NEWS ABOUT RELIGION IN RUSSIA

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Patriarch tries to give leadership in crisis

MEETING OF POLITICIANS. PATRIARCH ASSEMBLES POLITICIANS
Kommersant Daily, 10 October 1998

Everybody spoke about their own matters

Yesterday Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus made his contribution to the way out of the crisis. On his initiative, politicians, officials, and cultural leaders gathered in the Saint Daniel's monastery. The event was called a "Conciliar meeting: Russia, the path to salvation." However not all those invited responded to Alexis' summons. And each person who attended pursued private goals. Details by Roman Kostikov.

In the month and a half of crisis in Russia all public politicians have managed to express themselves with regard to the salvation of the country. Yesterday Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus formulated his position. In order to attract attention to his role as a peacemaker, the patriarch, as usual, called various political forces to a dialogue. In the Saint Daniel's monastery almost all branches of the government gathered on Alexis' invitation: the government was represented on Primakov's authority by the first vice premier, Vadim Gustov, the duma by Gennady Seleznev, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Gennady Ziuganov, Sergei Baburin, and other deputies of the left, governors by Yury Luzhkov, Aman Tuleev, and Vladimir Yakovlev (Egor Stroev was not able to make it).   The chief of the administration for internal affairs, Andrei Loginov, represented the administration of the president, and numerous military officers represented the general staff, while Nikita Mikhalkov and Ekaterina Vasileva represented culture.
 

From the very beginning the participants introduced a certain confusion into the precise organization of the gathering--they all sat not at the places where there name tags were but wherever they wished. Nikita Mikhalkov stationed himself between Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Gennady Ziuganov sat across the table, beside Aman Tuleev.

"The church cannot remain a nonparticipant in what happens in the country," the patriarch informed the gathering for starters.  "It is necessary to determine whether it is necessary--and if necessary, how--to transform the system of state structure in order to get a greater representation of the interests and aspirations of various strata of society in the working out of fateful decisions." How to guarantee this representation the patriarch did not say, offering the participants the opportunity to express themselves.  Everyone responded willingly.

The first speech was made by Seleznev. It is not difficult to guess that his recipe for guaranteeing greater representation of interests in the adoption of decisions was to expand substantially the authority of the State Duma and the prime minister. In response, Gustov assured everyone that the government knows the state of affairs in the country and it will correct the situation by all means. He even proposed thinking about concluding a kind of "Monclo pact" (the Spanish version  of an agreement on social accord adopted after the death of Franco that permitted the burial of Francoism and the transition to democracy). Luzhkov (incidentally, only he and Zhirinovsky spoke without notes), pounding his fist on the table, began castigating the unsuccessful privitazation and informed the participants that "today an uprising is forming," that the main problem of the current authorities was selling off the country, that he had worked out a draft of a law for protection of the Russian language and Russian culture, and that he calls for support of the government absolutely independent of the authorities.  Gennady Ziuganov, citing horrifying statistics about the fall of society, recalled that Russia is a conciliar country and thus it is necessary to call a council and with its help to change the constitution (restricting the authority of the president, of course). Vladimir Zhbirinovsky spoke on his hobbyhorse--the defense of the Orthodox Serbs. In order to defend them, the leader of LDPR proposed threatening the West with bomb attacks. Nikita Mikhalkov, categorically opposing the resignation of the president, complained that everyone is calling for conversations, but nobody wants to be the first to agree.  The famous film director called all the speeches of preceding speakers "empty evasions."

Actually, all spoke about their own interests and did not want to listen to the others and thereform it was impossible even to understand what exactly divides the branches of the government.  (tr. by PDS)

ANTI-CRISIS DINNER AT PATRIARCH ALEXIY'S
Izvestiia, 10 October 1998

Summary (from Russia Today, Press Review)

On Friday, the Russian Orthodox Church and the International Russian People's Council brought together all the leading politicians of Russia -- with the exception of the president and the prime minister -- at Saint Daniil Cathedral in Moscow.

Regardless of their political or economic orientation, the politicians agreed Russia is on a precipice, where "either society will follow the road to stabilization in the economy, and in the social and spiritual spheres, or the state will collapse."

State and church leaders scared one another by discussing the possibility of total collapse and called for an end to controversy and for agreement in society. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov even suggested that everyone rally around Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's government to help it work out an anti-crisis program.

The Orthodox Church has demonstrated that it is ready to cooperate with state institutions, the daily wrote. "Priests know quite well that only a strong state can strengthen the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church in the world," the daily noted.

And the state authorities cannot afford to ignore the church any longer, the daily added, because "democratic reforms" have brought the country to bankruptcy, and Communists cannot persuade society that their ideology is viable. State leaders are seeking a spiritual foundation that will enable people to come together.

The daily recalled that the last time the patriarch attempted to calm the public was on the eve of the riot of October 1993. However, its appeal not to take up arms was not heard then.

         1998 European Internet Network Inc.

 PATRIARCH HOSTS DISCUSSION OF CRISIS

MOSCOW, Oct. 09, 1998 -- (Reuters) Patriarch Alexiy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, was due to host a meeting of Russian political and church leaders on Friday in a bid to stimulate a dialogue between different forces over Russia's economic crisis.

"All Russian senior figures are expected. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov may attend and all leaders of parliamentary political groups will certainly be there," said a church spokesman.

However the Kremlin said President Boris Yeltsin had no plans to attend the meeting, and Primakov's press office said it had no information on his plans regarding the meeting.

Communist parliamentary speaker Gennady Seleznyov will attend, his office said.

A church press release said leading entrepreneurs, regional leaders, military commanders and scientists would also join the meeting at the patriarch's Moscow residence, the Svyato-Danilov monastery.

"The aim of the meeting is to initiate a dialogue of leading political and social forces, analyze the current situation... in order to achieve a common view and concrete recommendations on how to overcome the crisis in the economy and politics, to save Russia from the danger of a new confrontation," it said.

The Russian Orthodox Church is becoming increasingly influential in Russia's post-Soviet political life, and even the theoretically atheistic Communist Party has forged ties with religious forces.

The church's latest initiative comes at a time of deep economic crisis and growing social and political tension.

The leftist opposition is pressing for Yeltsin to resign and has initiated a complex impeachment process against him. On Wednesday more than a million Russians joined union-led protests against plunging living standards and Yeltsin's seven-year rule.

                (c) 1998 Reuters
 

RUSSIAN CHURCH HOLDS TOP-LEVEL MEETING TO TRY TO SOLVE CRISIS
by Andrei Zolotov
Ecumenical News International
ENI News Service / 14 October 1998

Moscow, 14 October (ENI)--The Russian Orthodox Church does not wish to impose political "prescriptions" on the government, but cannot ignore the nation's political and economic crisis, the church's leader, Patriarch Alexei II, has told a high-level meeting of Russian politicians and religious leaders.

The meeting, called by the church to discuss a way to end the crisis and chaired by Patriarch Alexei, was held on 9 October  in the main hall of the patriarch's official residence in St Daniel's Monastery, Moscow. The meeting was convened under the title, "Russia: The Path to Salvation".

This gathering was called a "Sobor meeting" as in times of crisis during the Tsarist era, Sobors were councils made up of members of the imperial family, bishops, aristocrats and representatives of property owners.

This time, however, those present were the country's leading politicians, from across the political spectrum, as well as military and police chiefs, leading figures from the arts, and officials representing Russia's other main religions - Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Among those present were the speaker of the Duma (the lower house of Russia's parliament), Gennady Seleznyov; the federation's first deputy prime minister, Vadim Gustov; the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov; President Yeltsin's senior aide, Andrei Loginov; the chairman of the Constitutional Court, Marat Baglai; the heads of powerful factions in the Duma - Gennady Zyuganov (communist) and Vladimir Zhirinovsky (nationalist), and former prime ministers Nikolai Ryzhkov and Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Opening the meeting, Patriarch Alexei said that millions of Russians were appealing to the church to help them cope with their problems, caused in many cases by the economic crisis which has seen the value of the rouble fall dramatically and which has caused panic in Russia.

The meeting took place two days after tens of millions of Russians across the country went on strike and took part in rallies demanding President Boris Yeltsin's resignation and the payment of their salaries. Some workers have not been paid for a year or more. The patriarch told the participants at the meeting to "find some common platform, some common direction of development which should allow us  to work together for the sake of the rebirth of the fatherland, for the good of everybody living in it". He was apparently referring to divisions in the Duma and in the Kremlin caused, in part, by President Yeltsin's weakened health and an increasing power struggle in Russia. According to commentators, the new prime minister, Yevgeni Primakov, has so far been unable to put together a comprehensive plan to deal with the crisis.

The patriarch justified the church's action in calling the meeting by saying the church was fulfilling its mission of peacemaker in a society with deep political divisions.

"Russia's existence as an independent state is under question," Seleznyov told the gathering, repeating previous demands for a radical change in economic policies and amendments to the Russian Constitution, which would take powers away from the presidency. Other speakers suggested that a "constitutional assembly" should be given the task of drafting a fundamentally new constitution.

Trade union leader Mikhail Shmakov said that the forum convened by the Russian Orthodox Church could help stimulate Russia to develop a national reconciliation pact.

But a large part of the meeting was taken up with the spiritual dimension of the present crisis and the need for dialogue and reconciliation between the various political forces.

"We are reaping the fruits of godlessness," said an Oscar-winning film director, Nikita Mikhalkov, who is seen as a potential candidate for Russia's presidency. Only by educating the young in the spirit of religion and culture could Russia solve its problems, he said.

"We'll see if any results come out of this, but the very fact that there is a dialogue without excessive politicisation, is positive," Shmakov told ENI after the meeting. "It would not be possible in the Duma or at a rally."

Officials at the church's department of external relations and representatives of the participants had spent three weeks before the meeting drafting various versions of a final document. But when the meeting ended, the department's head, Metropolitan Kirill, proposed only a concise "statement" saying that, despite their vast differences of opinion, participants were ready to begin together the search for a common "anti-crisis" policy. To help this process, a special "working commission" is to be set up. The document was adopted by participants without voting.

 (posted 13/15 October 1998)


Prosecutor obsessed with bringing down Witnesses

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES ON TRIAL
by Alexandra Samarina
Obshchaia gazeta, 8 October 1998

Procuracy wants to ban one of the "totalitarian sects"

On 29 September in Golovin district court of Moscow with Judge Elena Prokhorycheva presiding the first hearing of the case for prohibiting the activity of the Moscow religious society of Jehovah's Witnesses was held. The case was initiated by the procurator of the northern district of the capital, Alexander Viktorov. The next trial session is scheduled for 17 November and  representatives of the Ministry of Justice will participate in it on the basis of a petition from the Jehovists.

Adventures of Jehovists in Russia

The first "Witnesses" appeared in the country around 100 years ago. Under conditions of the complete and uncontested dominance of the Orthodox church all religious "dissidents" were divided, in the terminology of the time, into "harmful" and "especially harmful" sects.  Baptists, for example, were considered simply a harmful sect inasmuch as they did not urge their teachings upon others, but the Molokans and Jehovists, who were actively propagandizing their views at the time, became "especially harmful."

Throughout the entire soviet period Jehovah's Witnesses were subjected to persecutions equivalent to those of other dissidents. Jehovists were fined severely and sent into exile, mainly into Kazakhstan and Siberia.

Vasily Kalin describes the following:  "In 1952 they led us to the area of Irkutsk. Elections were on Sunday and the older ones in the family did not go to vote and by lunch time the administration had already come to the house to persuade them. They did not manage to persuade and my parents along with grandmother and older brother were taken away and kept in a tent; there was no prison in the village." In 1970, when Vasily's father was fined fifty rubles,  on the receipt of the savings account they wrote "for faith."

In the 1980s the persecutions abated and in 1992 the Jehovists  received the possibility of legal activity for the first time. In seven years the number of organizations in Moscow alone increased twenty times and reached 10,000 persons out of the 250,000 adherents around Russia. At the same time the influence of the Orthodox church, which traditionally has been intolerant of proselytism of other confessions on their own "native" territory, was increasing sharply.

The "most harmful" against "the goats"

It seems that these were the "spiritual and patriotic" reasons which became the basis for the creation of the image of a "harmful sect" in the official presentation of the prosecutor of the northern administrative district of Moscow, Alexander Viktorov.  The chief accusation is the incitement of religious strife:  "The literature which the believers are obliged to study contain the proposition that maintains that the only true religion is 'Jehovah's Witnesses' (the style of the document has been preserved--A.S.), while the others are declared to be false and doomed to an inescapable end." The conclusions of the prosecutor seem more than strange: one would like to know whether there is any confession whose members are not persuaded of the truth of their own religion.

"All who do not profess this religion," Mr. Viktorov continues, "are called by Jehovah's Witnesses 'the goats" or "adherents of Satan's world," which cannot but offend the sentiments of other people who do not share their doctrine."

Obviously such expressions of the Jehovists inevitably engender special hostility within families. Appropriately, the disruption of families is one of the direct accusations against the organization.

I had a conversation with Marina Zubareva, mother of a fifth-year student in the Institute of International Relations Maxim, who had become a Jehovist while he was still a school pupil.  "At first our family was horrified by the religious passions of my son. We turned wherever we could, to the priest and to the Committee for Salvation of Youth from Totalitarian Sects. Then we began to notice that our boy was changing; he stopped being rude to grandmother and he did everything around the house willingly. Now sometimes I learn from my friends about problems with other children and I think to myself:  I am lucky. He treats us in love and we respect his principles. We know that they do not observe holidays, for example, but so what? Is that such a shame? So when he has a birthday we just get together on the next day and simply drink some tea with cake and its fine with us and his religious views are not offended."

In our complex time (though, when was it simple?) every family gets by in its own way, and if Zubareva is satisfied with her son and peace in the family is not disrupted, do we have the right to condemn the parents for their tolerance and the son for belonging to an exotic religion?

Procurator is not in the dark with regard to others' families

There are, however, families where religion has become an "apple of discord." Yury Slobodeniuk, with whom I happened to become acquainted, is one of the chief witnesses for the prosecution. The story of Elena and Yury is bitter and sometimes tragic. It involves children, of whom there are four, from six to sixteen years of age. Yury accuses his wife of departing herself from Russian traditions which he defends.

At our meeting he spoke about "hypnosis" and "psychotropic influence" upon his wife, who "abandoned the children, stopped housekeeping in the apartment, and gave all her time to the sect." The conversation with him leaves a more troublesome impression. He marshals many contradictory conclusions in defense of his position. When I learned that his wife lives separately with two children, I was interested in the material support that he gives to them and I learned that the aid consists in the slim allowance from the pension of the retired soldier.  Then he declared his willingness to take the children himself. But, pray tell, on what means? Answer:  on the high salary in the company.

The conversation with Elena was full of bitterness and resentment. She has never forgiven her husband for mocking her sick son when the object of the mockery was his very helplessness. Lena is sure that her husband, who told her about the "other woman" in the spring, simply wants to take the children for a single goal, to get from her the four-room apartment. If the sect is forbidden then he will gain the real possibility of depriving Lena of her maternal rights.

I have resolved not to judge who is right and who is in the wrong in this situation. However I do  know that millions of people in the country have resolved problems of divorce and square meters without requiring the prohibition of one or another confession.

Oh, how cautious Procurator Viktorov should be so that in the pursuit of the dubious glory of being the first to shut down a sect he not become a participant in a commonplace family dissolution.

The "bloody" drama of Jehovists

Confused family interrelationship will never be understood fully by outsiders. There is, however, a certain reality which seems evident and tells against the Jehovists. This has to do with the Witnesses' refusal of blood transfusions. This has become another of the accusations against the "sectarians."  The most sensitive time is the possible death of children, whose fate is in the hands of believing parents.

But here is an interesting fact, however: among the overt opponents of blood transfusions we see Dr. Debakey, who has operated for dozens of years without using donor's blood. Incidentally, this was how the surgery on President Yeltsin's heart was done.

On 5 October in Moscow  there was a representative international congress "Alternatives to blood transfusion in surgery." This is what we were told by a medical doctor, the associate director of the Institute of Hematology of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Vladimir Gorodetsky:  "Any transfusion engenders an immune conflict and threatens complications. In case of a sharp loss of blood it is more beneficial to transfuse the patient with colloidal or salt solution. It was the Jehovists who forced physicians to look for alternatives, and they were found. . . ."

At the same time Gorodetsky acknowledges that in certain situations it is impossible to avoid transfusion of the components of blood for a patient and thus he does not fully share the position of the Witnesses in this matter, but he does not doubt the right of a patient to refuse the suggested treatment. That is, the right to choose.

As we see, the matter of transfusion of blood has not been fully decided. It is possible to resolve such a problem at the level of a district court? Without trying to justify the actions of the Jehovists,we doubt that such questions lie within the procurator's jurisdiction.

In following the logic of the indictment and demonstrating the necessity of blood transfusion for the Jehovist "objectors," the procurator must not only resolve global medical questions but also begin a trial against Professor Debakey, medical doctor Gorodetsky, and many, many others.

Behind the whole planet?

The procurator of the northern district of Moscow is not the original instigator of persecution of Jehovists. During World War II  in the province of Quebec in Canada local authorities banned the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses. Five members of the organization were taken to court, which found them innocent and forced the "head of the administration" personally to pay financial compensation to the victims. There were such trials in other countries also. The most recent was in Greece in 1993. The case was reviewed by the European Court on Human Rights and the attempts of the Greek government were found illegal.

 A councillor of the constitutional court of the Russian federation, Will Kikot, is convinced that if the Golovin court bans the activity of the Jehovah's Witnesses this will lead to a conflict with the European Court on Human Rights and then we shall still be forced to overturn the ill-fated decision. He notes the prejudice and contradictions of the present law "On freedom of conscience," which is the basis for the procurator's presentation.  "I consider the distinction in the text of the law of a 'special role' for some religions to be illegal. This contradicts the individual right of a Russian citizen to choose a personal confession of faith."

The present attempt of Procurator Viktorov to prohibit is the third of its kind. The first two fell through.  In December of last year the senior investigator of the procuracy of the same northern region of Moscow, jurist first class Maria Andreeva, issued an order terminating the criminal case and acknowledging the accusation against the Witnesses completely baseless.  As a result, Andreeva was dismissed and the case was sent for additional investigation. In April 1998 the regional investigator for especially urgent affairs, Elena Solomatina, issued another order for termination of the case. But with the extremely strange formulation, "By its activity the 'Jehovah's Witnesses' organization tramples on  provisions of the constitution of the Russian federation, although no cases of specific instances of criminal activity by members of the organization have been demonstrated. . . ."

It is hard to comprehend what investigator Solomatina had in mind. But it is obvious that the agencies of justice have problems in investigating the complex situation.

The behavior of Judge Prokhorycheva inspires the only hope for  just conduct of the case, who reviewed the initial petitions of the parties objectively. On 29 September  the corridors of the Golovin court were completely filled; 150 persons awaited their fate at the door of the overflowing room. What was their future? Would it again be the underground, fines, and exile?  (tr. by PDS)

(posted 13 October 1998)


Patriarchate's role in Witnesses case unclear

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES FIGHT LEGAL BID TO REMOVE THEM FROM RUSSIA
by Andrei Zolotov
Ecumenical News International
ENI News Service / 9 October 1998

Moscow, 9 October (ENI)--A court hearing in Moscow involving attempts to ban a religious group, the Jehovah's Witnesses, is causing deep concern to members of the organisation and to human rights advocates.

Those who are concerned about the legal action, which is based on the new Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, believe that it puts religious freedom in Russia to the test. The legislation had strong support from the Russian Orthodox Church, but was opposed by Russia's minority religions and by human rights advocates.

Although at the federal level the Russian government is applying the new law in a spirit of tolerance, in some parts of Russia local government officials have used the law to restrict or even expel small religious groups.

"The fate of each of us is decided here," said Natalia Shumkova, aged 26, who came to the Golovinsky district court in northern Moscow from the town of Elektrougli outside Moscow for the start of the hearing at the end of last month. She was one of the crowd of more than 100 Jehovah's Witnesses who filled the courtroom and overflowed into the corridors. "We think that if we win the trial, we will be able to profess our religion," Shumkova told ENI.

But the outcome of the case will not be clear for a long time. Only two hours after the hearing began on 29 September, the judge, Yelena Prokhorycheva, postponed the case  until 17 November after the Jehovah's Witnesses asked to include, as a third party in the case, the local office of the Justice Department, which had granted registration to the organisation.

The case against Jehovah's Witnesses, described by their opponents as a "totalitarian sect", was launched by an anti-cult group, the Committee to Protect Youth from Pseudo-religions. Most of the committee's members are parents whose children have left them to join exotic  sects which have arrived in Russia since the end of communism.

Over the past two years, four attempts to bring criminal charges against Jehovah's Witnesses have failed for lack of evidence. But last year, when the new legislation on religion came into force, the prosecutor of Moscow's northern district filed a "presentation" to the Golovinsky court asking for the group to be banned.

Referring to Article 14 of the new religion law, the prosecution claims that Jehovah's Witnesses "instigate religious hatred" by insisting that they are the only true religion and by expressing contempt for other faiths; that they "force the break-up of families" by demanding that members make religious activity their priority;  that they endanger people's lives by insisting that members refuse all blood transfusions; and that they denigrate human dignity by insisting on obedience.

The Jehovah's Witnesses fighting the case have argued that it lacks substance and that the attempt to ban them is based not on their misconduct, but on doctrinal literature and their articles of faith.

"It is an attempt to dilute the legal boundaries and transform the trial into a theological dispute," Artur Leontiev, a lawyer representing the defendants, told ENI.

Human rights activists said the case set a bad precedent which could allow the new legislation to be manipulated to suppress religious freedom.

Yuri Rozenbaum, a lawyer who had helped draft Russia's 1991 liberal law on religion and opposed the new law adopted in 1997, said that the case reminded him of the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses during the Soviet era.

"This is a political and not a legal case," Rozenbaum said. "It's ridiculous to accuse a religion of insisting that it is the only true one."

Many of the prosecution's arguments reflect the accusations quoted in anti-cult literature published by the Orthodox and mainstream churches. Alexander Dvorkin, an Orthodox layman who researches cults and advises on ways to oppose their activities, is listed as a prosecution witness.

In a recent press release for Jehovah's Witnesses, Leontiev said the court case was an "attack provoked by religious intolerance and supported by the structures of the Moscow Patriarchate" of the Russian Orthodox Church.

But the Moscow Patriarchate has tried to distance the church from the trial.

Viktor Malukhin, a church spokesman, told ENI that the Committee to Protect Youth was not a church organisation, even though Orthodox Christians might be among its members. He added that although on the theological level the Orthodox Church was highly critical of Jehovah's Witnesses, it would not try to settle theological differences in a court of law.

"Theological questions are never settled in the judicial domain," Malukhin
aid. "That is not possible for the church."

Although Jehovah's Witnesses have not yet been re-registered as required by the new law, many other religious organisations, including some which had been expected to face obstacles, have received their new registration certificates.

Russia's Justice Minister, Pavel Krasheninnikov, said in August that about 600 religious organisations had been re-registered with federal authorities. However, he did not know how many religious organisations had been re-registered at the local level. New registrations must be made by the end of 1999.

The religion law created two categories of religious institutions in Russia. "Religious organisations", which enjoy full rights, must prove that they have operated in Russia for more than 15 years or that they are affiliated to a centrally-registered organisation which has been in Russia for at least 15 years.

Those that fail this test are classed as "religious groups", a status that denies them some basic rights, such as the right to distribute religious literature and conduct worship in public places, and the right to own property.

Because of pressure from some Western politicians and lobbying by human rights groups who opposed the new law, the Russian government gave private assurances that the legislation would be applied as mildly as possible.

The Justice Ministry has issued registration to the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal and Charismatic organisations, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventists, and others.  All have been registered at the federal level as "centralised religious organisations".  In theory, this allows them to register local branches across Russia.

However, at the local level some relatively minor groups have been denied registration. In June this year, a Christian rights group, the Christian Legal Centre, filed a complaint with the Russian Constitutional Court on behalf of four provincial Protestant groups which were not able to re-register. The case questioned the constitutionality of the section of the law that differentiates between various types of religious bodies. The court hearing has been delayed because of the recent changes in the Russian government.

(courtesy of Victor Sokolov)

(posted 12 October 1998)


Metropolitan Kirill on Russian problems

PATRIARCHATE'S VIEW ON CRISIS

Thoughts about the situation in Russia were shared by the head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad

by Viktor Malukhin
Segodnia, 25 September 1998

--Your holiness, can you exapand your opinion that we are facing a social eruption?

--An extremely complex social and economic situation has developed which it is short-sighted and dangerous to underestimate.  The country is facing a systemic crisis which has struck the entire state organism: finances, industrial production, trade, consumer goods, and the social sphere. Add to this the collapse of the national currency, inflation, devaluation of savings, and difficulty with payment of the internal debt. All of this is against the background of the loss of confidence of the people in the economic course that has been followed for the last seven years.  Besides, these difficulties have come upon us on the eve of a severe winter which could greatly intensify the consequences of the crisis.  Thus social disturbances are possible if the new government does not take decisive and timely measures.  For the time being we have managed to avoid the political collision between the executive and legislative branches of the state ala 1993 and this gives a certain hope.

--Can you compare the present situation with those that developed in the country in August 1991 and October 1993?

--The present situation is even worse: a new factor which extremely complicates the situation has appeared, the real danger of famine. The present crisis has given rise to still another problem which did not exist in the earlier civil confrontations, a threat to the integrity of Russia. In the situation that has arisen among the regional elite there could arise the temptation to try to solve the problems of their own territories by themselves and this poses the threat of separatism and the de facto dismemberment of the country.

--What, in your opinion, led to the sharp intensification of the situation in these past weeks?

--The current problems of the Russian economy did not arise two weeks ago; they are the natural conclusion of the economic course that has been followed of the past years. It began with the unjust privitization and was continued by such measures as the dismemberment of technological production, the enervation of medium and small enterprises, speculation of the government with state financial obligations, and the ineffective tax policy. The government, deceived by its own declarations about stabilization, has been proven incapable of precise and rapid action.  In the end, the inevitable has occurred. However behind all the commentaries by political scientists and economists it concealed the main evil of the current bankrupt course--the attempt to resolve the problems of government at the expense of the people and nation.

--Do you think that for Russia to find a way out of the crisis there must be created a government of national salvation incorporating all political forces, including the communists?

--The creation of a government that responds to the opinion of the people is the most essential condition for getting out of the crisis. Without political support of the parliament, regional governments, and institutions of civil society no government can be effective nor have the ability to accomplish its mission.  The majority of the State Duma consists of leftist forces, and a responsible cabinet of ministers cannot ignore this situation. At the same time the situation in the country is such that private political interests of both the "right" and the "left" must, it seems to me, now be placed in the second rank.

--Recently there have been insistent calls for the resignation of President Yeltsin.  Many think that this would facilitate a relaxation of tension in society. Is this really a way out of the situation?

--President Yeltsin declared that he will not retire now but will not run in the elections of 2000.  It is extremelyimportant for the young Russian democracy that a change of power be legitimate in a way that avoids a threat of new political tensions.

--What kind of leader does Russia need on the verge of the new millennium?

--He must be a governmental figure who knows and understands the nation which God has entrusted to him, who loves Russia and is open to peace. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Russkaia liniia

(posted 9 October 1998)


Patriarch on contemporary church issues

PATRIARCH ALEXIS II CALLS FOR REFORM OF WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
Russkaia linia, 3 October 1998

Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow warned that future participation of the Russian Orthodox church in the World Council of Churches will depend on a "total reconstruction" of the ecumenical organization.  "The Russian Orthodox church has been and remains open to constructive dialogue with Christian denominations and understands participation in the international ecumenical organization as a mission," said the church leader in an interview with the famous Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita.  "However, like the majority of other Orthodox churches, we react critically to the negative tendencies in WCC which must be categorically condemned by Orthodoxy."

The patriarch's comments followed criticism of WCC which comprises more than 330 churches, mostly protestant, and many Orthodox churches.  The Russian Orthodox church is the largest member of WCC.  Many Orthodox leaders view the activity of WCC as too protestant and too subordinate to the influence of western liberalism which is, in their opinion, too strong.

The participation of Orthodox in WCC in the future is being complicated by the campaign of many extreme conservatives in Russia and other Orthodox churches, which is aimed to break all ties with ecumenical organizations.  Orthodox leaders in general have tried to resist such extremist views, preferring a policy of constructive criticism of WCC.  Pateriarch Alexis said in the interview that "important theological principles and moral standards" have been abandoned "by mainline protestant confessions," which now are imposing "their principles" on other churches through "mass propaganda."  "This has become possible because the extreme liberals, who do not represent the majority of Christians, have gotten a dominating position in ecumenical organizations. All this has forced us to demand a reconstruction of WCC so that the opposition of Orthodox churches to a given practice can be generally recognized.  Our future participation depends on the resolution of this question."

In its activity WCC has undergone reconstruction in order to make the organization more effective and its activity more open. In particular the process of the development of structures that increase the role of WCC as a "brotherhood of churches" has facilitated cooperation among them more than as an organization with a broad spectrum of programs with less direct participation of member churches in WCC. WCC also has sought a way for discussing with Orthodox churches the possibility of increasing their participation in the activity of the council.

The patriarch was also asked about the sensitive problem for the Moscow patriarchate of the jurisdiction of Orthodox churches of the former Soviet Union which at the present time are located outside Russia. Several members of these churches consider that inasmuch as their peoples now are not dependent upon Moscow, their churches also should be independent from the Moscow patriarchate.  The patriarch answered that his church was "a force that unites peoples" of the former soviet territory and will support attempts for the restoration of the "great gift of unity" within CIS. He rejected the suggestion that the patriarchate is "purely opposed" to Orthodox movements which are trying to establish their autonomy, pointing to the Georgian Orthodox church, which was fully independent even at the time of USSR.  "I think that indepedence of one or another Orthodox church does not always depend on the sovereignty of a specific country. . . . A situation where the canonical territory of one Orthodox church includes several independent states . . . is the norm in the Orthodox world," the patriarch said.  Patriarch Alexis told the newspaper that he hopes to continue dialogue with the Roman Catholic church, but he will not meet with Pope John Paul II until the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church that is being revived ceases its "shameful discrimination and persecutions" with regard to Orthodox Christians.  "We understand how difficult it is to improve the situation in western Ukraine, but . . . there has been no progress in ceasing the destruction . . . of the Orthodox faith in that region."  The patriarch hopes to visit Poland next January, which will be the first visit by a Russian Orthodox leader to this predominantly Catholic country. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Russkaia liniia

(posted 9 October 1998)


Delay in anti-sect case

ST. PETERSBURG PROSECUTOR VS. UNIFICATIONIST ORGANIZATION CASE POSTPONED
by Konstantin Krylov
3 October. 1998

The second week of the court hearing began on the 28th of September and was dedicated to interrogations of the anti-cult activists, who are witnesses in the court case, and their children, who are members of CARP.  The court also studied the minutes of the members' meetings and membership forms produced by CARP which the Prosecutor alleged that CARP does not have.

Mrs. N. Russkikh, the chairperson of the Interregional Committee for Salvation from Totalitarian Sects, and her two deputies Mr. N. Babkin and Mrs. E. Chernikova testified about the horrors of "totalitarian sects" and the harm inflicted to the mental health of their children who "got involved
in CARP by fraud." The activists appealed to the judges' patriotism and stressed that their children rejected traditional values, they became religious, quit their jobs and left home. They stated that CARP and the Unification Church were the same entity, which "brainwashes children and submits them to the will of foreigners -- the leaders of the sect."

The judge either dismissed the questions of CARP's lawyers to the anti-cult activists or answered these questions herself. The judge refused to accept as evidence the results of the court-psychiatric expert examination of the CARP members. According to its results, the children of the witnesses were found to be totally sane. At the same time the court accepted as evidence a letter of Father Oleg Stenyaev, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church and the head of the Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Non-Traditional Religions, and various other negative evaluations of the teachings of the Unification Church.

Both the Prosecutor and the Justice Department representative actively supported the activists. Moreover, the Justice Department officially stated that in 1991 when registering CARP, they had no idea about its ideology. After a book of Unification Church teachings was presented to the court, the Justice Department said that they are not familiar with it. They could not answer the question about how it was possible then to register an organization that according to its bylaws studied this very book.

Because the anti-cult activists insisted that this literature was harmful, CARP solicited the court to accept as evidence a resolution of criminology experts who found no such harm in the literature of CARP. The court refused.

After this the children of the anti-cult activists were questioned. They clarified that they had voluntarily joined and after that left the student association. They explained that when they were members of CARP, they attended its meetings, visited orphanages and took part in other charitable programs, and studied the teachings of the Unification Church. All this was in accordance with the bylaws of CARP. Both Ms. Jane Russkikh and Ms. Olga Stepanova attended the seminars of CARP with the permission of their parents. Their testimonies did not help the Prosecutor to liquidate CARP. It became obvious, and the judge began asking them about why they changed their system of values. After CARP's lawyers began interrogating these witnesses,
both the judge, the Justice Department and the Prosecutor experienced a shock. Jane Russkikh testified that the Prosecutor calls her mother every day and discusses the development of this court case. The judge interfered and said that these calls have to do with informing the witness about the time of their interrogation. Jane Russkikh objected, saying that this would not have taken 30 to 40 minutes every day, as the conversations actually took. She was asked, "Do you know who supplies finances for the Committee for Salvation from Totalitarian Sects?" and answered, "As my mother told me, the sponsor is the City Hall of St. Petersburg." Her mother was present at the interrogation and did not refute this statement. The interrogation of the witnesses invited by the defendant was immediately interrupted.

The defendant expressed the opinion that the court is biased, referring to the judge's negative statements toward the Unification Church, the judge's juridical assistance to the plaintiff and the Justice Department's inability to answer the questions of the defendant by themselves. It caused CARP to demand that the judge be dismissed. The court refused to satisfy this claim.

Nevertheless, the next day the judge gave the Prosecutor two months, obliged the Prosecutor to specify the claims of the liquidation suit and postponed the case until Nov. 30.

Let us conclude. After two weeks of the court hearing, submission of all the evidence and interrogation of all the witnesses invited by the Prosecutor, reasons for the liquidation of CARP were not found. The Prosecutor received a time-out and an opportunity to reformulate the liquidation claim. CARP was obliged by the court to submit a new portion of documents, which is not required by any law. Among those are the registration documents of the Unification Church in Russia and the USA, the list of missionaries of the Unification Church in St. Petersburg, the list of members of St. Petersburg CARP throughout the history of its existence, including information about their addresses, jobs and occupations. Judging by this, the Prosecutor may continue looking for compromising material against CARP. Just to remind, the Prosecutor demanded the liquidation of CARP in March 1996. Not being able to provide the proof in September 1998, the Prosecutor is receiving more time to prepare.

courtesy of Konstantin Krylov

(posted 4 October 1998)


Language of liturgy discussed

VERY PRIVATE THEOLOGICAL OPINIONS
by Olga Kabanova
Vremia MN, 25 September 1998

Conference on "The Church's Language" proceeds as academic discussion

The organizers of the three-day meeting (St. Filaret's School of Advanced Orthodox Christian Studies and the Vestnik of the Christian Movement, Kontinent, and Russkaia rech journals) defined the category of their event precisely:  "an academic theological conference." This definition contained no contradiction: the participants included both noteworthy theologians (for example, Bishop Serafim from USA) and authoritative philologists (I mention only Sergei Averintsev and Boris Uspensky) and esteemed journalists (Nikita Struve, Igor Vinogradov).  Three dozen profound, poetic, erudite, inspired, and reasonable papers were presented on the topic of the invaluable gift of divine speech, the critical points of chruch history, the need to maintain religious tradition and essential rethinking, and the difficulties of interconfessional fellowship and compicated relations with contemporary culture.

The level of the meeting gave evidence of the existence in the fatherland of a vital and developing religious and humane body of thought and this is pleasant to observe.  But there was one circumstance  that would permit some of the presenters to call the conference pragmatic. The pertinence and essence of the discussion imparted a not always identified but underlying problem to each address.  The problem was especially painful for the participants inasmuch as its resolution did not depend on them in any way. whether the liturgy should be conducted in Russian and not in Church Slavonic will not be determined by Orthodox scholars or ordinary priests.  The venues in which this question could be decided seem somehow  sacreligious. After all, the synod pays no attention to the conclusion of Averintsev (who observed, in particular, that the translation into Russian is needed for those texts of the liturgy that involve all worshipers, else when people say things they do not understand then they are not responsible for their statements) or the conclusion of Uspensky (who noted the tragic consequences for the Russian church and society of the "clumsy" Nikonian reforms), to say nothing of the opinions of the less prominent presenters. Orthodox fundamentalists avoid public discussion of the actual difficulties of the church and, it seems, they reject any development of the tradition. The contemporary church is trying to become the model of the prerevolutionary church, although raising it to the natural grandeur is definitely impossible.

Fr Georgi Kochetkov and especially his large group of parishioners constituted the bulk of the receptive audience who had experienced the liturgy in Russia and this experience   evoked a kind of hatred among the traditionalists. Making the liturgical texts absolutely clear for the "simpletons" (Averintsev's expression--the educated person has no difficulty with Church Slavonic) is seen by many as a dangerous and bold undertaking.

Thus it has turned out that the Russian Orthodox church in the postsoviet and postatheistic period has not managed to begin to speak with society in a language that is accessible and comprehensible, even when it is explained in Russian. It has not been able to cope with the accumulated atheistic prejudices so that the early perestroika idealization of the church quickly  was overwhelmed by the indifference of society and the demonstrative rejection of the intelligentsia. The dialogue between real culture and the church did not happen because of mutual dislike on the part of the two parties and their failure to take any steps toward a meeting.

The outcome is especially regretable both for the church, which is concentrated upon its own problems, and for society, which, whether it realizes it or not, nevertheless needs moral and ideological renovation and a conversion to eternal values and Christian experience.  It is difficult to speak of this. Talk about what is really important for each person  gets old. Many people understand this, both believers, nonbelievers, and those who have lost faith in everything. Thus the discussion about the church's language is by no means academic. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 3 October 1998)


Russian Adventists legal

SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH REREGISTERS IN RUSSIA
Christian Daily News, 3 September 1998

MOSCOW -- Following the requirement of the new Russian law that went into effect
October 1, 1997 requiring reregistration of all religious groups, the Seventh-day
Adventist Church has now successfully fulfilled the requirement, reports Lee Huff,
president for the Church in Russia.

"As a demonstration of the speed of this project, our registration number is number
two," says Huff. "The Orthodox Church holds registration number one."

This registration is for the Adventist Church organization covering the whole of
Russia; however other church units must also reregister, according to Viktor
Krushenitsky, Religious Liberty director for the Russian Adventist Church.

"It is advantageous for the church administrative units, and local congregations to
reregister as soon as possible," says Krushenitsky. "Even though the deadline for
reregistration is the end of 1999, local churches cannot legally be involved in certain
activities until they are registered or reregistered. The higher organization must gain
approval before the lower organization can apply."

The Adventist Church has operated in Russia for well over 100 years and so falls into
the legal category of religious organizations which have existed in Russia more than
15 years. Krushenitsky reports that some of the advantages of reregistering for the
Church are the right to alternative military service, the right for ministers not to be
called up for military service, the right to receive government subsidy for church
schools for the subjects which are required by the state, the right to receive subsidy
for social programs, the right to produce literature, and to export and import it, and
the right to invite foreign ministers from abroad. ...

Reprinted with permission from Adventist News Service.

(posted 2 October 1998)


Witnesses case adjourned

RUSSIAN TRIAL POSTPONED UNTIL  NOVEMBER
Associated Press, October 1, 1998

MOSCOW--A civil trial to prohibit the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia has been adjourned until November, a group spokesman said today.
        The trial opened Tuesday, after the Moscow city prosecutor filed a suit against the Jehovah's Witnesses under a religion law passed last year. The accusations include charges that the group destroyed families and encouraged its followers to refuse medical assistance, said Yaroslav Sivulsky, the public affairs representative for the Jehovah's Witnesses.
        "These are absurd accusations; there is no evidence. It's typical religious intolerance," Sivulsky said.  He added the court case was an attempt to sway Russia's official policy against the Jehovah's Witnesses.
        Sivulsky said the group had made a series of petitions at the court session Tuesday, including a request that the Moscow city Department of Justice be a party to the case. The department registers religious organizations in the capital.
        The request was accepted.
        "They must declare their position in writing, because until now there have been no documents from their side," Sivulsky said.
        The law on religion passed last year enshrines the Russian Orthodox Church as the country's predominant religion and curtails the rights of many other churches.
        Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be the fifth largest Christian group in Russia.
        Russian investigators have launched four separate criminal cases against the Jehovah's Witnesses, and all have been dropped for lack of evidence, Sivulsky said.

 Copyright 1998 Associated Press.
 

(posted 2 October 1998)


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