They were accused of arousing war against the peaceloving and democratic peoples. They were blamed for enervating the revolutionary energies of the laboring people and harming society by removing  believers from the collective and making them unsocial and religious egoists. The professional atheists wrote:  "The sectarians are required to live an isolated form of life, not to read any books other than religious ones, not to go to movies, to cover their ears when the radio is on, so that nothing scientific would enter their heads. In isolated cases they have managed to attract unstable youths into the sect. The leaders of the sect forbid them to attend dances or to engage in physical exercises or to become acquainted with nonbelieving youth or to engage in public work." The false propaganda was accompanied by measures of repression which had become habitual on the part of the state.  Under the new ideological motto--"they are punished not for ideas but for actions"--there began the practice of sending young Jehovah's Witnesses to prison and concentration camps for refusal of military service.  The repressions continued even after the removal of Khrushchev from power. Under Brezhnev there arose the practice of criminal persecution of Witnesses "for antisoviet agitation and propaganda." It seemed that religious freedom for the Witnesses in this country was nonexistant and that their life was inseparable from prison, camps, administrative punishments, media baiting, and public disgrace. However in 1991, on the wave of change, the Jehovah's Witnesses were recognized and registered by the state as a legal religious organization. Believers who were subject to repression were rehabilitated. Hundreds acquired the status of victims of political repression and the corresponding honor; the state admitted the illegality and crime of the former persecutions.

But the mirage of freedom of conscience soon dissipated. In September 1997 the united forces of the president, duma, Federation Council, and government adopted the discriminatory law that was deceptively titled "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations," which crudely violated the Russian constitution and international legal acts. The Moscow patriarchate dictated this law, which was notorious for its years-long cooperation with the repressive agencies of the former USSR. The struggle with "sectarianism" (as also with "schism," that is with Orthodox who were not subordinate to the official church "ministry") always--under both the tsarist and soviet empires--was the favorite device of the Russian Orthodox church. Naturally, no democracy could force the patriarchate to be reconciled with the free market in religious services. Driven by a desire to achieve monopoly control over the privatization of the souls and purses of Russians, the patriarchate, long before the adoption of the discriminatory law, mounted a campaign of slander against other religions and principally against the numerous Jehovah's Witnesses. Both democratic, communist, "objective", and "independent" mass media declared the Witnesses to be a "totalitarian sect,"  a "destructive religious organization, " and a "psychocult." The negative image of the Witnesses led the average uninformed Russian to consent to the renewal of their judicial persecution. The court's sentences revived the sinister word "sectarian."  (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Ekspres khronika

 PRESS RELEASE
Moscow Office
Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.
 

For immediate release

September 24, 1998
 

MOSCOW. On September 23, 1998, the Moscow branch of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights held a press conference about the upcoming prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow.  On September 29, 1998, a state prosecutor will be asking the court to ban all religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow.  There are about 10,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow and 250,000 associated throughout Russia.

 The conference first heard from Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group.  She told the audience that previously an anti-cult group had tried to initiate a criminal prosecution.  The two-year investigation that followed was closed on four consecutive occasions by separate investigators due to the "lack of any evidence of crimes being committed by members of the organization."  The third investigator concluded that Jehovah's Witnesses' activities were completely protected by the Russian constitution.

Vasiliy Kalin, representative of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, explained that Jehovah's Witnesses have asked to meet with responsible officials regarding this prosecution and discuss their concerns.  To date there has been no response.  He added that Jehovah's Witnesses fear a return to the Soviet years of persecution, where many, like his own family, were deported to Siberia and spent time in Russia's prisons solely because of their faith.

Professor Yuriy A. Rosenbaum, Doctor of Science at the Institute of State and Law at the Russian Academy of Sciences severely criticized the prosecution, adding that such state actions only stir up religious animosity and should be stopped.

John M. Burns, a Canadian lawyer and specialist in human rights, stated that Jehovah's Witnesses are free to practice their religion in more than 200 lands, including all European countries.  He referred to seven judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which have recognized Jehovah's Witnesses as a known religion meriting protection by the European Convention on Human Rights.  He noted that the European court and the Supreme Courts of Canada, the United States, India, and Australia have found that similar attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses were motivated by religious intolerance.
 

For additional information, please contact:
Yaroslav Sivulskii:  (812) 116-60-56 [cell phone]
Fax:  (095) 254-60-39
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES WILL BE GIVING A WITNESS IN COURT
by Marina Latysheva
Segodnia, 24 September 1998

It's turning out to be difficult to convict a "totalitarian sect"

In a few days a lawsuit seeking the ban of the religious organization "Jehovah's Witnesses" in the capital will be heard in the Golovinskiy Intermunicipal Court of Moscow.  A criminal case was opened against the Witnesses' Moscow congregation by the prosecutor of the Northern Administrative Circuit (NAC) in 1996 on the complaint of the "Committee for Saving Youth from Totalitarian Sects".  Over a period of two years, the prosecutor's office closed the case four times because "no evidence of crimes being committed by members of the organization was discovered."  Now the circuit prosecutor has filed a lawsuit to ban the organization with the city prosecutor's office.  This is the first attempt to apply article 14 of the law "On the Freedom of Conscience", which states that a religious organization may be banned if it "infringes on the personality, rights, and freedoms of the citizenry."

 The "Committee for Saving Youth", which is made up of parents and relatives of people who have joined sects, accuse the organization of illegal activity, in particular, that their refusal of blood transfusions (one of their doctrines) has lead to the death of many people.  For example, in 1996, Ms. Molchanova, one of the Witnesses, died in City Hospital no. 40.  However, the law does not prohibit citizens from refusing medical assistance, and thus such facts cannot serve as proof of a religious organization's guilt.  Therefore, the circuit prosecutor's office decided to resolve the case on a higher level, relying on the recently adopted (and not yet applied in Russian judicial practice) law "On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations."

 The law is considered to be rather controversial.  Thus, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, believes that the application of article 14 of the law in this case marks a revival of political persecution in Russia.  It will be difficult to convict the "Witnesses" by using this law, especially since lawyers from Canada that believe that the freedom of religion is being violated in Russia have arrived for the trial.

 While the scandal reaches an international level, the prosecutor's office has no other accusations against the Witnesses.  The investigators could have, for example, looked into Jehovah's Witnesses' adherence to tax laws.  It is well known that the work of this organization abroad has been linked with scandals related to financial speculation.  At least that's what the Missionary Department of the Moscow patriarchate claims.  Whether the NAC prosecutor's office has made any such attempts is unknown, since they refused to answer questions from Segodnia's reporter. (translation courtesy of Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, Moscow)

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES THREATENED WITH BEING BANNED FROM MOSCOW

HRWF (15.09.1998) - On September 29, 1998, the prosecutor's office of the Northern Administrative  Circuit of the city of Moscow will continue the proceedings against the Moscow Congregation of  Jehovah's Witnesses initiated  by an anticult group in 1996 that wants them to be banned.

On June 20, 1996, the Savyolov Interregional prosecutor's office of Moscow began to investigate the  allegations of a Moscow anti-cult group, the Committee to Save Youth from Pseudo-religions. They alleged that Jehovah's Witnesses were guilty of criminal acts. The investigation lasted two years. There were four different investigators. No investigator found any evidence of criminal activity. The  third investigator, M. V. Andreyeva, concluded that religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses is protected by the Russian Constitution. The criminal investigation concluded on April 13, 1998, on the basis of Article 5, Item 2 of the Russian criminal procedural code. According to the Practical  Academic Commentary to the RSFSR Criminal Procedural Code (1995) [pg. 290, 291] a criminal case enclosed on these grounds always means complete rehabilitation of the accused, to which no one has the right to make claims of a legal or moral nature.

On April 20, 1998, the same prosecutor filed the civil complaint, relying on the same allegations and statements as field in the criminal complaint. The civil complaint now relies on Article 14 of Russia's recently enacted law "On the freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations".

On motion by defense counsel, the Golovinskiy court dismissed the civil complaint on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction and that it should be heard by the Moscow City Court. The prosecutor appealed to the Moscow City Court, which ordered that the case be returned to the Golovinskiy court for a hearing on its merits.

Judge Prokhorycheva refused to entertain arguments by defense counsel that the civil prosecution was a violation of the guarantees of freedom of religion and association, as well as the Russian constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. She ordered that the hearing would proceed on September 29, 1998. The prosecutor will call 27 witnesses and relies on the same allegations and statements submitted in the criminal proceeding.

Interviewed by "Human Rights Without Frontiers", A.Y. Leontyev, the defense lawyer of the Jehovah's Witnesses said, "I will show that this court lacks jurisdiction to make the order requested.  It will rely upon Article 5, Item 2, and Article 208 of the Russian criminal procedural code. It will  further rely upon guarantees of freedom of religion, association, and expression, as set out in the Russian Constitution (Articles 28-30), and the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 8-11, 14).

"If the hearing proceeds on the merits, I am prepared to prove that the religious practices and teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses promote tolerance, love and respect for family, and individual human freedom and dignity. I will also prove that Jehovah's Witnesses' choice of alternatives to blood transfusions is protected by Russian law and conforms to good medical practice".

A.Y. Leontyev also said this attack was being promoted by religious intolerance, supported  by the Moscow Patriarchy (Russian Orthodox Church), and endangered the freedoms of expression, association, and religion of all Russian citizens.

Source: Compass Direct
(courtesy of Ray Prigodich)

(posted 25 September 1998)


Foreign concern about bookburning

OPEN LETTER FROM ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS OF FRANCE

To: His Supreme Holiness Alexis, patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus

Your Holiness! Various evidence has reached us in great quantity through the Russian and international press which has informed us about the events that occurred in Ekaterunburg on 5 May of this year. We cannot help but express the concern and feeling of great grief which have taken hold of us as we have learned that the bishop of that city, Master Nikon, ordered the burning of books of the late fathers N. Afanasiev, A. Men, J. Meyendorff, and A. Schmemann and that he premanently banned Fr Oleg Vokhmianin, who in conscience was not about to condemn the writings of these Orthodox theologians.

The auto-da-fe is an act of enormous symbolic significance, recalling the dark past: such an act cast a dark shadow upon the image of the Russian church and of all Orthodox in the world. Fathers Afanasiev, Meyendorff and Schmemann were people of supreme spirituality, whose memory is alive in France to the present day. Not only did they never place the dogmas of the Orthodox faith under question but, on the contrary, through their learned works that are recognized throughout the world they continually promoted a better understanding of genuine Orthodox tradition, constantly returning to its vital apostolic and patristic sources. Father Alexander Men was the most important figure of the contemporary Russian church; his work and his live have facilitated the return of our faith to its evangelical roots. Being well acquainted with their works, we know clearly that it is impossible to accuse any one of these writers of heresy.

Under such circumstances, the decision of Master Nikon seems to us to be incomprehensible and unjustified. We are very concerned for the fate of Fr Oleg Vokhmianin, who merely submitted to the dictates of his conscience in full agreement with the Orthodox faith. We humbly ask your holiness to request that the Holy Synod review the case of the unjustly banned priest and officially condemn the Ekaterinburg auto-da-fe.

Asking your arch-pastoral blessing and holy prayers, we remain sincerely submissive.

(335 signatures of priests and laity)

27 June 1998

(tr. by PDS)

Russian text courtesy of Andrei Platonov

EKATERINBURG AUTO-DA-FE AND "PROFESSOR" DVORKIN
by Dmitry Pospielovsky
Russkaia mysl, 3-9 September 1998

In the tenth issue of the pseudo-Orthodox newssheet "Radonezh" there appeared an interview of the notorious Alexander Dvorkin, formally with regard to the scandalous public burning in Ekaterinburg ordered by the local bishop Nikon of books by father Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff and Alexander Men and the imposition by the same bishop of a open-ended punishment upon a local priest who refused to give an affidavit that he would never cite these writers.

Dvorkin treated this incident as something that was simply a give to the "Kochetkovites."

"The Orthodox church needs renovation; not renovationism, but renovation."
Metropolitan Kikodim Rotov

"Our shame is that we all are bolsheviks."
Yury Kuznetsov, Moscow physicist

The main subject of the interview--the shameful burning of books by these writers by the idiotic Ekaterinburg bishop, for which there should at least be punishment by a council--is treated by Dvorkin as some insignificant event that is unfortunate only because "this is a royal gift. . .to Kochetkov and to all the neo-renovationist camp," and then he switches over completely to insults against Fr Georgy and the assurance that he and his liturgical experience are alien to Schmemann and Meyendorff, whom he calls ecclesiastical conservatives, craftily exploiting the term "conservatism."

The point is that the conservatism of Schmemann and Meyendorff have nothing in common with the conservatism of the present establishment of RPTs and of Dvorkin who has joined it. I say "joined" because Dvorkin dealt directly with the above-mentioned fathers as a student at St. Vladimir's. Their conservatism corresponds to the aphorism of Fr George Florovsky: "Forward to the fathers of the church!" Both considered that genuine Orthodox tradition had been distorted in Russia, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the standard of genuine conservatism for them was the church of the first centuries of Christianity and of the ecumenical councils. This was the kind of conservatives who were participants in the movement of church renovation, the so-called "Group of 32 Petersburg priests" of 1905-1907, who also called themselves a "movement of church renovation," with their fervent call for the depoliticization of the church and the restoration of conciliarity at all levels and the awakening of the church as a central and active moral compass for society. One need only compare the program of the "32" with the recommendations of the leading bishops, such as the future patriarchs Tikhon and Sergius, Metropolitan Antony Vadkovsky of St. Petersburg, and others, in their responses to the survey of the synod regarding necessary changes in the church and with the decisions of the council of 1917-1918 to be convinced how much they had in common and how strikingly they all were distinguished both from the prerevolutionary structure and spirit of the church and from the current Moscow patriarchate with its arbitrary bolshevik suppression of the creatively gifted and evangelistically successful priests.

Incidentally, Fr Alexander used to say: "We are conservatives, since we are trying to restore genuine Orthodox tradition, which was shredded by the non-Orthodox traditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries introduced to us by the West and the emigre church is the church revolutionaries with their idealization of the Orthodoxy of the synodal period and their division of the church along land boundaries; there cannot be a church abroad which is isolated from the ecumenical church." (Besides, Fr John wrote back in the seventies that the emigre church had transformed itself into a sect or at best a schism by forbidding liturgical communion with other Orthodox churches.)

Both Fr Alexander Schmemann and Fr John were grieved because the significant ideas of renovation of the church of the beginning of the century were corrupted by the dirty hands of the renovationists of the 1920s. Fr Alexander would have signed with both hands the above-cited statement of Metropolitan Nikodim. When at the beginning of the eighties he clashed closely with the young reactionary clergy of the Moscow patriarchate, then he really was abashed: "You know these are some kind of ecclesiastical bolsheviks," he said to me with fear for the future of the Russian church. Fr Alexander called the emigre churchmen ecclesiastical bolsheviks because of their internal authoritarianism and the absence of freedom and tolerance, that is, because they were so much akin to the contemporary Moscow patriarchate whom they condemned.

Schmemann dreamed of the return to the time of the early church when just about every diocese had its own liturgical book; he dreamed of a regurn to liturgical creativity. Thanks to him a eucharistic renewal began in the Orthodox church in America. He insisted on the independence of the sacraments of communion and confession from one another and upon weekly communion, leaving the frequency of confession to the conscience of the believer. Schmemann taught that in the parish community there could not be private services: he integrated baptisms and weddings into the liturgy. All of this, as we know, became a part of the liturgical practice of Fr Georgy's community. But in the context of the practice of the contemporary RPTs this sounded like direct revolution! If this church has priests ministering in it without being punished like Shargunov, who called the Vestnik of the RKhD a satanic and anti-Orthodox journal, whose active coeditors and writers included Schmemann and Meyendorff along with the current editor Nikita Struve, whom Shargunov's journal called antichrist, then the burning in Ekaterinburg appears as the logical development of the Shargunov case and not an chance occurance, as Dvorkin has tried to represent it; moreover precendent for it was created by the awful dictator of the Moscow diocese Archbishop Arseny who according to New Times two years back already had burned together with the former emigre churchman Steniaev books by Vladimir Soloviev, Fr Sergei Bulgakov (Schmemann's teacher) and Fr Pavel Florensky.

Schmemann did not know Fr Georgy Kochetkov since he died in 1983. But a student of Fr Alexander Schmemann, the professor of liturgical theology of St. Vladimir's, Paul Meyendorff, noted when he became acquainted with his pastoral practice that Kochetkov was more Schmemann than Schmemann himself; What Fr Alexander had advanced as an hypothesis regarding future direction, Fr Georgy put into practice. A younger colleague of Schmemann, professor archpriest John Brek said to this writer that Schmemann's vision of a future renovated church was so radical by comparison with current church practice that even he himself refrained from carrying out much of which he dreamed. So you see, it is not possible to squeeze Schmemann in any way into the concept of conservatism existing in RPTs.

Fr John Meyendorff also never was able to become acquainted with the experience of Fr Georgy, but in conversation with me he said that this experience should be studied and that changes in the liturgy were necessary, but they should be approached very cautiously. Besides Moscow church "conservatives" lied to him that Fr Georgy was a former Baptists and was supposedly trying to impose Baptist ideas. As regards the review by Fr John in no. 141 of Vestnik of the article by Kochetkov (who still was a layman writing under the pseudonym Bogdanov), "Orthodox and Baptist clergy" Dvorkin here gloats in vain. Fr John gave a very positive review of his analysis of the evolution of the Baptists, but he differed decisively with some aspects of the ecclesiology of "Bogdanov," attributing his mistakes and extremism to the youth and insufficient knowledge of the writer. In the last years of his life Fr John, I repeat, was interesting in Fr Georgy's experiences and treated him very seriously and in every case as an Orthodox Christian he never indulged in such slander (worthy only of bolshevik atheists) as to call the "Agape" prayer services of the Kochetkovite communities "parties."

Mr. Dvorkin also accuses Fr Georgy Kochetkov of an absence of modesty and of arrogance. One could pose a counter question to him: why is this learned man who loudly proclaims himself a master of theology and doctor of philosophy so modestly silent about the fate of his theses? His subjects were interesting; his master's was about Patriarch Sergius and his doctor's was about the religiosity of Ivan the Terrible. As a historian I impatiently awaited their publication. But Fr John disappointed me by saing that both these works would not see publication, even partial: "It's very weak work and not worthy of a doctorate. It was simply out of pity for the kid that I approved it with heartache," Fr John said to me.

Fr John was an exceptionally kind and tender man. List Fr Alexander Schmemann, he deeply respected human freedom and divergent thought. I rarely saw him upset. One of these rare occasions was at his last trip to Russia aproximately a month before his death, when he served in the church of St. Nicholas in Kuznets (Vishniakovsky Lane). He was displeased with the liturgy as too drawn-out and unthoughtful; from conversation with the clergy over lunch in the church hall (I also was there) Fr John became simply horrified; because Fr. Valentin Asmus approved the boshevik putschists of 1991 while the other priests remained in sympathetic silence or supported him. "They are all bolsheviks there" Fr John said in amazement.

To be sure, Fr Alexander and Fr John loved the Church Slavonic language; after all they grew up with its texts in the Paris Russian church environment (true, as a Byzantinist Fr John really preferred Greek). Quite another matter are the contemporary Russian generations who are completely unacquainted with slavonic and, as the late martyr for the faith, Fudel, wrote: for the contemporary soviet person the slavonic liturgy is no more comprehensible than the Latin. I am sure that in the conditions of contemporary Russia Fr Alexander would have served in the Russian language for, as he suggested to each pastor, he was first of all a missionary and mission can be successful only if it is conducted in a generally understood and generally used local tongue. All Russian missionaries from Stefen of Perm to Innokenty of Alaska are testimony to this. In American fathers Alexander and John switched not only to the English language but also to the Grigorian calendar, although in his heart Fr Alexander was attached to the Julian. I recall how, when he went to his cottage in Canada, where the services were on the Julian calendar, Fr Alexander upon his arrival happily served Transfiguration and the blessing of the waters of the local lake even though he has already served the Transfiguration liturgy thirteen days before in the church of the St. Vladimir's academy. To my question about this he said that he was prepared to serve any Orthodox feast at any time of the year; dates are purely relative; only the content, the essence, is constant. Proceeding from this he warned against absolutization of rituals and forms of the liturgy. Even the liturgy of the Eucharist could be transformed into pagan incantations if it is approached as an end in itself and not as a means for serving God. This was what Fr Alexander's conservatism was like.

There was another "mortal sin" condemned by the theologian priests: they were ecumenists. They certainly did not worship the World Council of Churches, which they condemned, like all of us, for its political nature and the grovelling of its leaders before the soviet regime, for its refusal to condemn the persecution of believers in communist countries, and for the financing of actual terrorists in the third world. Ecumenism for them consisted in fraternal relations with non-Orthodox Christians with whom they had close contact. Fr Alexander spoke of the split between Catholicism and Orthodoxy as a global tragedy, comparing the schismatic state to a split-open apple where neither half has the totality of the whole apple.

Indeed, with such conservativism, the fates of both priests would at least be the same as that of Fr Georgy Kochetkov, if they were serving in the contemporary RPTs. It is only paradoxical that the Most Holy Patriarch Alexis II has retained his honorary doctorate from St. Vladimir's academy and remained one of its trustees while at the same time the clergy under his jurisdiction are burning the books of the professors of this academy.

London, Ontario, Canada

(tr by PDS)

Russian text courtesy of Andrei Platonov

(posted 19 September 1998)


Coprighted material. For private use only.

If material is quoted, please give credit to the publication from which it came. It is not necessary to credit this Web page.