NEWS ABOUT RELIGION IN RUSSIA

Copyrighted material. For private use only.



 

Liberal journalist reviews Witnesses' case

COURT AND FAITH
by Alexander Nezhny
Moskovskie novosti, 15-21 June 1999

In Moscow, in the Golovin city district court, the trial, the likes of which have never been in Russia, has ended. The trial brought together, on one side, the procuracy of the Northern Administrative District, which wished to destroy the Moscow congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses as a legal entity, and on the other side representatives of this religious organization, who wished to vindicate their right to legal activity in the capital.

Actually something of the kind did happen once on the sinful earth an exceptionally long time ago.  Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, two Dominican monks and leaders of the struggle with succubi and incubi in the fifteenth century summarized the experience accumulated by the Inquisition in a book under the title Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of the Witches).  Good God, there's a mine of instructive information there, including even for the procuracy.  "This text, in my opinion, does not require any clarification inasmuch as it is said that the Christian world is teaching false doctrines and has betrayed God and the Bible."  You are profoundly mistaken, my friends, if you think that this was from Heinrich and Jacob.  This is from our fellow citizen and contemporary, Tatiana Kondratieva, assistant procurator of the Northern Administrative District of Moscow.  She supported the prosecution.

In the three weeks of the trial Tatiana Ivanovna often upset even the judge and the respectable public with declarations that are completely unthinkable in a secular judicial process but were presented with irresistible force in the trial as exposure of heresy.  You have said," for example she addressed the coordinator of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses, Vasily Mikhailovich Kalin, "that you do not recognize the Holy Trinity and that the one God is the God Jehovah, and Christ accordingly is his son. Tell me, please, does this mean that you deny the deity of Christ?"  There you have it, granny, and St. George's Day. Either recognize the deity of Christ or you get a six month suspension. Either present a certificate from the parish priest about your religious good intent or leave our capital city for somewhere beyond the 101st kilometer.

However, everything is not so simple. Although high and very high officials often have said that the Russian Orthodox church is first and chief   in our fatherland, the epoch of established Orthodoxy still has not begun and the procurator was obliged to present to the court something more weighty and tangible than the denial of the deity of Christ.  In the past three years the procuracy has four times tried to bring the Witnesses to criminal accountability, but every time the case has been dismissed for lack of the substance of a crime.  Now they decided to take a different tack and accuse the Moscow congregation of violation of the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."

Jehovah's Witnesses, meanwhile, are not accustomed to such turns of fate. At first they did not take a liking to Comrade Stalin, whose faithful associate Lavrenty Pavlovich in 1951 rounded up in one night all Witnesses in the USSR and sent them with small children and feeble old men far beyond the Urals; then they rotted in jail under Nikita Sergeevich and Leonid Ilich.  And with the arrival in our pitiful huts of blessed freedom, the state under the prodding of clergy of all ranks and titles has undertaken to purge Russia, the canonically Orthodox territory, of sectarian weeds.

There is, to be sure, some difference in the reasons for the state's dislike of Witnesses yesterday and today.  Yesterday they were renegades, politically alien to the soviet people because of their open dislike for the building of communism; today  they are social outcasts who are spiritually alien to the Orthodox empire that is being created and to the Russian people. Whatever point the court was able to discover in the procurator's presentation, almost inevitably there arose the question about the essence of the Witnesses' doctrine, which if it did not have an answer would make it impossible for the judge and two associates to render a final decision about their existence. The legal problem inevitably turned upon the theological one.

Judge (Elena Ivanovna Prokhorycheva):  "Where is the incitement of hostility here?"

Procurator (T.I. Kondratieva): "In their opposition."

Judge:  "But there is opposition throughout our society. We have many parties."

Procurator:  "In their abuse of sacred things."

Judge: "Which sacred things?"

Procurator:  "Like the Bible."

Judge:  "But after all they do not desecrate the Bible.  In our country there is the Muslim faith, and the Catholics, and the like."

Procurator:  "In this case the issue is the Christian world and therefore we have talked about this."

Judge:  "I asked you where is the incitement of hostility here?"

Procurator:  "In the claim that the Christian world is teaching false doctrines."

Ahhh. It turned out that the court, before agreeing or disagreeing with the accusation of incitement of religious hostility, had to establish whose doctrine is closer to the truth of Holy Scripture:  The Jehovah's Witnesses or the rest of the Christian world.  But this, my friends, is a forest out of which the way cannot be found not only by our Golovin district court but by any court on earth.  Who is right?  Jehovah's Witnesses?  Orthodox?  Catholics?  Baptists?

The waning century is opening a strange page in the history of humanity, whose bloody words speak of the destructive dangers of simple, like the blow of an ax, "yes" or "no" responses to innermost questions of faith.  Unfortunately there is no hope that the coming century will be different. Besides there would not be the experience of faith if a believer doubted its truth.  My faith is the alpha and omega and I do not know any other than it. There is no church which would not insist on its possession of the truth. The interpretation of religious doctrine is inevitable, but if the last word in the matter ever were to be given to a court, then let it be to the Judge of all, against whose sentence there cannot be an appeal. In Moscow, you see, there is the Golovin district court and Judge Elena Ivanovna Prokhorycheva, who, it seems, within the three weeks of the case learned more about the Eternal Book than in all her previous life. It is impossible not to sympathize with her situation. Instead of some routine civil case about the division of property of two contending spouses or an argument of greedy children over their father's estate she has a case about faith that provoked such a disturbance of minds that Elena Ivanovna, forgetting herself, twice referred to one of the attorneys for the defense, the Canadian John Burns, in our quite soviet way as "Comrade Burns."  Another attorney, Arthur Leontiev, tried to clarify with the procurator whether the words of the Apostle Paul from his epistle to the Ephesians, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism," did not incite religious hostility.  Tatiana Ivanovna declined to give a direct answer and claimed that she did not have the ability to interpret Holy Scripture.  Then Elena Ivanovna wanted the procurator to read this text with her own eyes. The judge was brought a Bible and she asked, "Help me find it quickly," acknowledging then with endearing honesty:  "True, I do not know how to find it in such an enormous book." But little by little she got things under control and once somewhat haughtily reprimanded the unfortunate Tatiana Ivanovna, who was unable to answer to whom belonged the words:  "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come not to bring peace but a sword."  "Naturally she does not know," Elena Ivanovna mocked.  "How could a procurator learn that?"

In the course of the whole trial in a small, stuffy room speeches resounded that were more appropriate to a religious institution than a court of a democratic country.  The procurator, for example, wanted to pin on the Witnesses the incitement of religious hostility:  "The affirmation that there exists only one true faith, whose ministers are the Jehovah's Witnesses, is one aspect of the incitement of religious hostility." She was asked:  "Come now.  Which religious confession would agree to share its right to the truth with others?" They produced the handbook of the missionary department of the Moscow patriarchate in which the Jehovah's Witnesses are represented as the natural devils from hell and asked:  "Isn't this a deliberate offense against the religious feelings of non-Orthodox citizens of our fatherland?"  Tatiana Ivanovna jumped like a rabbit escaping pursuit:  "Since the publisher of this book is the missionary department of the Moscow patriarchate, I ask the court to strike the question."  Judge:  "Answer briefly; do you consider this an offense?"  Procurator:  "I am not prepared to answer that question since I cannot answer for the publisher who . . . ." Judge (controlling herself with all her might) "As such, is this an offense or not?  Comrade procurator, you must answer it; I cannot answer for you."  As the Psalmist said:  "They dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into it themselves."

The prosecution also tried to present the teachings of the Witnesses as a mine that sooner or later would blow up on the individual convert and family.  "These numerous declarations which the procurator has made are supposed to lead to the unequivocal conclusion that the relatives and friends who suffer the conversion of one of the members of the family to this teaching are victims, and this literally cries out from the declarations." Tatiana Ivanovna could certainly detect severe crime against the family that "literally cries out" as a direct consequence of the poverty from divorce.  But that is not so much the issue here.  Like a father who does not hide his eyes from the anxieties of his children, God constantly calls us to himself.  The task of the church is to help us amidst the noise and thunder of world to hear his voice and illuminate the way to him in the twilight of every day living.  If the gospel of the Jehovah's Witnesses turns out to be somewhat more successful than the efforts of the other fishers for human souls, then in my humble opinion this is certainly no basis for prohibiting them.

Conversion is like a second birth. The person, especially the young person, who undergoes this great experience really will not be like he was before, will he?  "When you talk to him about the obvious things in this organization, it's like his ears are stopped up; he doesn't listen to a thing and he maintains just one thing:  really, I am happy, really, I am happy. That is, he is like a zombie; he is completely and absolutely not my child now."  That is how a witness for the prosecution, Alla Anatolevna Zhavoronkova, described the discord with her son.  Her suffering was completely sincere and undoubted.  But at the same time I have not been able to remove the thought that the victim in this story was not her 23-year-old son, a graduate of the conservatory, a young husband and younger father, but she herself.  Alla Anatolevna is convinced that her child does not have such a faith or life of such happiness.  She pays attention to Fr Oleg Steniaev, a professional firefighter against religious dissent in Russia; she reads the articles of Alexander Dvorkin, a kandidat of theology and indisputable academician of falsehood; she has turned to the Committee for the Salvation of Youth and to other bewildered, bitter, and essentially profoundly unhappy people like herself. After this she comes to court in order to help the procurator in her holy struggle.  "We baptized the baby at age three in the Orthodox church, according to our Orthodox ritual, although I am not a believer."  What can one say to her in response?

At the end of the twentieth century it has been undertaken in Moscow to conduct a trial not of a crime but of doctrine.  The absence of incontestable facts forced the prosecution to rely on shaky points.  For example:  Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate national holidays.  "The issue is not a direct violation of the law but a violation of traditional, moral, ethical  standards of this society which has developed its traditions and culture over centuries. . . . Basic church holidays are a part of the culture of the nation. . ."  In our country church holidays were forbidden for seven decades, but Tatiana Ivanovna is not bothered by this. She is bothered by something else:  why do the Witnesses not celebrate the glorious day of Christ's birth? Is this really worthy not only of public condemnation but also a corresponding sentence? The discipline which the Witnesses display in themselves and with respect to their children by not drinking and feasting on birthdays?  "To deprive children of such holidays," Tatiana Ivanovna declared with feeling, "is cynical and cruel."  Attorney Galina Anatolevna Krylova could not restrain herself:  "If I do not want to celebrate my birthday, isn't that my own business?"  "As a woman," Tatiana Ivanovna cordially replied:  "I can understand you.  But the children!"  "Without a doubt," Krylova said.  "Did you ask the children of the Jehovah's Witnesses?  Are you prepared to cite names?"

What can the court do?   What decision can it make?  Even the Witnesses' rejection of blood transfusions, which evokes the most bitter disputes--this received strong support from the world famous Viktor Kalnberz, academician of the Russian and Latvian academies of medical science, a hero of socialist labor, and a surgeon, who told the court that his views and the position of the Jehovah's Witnesses on this matter agree.  They are not causing death, the academician said.  "They are asking for the use of methods that are alternatives to blood transfusion.  As for myself," he added, "I would be categorically opposed to receiving a blood transfusion.  Because I have seen so many accidents."

Elena Ivanovna Prokhorycheva did not choose to follow healthy thinking or knowledge of the laws.  For reasons about which one can only guess, she did not find within herself the strength to give a final decision.  She ordered the appointment of a complicated expert commission, including religious studies experts, linguists, and one psychologist; in all, five sages.  Now the five sages will read Holy Scripture and, scratching their heads and debating fiercely, will decide whether to punish or have mercy.  (Provided the Moscow city court rejects the appeal presented by the Witnesses.)

It seems to me that now even Elena Ivanovna herself, and perhaps Tatiana Ivanovna, will be inseparable from the Eternal Book.  If that is so, then in a certain sense the trial was not bad.  (tr. by PDS)

(posted 18 June 1999)


Ukrainians want their Russian church

ACTIVISTS OF UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH PICKETED THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN KIEV
Segodnia, 3 June 1999

A group of citizens on Wednesday picketed the embassy of Russia in Kiev, demanding the return to the Ukrainian Orthodox church (Kiev patriarchate) of the cathedral of the Epiphany in the Moscow suburb of Noginsk.  On 17 September 1997 an arbitration court of the Moscow region reviewed a suit from the parish of the Epiphany cathedral of the Russian Orthodox church, Moscow patriarchate, against the Orthodox parish of the Epiphany cathedral of Noginsk of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, Kiev patriarchate.  The court found that the Ukrainians were holding the church property illegally.  In accordance with the decision of the court, the building of the Epiphany cathedral was sealed in the presence of witnesses.  A representative of the Russian interior ministry declared that the decision could be appealed only through the procedure established by law.  At the same time he emphasized especially that inter-governmental relations between Russia and Ukraine are not affected by this case.  The Kiev patriarch is not recognized by the Russian Orthodox church and its head, Filaret, was anathematized for schismatic activity. (tr. by PDS)

(posted, 16 June 1999)


Sect in Siberia

"MESSIAH" OR CULT LEADER?"
by Tom Whitehouse
London Observer Detroit News, June 4, 1999

MOSCOW -- Sergei Torop, a 38-year-old former traffic warden from Siberia, sighed and smiled when asked to confirm his divinity. When you know you  are Jesus, being asked for proof gets tiresome. "Am I the Messiah? Even more than you consider yourselves human," he answered. "I know my father, who gave me life for your good. I know  myself and I know you, and that's why I came to tell you the truth about God our father."

Torop, who calls himself Vissarion, looks the part. With his benign smile, gaunt features and wispy beard, he resembles an Orthodox icon. Despite being married with five children, believing in reincarnation and recognizing pagan religions, he has convinced thousands of followers he is Jesus Christ.

A former colonel of Russia's strategic missile forces acts as his foremost priest. His flock -- the "Vissariontsi" -- are mainly disenchanted Soviet intellectuals and idealists who have turned their backs on Boris Yeltsin's Russia and given Torop all their money. In return, they get an entry ticket to his "City of the Sun," a thriving town built and sustained with their income on top of a large hill in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

"To accept me, people need to give up everything they own. The rich will find it very difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven, very difficult," he said with satisfaction. Though poverty is not a direct route to heaven, Vissarion does promise to have a word in his father's ear. "I can't guarantee someone's salvation. I can only set it up for them."

He spends little time with his flock, preferring to stay in his lavish home on top of the hill, where he paints. Priests and assistants -- his "angels" take care of followers on a day-to-day basis. They follow a strict regime: fixed sleeping hours, a vegan diet, no solitude and constant prayer and celebration.

Dissent is not tolerated. "If someone says to me that he knows better than me, how can they? How can they know anything at all if it is I who make  the rules? The rules need to be made by me before they can exist," he said.

Is he a harmless crank exposing the failure of Russia's Orthodox Church to fill post-Communist Russia's spiritual vacuum? Or is he another cult leader guiding his followers to mass suicide? Some Orthodox priests see him as an  evil pyramid schemer. They in turn stand accused of paranoia and envy. "He may not be the Messiah, but he is not a charlatan. He believes in what he says," said Andrei Zhigalov, a filmmaker who lived with Vissarion while making a documentary about him for the BBC. "I can't imagine the people who live with him committing suicide, because they are so happy, healthy and optimistic."

The authorities in Minusinsk, the nearest town to "Sun City," generally leave  Vissarion alone. The influx of Vissariontsi into the region has revived a  flagging economy. The fruit and vegetables they cultivate and sell to  neighboring communities are welcome. Alexander Lebed, Governor of  the huge Krasnoyarsk region, does not interfere. The gruff paratroop general and presidential hopeful -heralded by some as Russia's political messiah -- seems happy to leave Vissarion alone.

But Alexander Dvorkin, the director of a special department set up by the Orthodox Church to monitor sects' influence, thinks Vissarion must be stopped.

"I see many striking resemblances between what Vissarion is doing today and what Jim Jones did with his People's Temple just over 20 years ago," he warned. "More than 900 people died in a mass suicide in Guyana. Why must  we wait for 5,000 to do the same thing in Siberia?"

Dvorkin claims Vissarion is being manipulated by gangland-style businessmen who take most of the money. If the number of new followers tails off, the cult will collapse like a pyramid scheme.

Since the passage of a new law restricting the operation of minority faiths and churches, including the Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses, the Orthodox Church's motives in condemning Vissarion have been questioned. "The Orthodox Church exaggerates the problem of sects because they want to limit competition from other churches," said Sergei Filatov of the Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Russia.

The religious fervor that came in the wake of glasnost and the Soviet collapse has died down and there are far fewer proselytizers on the streets than in the early Nineties. Vissarion's appearances in Moscow and St. Petersburg to rally recruits are getting less frequent. He lets the growing reputation of "City of the Sun" spread the word, alongside publications distributed by Vissariontsi in major cities.

Very few of Vissarion's followers return from his Siberian outpost. Having handed over all their money, they generally have no route back. Father Oleg Sinyaev, an Orthodox priest who counsels former sect members at Moscow's Church of Sorrowful Joy, admits their appeal. "Vissarion's community is very similar to communism. You don't have to think and everything is provided  for you," he said. "It will all end in tears."

(posted 16 June 1999)


Orthodox Church in America in Moscow

PRIEST OFFERS A FAIR PICTURE OF ORTHODOSY
by Helen Womack
Moscow Times, June 12, 1999

If you read this column regularly, you will know me for a pagan, a skeptic  and a sinner. I doubt the Orthodox Church will ever claim me as a convert.  Yet, I have come to a better understanding of Orthodoxy thanks to my contact  with the friendly people at St. Catherine in the Fields Church.

The church, on Ulitsa Bolshaya Ordynka, acts as the "embassy" of the Orthodox  Church in America to the Moscow Patriarchate. The parishioners are mostly  Russian while priests from Russia and Britain serve under a rector from the  United States.

My past experience of Orthodoxy had been unfortunate. I had witnessed priests  acting like petty dictators and heard believers expressing anti-Semitic  views. Father Christopher Hill, from Britain, wanted to give me a fairer  picture of a faith that, like all religions, has many elements and should not  be judged by its extremists.

June 3 was St. Helen's Day. With a delicate kindness, he chose my name day,  as well as that of his Russian wife Yelena, to invite me to St. Catherine's.

It is a fascinating church. In Soviet times, it was a communalka. Partitions  cut brutally through the 18th century architecture to divide the living space  for the communal apartments. Elderly parishioners remember this. "That's  where the bathroom used to be," they say and point. As for the rectory, the  state still uses it - as a base for the Federal Security Service to keep an  eye on the Mossad agents from the Israeli embassy next door!

Today, the church interior is simple and white. A choir sang clearly at the  morning service. Father Chris was splendid in the emerald green vestments  worn for Pentecost. As he performed the Eucharist, he was visible through the  open iconostasis, or altar screen, which in most Orthodox churches hides the  priest from view.

"Intelligibility" and "openness" were the aims of this church, he said. When  I remarked that seats were provided and not every woman was wearing a  headscarf , he added: "It is important to be able to relax in church. This is  God's house, not a military parade ground."

The parishioners, including some Jews who have converted to Christianity,  seem to be looking for a tolerant atmosphere.

In the past, I have used this space to bash the Orthodox Church for being  "fascist." On the other hand, Russian nationalists say Father Chris and the  rector, Father Daniel Hubiak, cannot be real Orthodox priests because they  are foreigners. The vast majority of Russians, however, had accepted them,  Father Chris said. This continued to be so despite the war in Yugoslavia.

The truth is, of course, that Orthodoxy, like Catholicism and Protestantism,  has nothing to do with nationality. Father Chris showed me an icon of the  19th-century Bishop Tikhon, known as the "enlightener of America," because he  blessed the first translation of the service into English. Orthodoxy had come  to America a century earlier via Alaska, which used to be Russian territory.  Thus, the U.S. branch is as much an Orthodox church as the Russian, Greek or  Serbian branches.

What unites them, and distinguishes them from Western churches, is the  sensuous Byzantine tradition. Blind obedience to authority is not the  essence, as I had ignorantly thought. Discipline should always be tempered by  love, said Father Chris, and most important of all was human freedom.

from Johnson's Russia List
(posted 16 June 1999)


Troubles for Jehovah's Witnesses

PARLIAMENT OF GEORGIA TAKES JEHOVISTS TO COURT
by Mikhail Vignansky
Segodnia, 10 June 1999

A dispute on religious grounds has become for the first time in Georgia the subject of judicial examination.  In the Isansk district court of Tbilisi a hearing began on a case brought by Guram Sharadze, a member of parliament, against the "Jehovah's Witnesses."  The deputy insists upon prohibiting the sect as hostile to the interests of the Georgian Orthodox church and nation.  As proof Guram Sharadze presented literature distributed by the Jehovists.  There are about 40,000 people in the sect and they consider that the deputy is infringing upon freedom of religious confession. The trial was postponed ten days just after it began so that the attorney for the Jehovists could become acquainted with the claims of the suit. (tr. by PDS)

TWO JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES SENTENCED TO 15 DAYS' ADMINISTRATIVE ARREST
Human Rights Without Frontiers, May 28, 1999

On May 3, 1999, at 8.30 p.m., Mr. Aleksandr Li and Mr. Umid Sultanov, both Jehovah's Witnesses from the City of Chirchik, were walking along the road when they were stopped by the police. They checked their identity papers and found out that they had religious magazines with them. The policemen took Mr. Li and Mr. Sultanov to the police station where they asked them from where they had received the magazines. Mr. Li and Mr. Sultanov answered that their friends had brought them from Kazakhstan.

On May 5, 1999, Mr. Li and Mr. Sultanov were judged on the basis of Article 240 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, entitled "Violation of Legislation on Religious Organizations". This article provides that performing illegal religious activity, keeping leaders of religious organizations from registering a charter, organizing and practicing special children's and teenagers' meetings by religious ministers and by members of religious organizations, shall be punished by a penalty from five to ten minimal monthly salaries, or administrative arrest up to fifteen days.

It also provides that converting believers of one confession to another one (proselytism) and other missionary activity shall be punished by a penalty from five to ten minimal monthly salaries or administrative arrest up to fifteen days.

Mr. Li and Mr. Sultanov were sentenced to an administrative arrest of 15 days and were taken to prison immediately.

LEGAL HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN THE CITY OF CHIRCHIK

The congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in the City of Chirchik was registered on December 17, 1994. On May 1, 1998, the new law on religious organizations was accepted in Uzbekistan. It required re-registration of registered religious organizations by August 15, 1998, at the latest. An agreement of a local khokim with the legal address of the organization is required for re-registration (and also for new registration). However, the khokim of the City of Chirchik refused - without any explanation - to sign the agreement. Therefore on August 26, 1998, a complaint was sent to the Ombudsman of the Republic of Uzbekistan and to the Committee for Religious Affairs with the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Some weeks later, the prosecutor visited responsible members of the congregation and promised them his assistance in registration. He took the documents for registration but has not come back up to the present date.

Source: Lubomir Müller, Attorney at Law - May 17, 1999

(posted 16 June 1999)


Church and state planning Y2K together

RUSSIA IS PREPARING TO MARK THE NEW CENTURY
by Evgeny Strelchik
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

The first session of the Russian Organzing Committee for Preparing of the Celebration of the Third Millennium and the Bimillennium of Christianity, which took place on 5 May in the Kremlin under the chairmanship of the Russian president, gave a "decisive push to the preparation for the gread jubilee."  This was declared by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, who is a co-chairman of the orgcommittee, in his address to the session.  As he noted in his address, the head of the Russian Orthodox church said "much already has been done" for prepration of this jubilee.  Cooperation of the church, state, and society in the jubilee period should be especially fruitful, declared Patriarch Alexis II.  The patriarch sees the task of the Russian Organizing Committee in the unification and coordination of energies on the societal and national level.

For the church the main part in the upcoming festivities is the "spiritual and prayerful celebration of the bimillennium of the birth of Christ." A special jubilee commission of RPTs is dealing with preparation of this celebration, Alexis II said.  The primate of RPTs reported that the main event in the celebration of the bimillennium of Christianity will be the consecration of the church of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which will be conducted during the days of the jubilee.

Patriarch Alexis II called the marking of the third millennium and celebration of the bimillennium of Christianity "an epochal event, which should unite all Russians."  He stressed that all citizens of Russia should take part in the festivities, "no matter what nationality they belong to or what faith they profess."  They "will take place throughout the whole canonical territory of the Moscow patriarchate," and that is not only Russia but also the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltics and Georgia. Holiday events are being prepared also in the parishes of RPTs in the far abroad. The holidays leading into the third millennium "should unite all Christians," Patriarch Alexis II thinks. He said that marking the upcoming jubilee requires cooperation with other confessions, with the state, and with society.

"The twentieth century, which has been tragic for our country, is coming to an end," the head of RPTs recalled.  "In the present century Russia experienced revolution, repression, the civil war and the Great Patriotic War.  The patient and longsuffering Russian people deserve a better fate in the twenty-first century."  The celebration should "unite all of us in the service of the fatherland and peace in our land," Alexis II said. Before the end of this century, he noted, "we should cease all bloodletting, especially in the Balkans and in our land."

Russian President Boris Yeltsin in his speech to the session of the orgcommittee emphasized that the millennium that is ending was linked with the establishment of the Russian state.  "Many centuries of history and common religious and cultural values have united our peoples," the president declared.  In his words, "a unique multinational great Eurasian state has been created which is unequaled in size and natural wealth."  On the threshold of the new millennium, Russia faces new tasks, the president noted. "Russia must be a worthy partner and firm friend for other states," the head of the state stressed.

At the same time he noted that "we have all we need for this:  cultural, natural, spiritual, material, scientific, and religious potential"  According to the president, this potential "must be skillfully ordered and all the best of what has been achieved must be handed over to our children."  The celebration of the third millennium, Boris Yeltsin pointed out, is directly connected with the commemoration of the bimillennium of Christianity.  In preparing the festivities, the Russian Organizing Committee will work in close mutual relationship with the church jubilee orgcommittee under the chairmanship of Patriarch Alexis II as well as with religious organizations of other confessions.  "Without their participation this celebration is unthinkable," declared the president.  The great jubilee of Christianity and the beginning of the third millennium is "a holiday of spirituality and culture which will aid the formation of broad social harmony in Russia," Boris Yeltsin considered.  In his words, the history of the departing century should become a lesson for Russia. Still in this century we must "overcome the ideology of political extremism" and create a genuinely democratic society of civilized relationships.

The chairman of the Russian orgcommitte is President Boris Yeltsin and the cochairmen are the prime minister (at the time of the session it was Evgeny Primakov), Alexis II, and the first deputy head of the presidential administration, Oleg Sysuev.

"We must not entertain the hope that all expenses of the upcoming events connected with the preparation for celebrating the third millennium and the bimillennium of Christianity will be met at the expense of the federal budget," the then prime minister of Russia, Evgeny Primakov, warned participants of the session.  In this regard decisions for conducting a national lottery-2000 and recruiting other extra-budgetary sources were reviewed.  The head of the government declared that every country is preparing to mark the third millennium in accord with national, historical, and cultural traditions.  "Russia is a multinational and multiconfessional state," the premier noted.  "The move into the third millennium is an experience that is common for all, which should be an all-Russian holiday."

At the first session of the Russian Organizing Committee for Preparing to Mark the Third Millennium and Celebrating the bimillennium of Christianity  the concept of the activity of this committee was approved.  Also at the session a decision was made to prepare a plan of basic events for the celebration.  Members of the orgcommittee created a working group and authorized the first deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev to head it.  He noted the high level of activity by the regions, which already have sent to the orgcommittee about 400 suggestions for the upcoming celebration.  It is planned that in September of this year there will be an expanded session  of the Russian orgcommittee with the participation of representatives of foreign national committees at which the results of a contest of designs and the program of basic events will be announced. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 13 June 1999)


Debate over Christian politics in Ukraine

ORTHODOX OF UKRAINE SUPPORT IDEA OF CREATING A CHRISTIAN STATE
by Taras Andrusevich

KIEV. 8 June 1999.  "The Christian assessment of the state" was the theme of the second congress of the All-Ukrainian Association of Christians (VOKh).  On 2 June in the capital's House of Teachers members of VOKh reviewed a working concept of the construction of a Christian state.  "Fortunately, VOKh is not one of the fashionable organizations which arose on a western model.  Today, instead of a political force, this is a real platform for constructive cooperation of Orthodox citizens with Christians of other confessions in the area of state construction and esepecially of social work," emphasized Archbishop Avgustin of Lviv and Galich, president of the theological commission of the Ukrainian Orthodox church.

"Really," noted the rector of the cathedral of the Elevation of the Cross in Uzhgorod, Archpriest Dimitry Sidor, "if one compares VOKh with other parties that call themselves Christian, it can be said with assurance that for now (and one hopes in the future) a believer of the canonical church will not be faced with shocking ultracontemporary liberal oves or extreme provocations of a religiously illiterate approach to social, academic, and other aspects of public order.

Meanwhile, quite recently the Christian Democratic Party of Ukraine (KhDPU) subjected to criticism VOKh's slogan  about constructing a Christian state "because Muslims of Crimea and central Ukraine would be placed in an ambiguous position by the achievement of this medieval idea" (speech by the leader V. Zhuravsky, Blagovest-info; Radio Voskresenie, 2 June 99).

The president of VOKh, people's deputy of Ukraine Valery Babich, underscored that on the contrary, VOKh's man-centered, professionally developed conception harmonizes with accents on service to the Creator in "conditions of radical market" economics.  "The defense of the family, priorities on healthy way of life in the struggle for ecology in public thought, and the purity of media broadcasting, social work by Christian centers, complex issues of investment and taxation--all these problems find their natural resolution only on the basis of genuine Christian (i.e. Orthodox) thinking, to which contemporary post-soviet societies will be forced to return within decades." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Sobornost

(posted 12 June 1999)


Polosin's conversion to Islam

FATHER VIACHESLAV:  FROM CHURCH TO MOSQUE
by Alexander Soldatov
Moskovskie novosti, 8-14 June 1999

Viacheslav Polosin, a former priest of the Russian Orthodox church and chairman of the Committee of the Supreme Soviet on Freedom of Conscience, recently announced his conversion from Orthodoxy to Islam.  This unprecedented event of the adoption of the religion of the Prophet by a prominent Orthodox clergyman was a surprise for many.  The former archpriest is suspected of psychological illness or of subtle political calculation.  But he himself speaks of his own free, spiritual, philosophical choice.

--As far as I know, this is the second time in your life when you have officially announced a change in your worldview?

--From childhood I believed in God, in my spirit.  Later, when I was in the university, I came across Orthodox literature and went to the church and found there something that I had not seen in philosophy classes.  I do not regret that; I learned a lot there.  I submitted my documents to the ecclesiastical seminary in 1979 and have now, after twenty years, given an interview to the journal "Musulmane;" these are two stages in the development of my life.

Interview with Musulmane

"Several years of intense work have brought me to the conclusion that the Koran does not contain an assimilation of the Creator God to his creation, humanity, which is anthropomorphism, the essence of paganism.  There is no basis for the ritual practice of appeasing God like some kind of human ruler. . . . I have decided to bring my social status into conformity with my convictions and to bear public testimony that I consider myself a follower of the great tradition of the correct belief and of the prophets of monotheism, beginning with Abraham, and thus I do not consider myself any longer either a clergyman or a member of any Orthodox church. . . . As regards possible penalties, we all are mortal and all sooner or later will depart from this life, so it is better to depart from it abiding in the Truth and not in spiritual ambivalence or in the delusions of human fantasy.  With regard to the practical difficulties, including the Arabic language, I must place my hopes in help and cooperation from my new brethren.  My will fully shares this worldview choice."

--How did your clerical path evolve?

--Within the church circles of Moscow I was not "my own person."  There also were family circumstances which forced me to request ministry in Central Asia. I served briefly in Frunze and somewhat longer in Dushanbe.  There I dealt with Islamic culture and the eastern mentality for the first time, which made a deep impression on my soul. After half a year I was ignominiously deprived of my registration for disobedience to secular authorities, that is, to the commissioner for religious affairs.  For three year I was not accepted anywhere and was in complete disgrace.  In 1988, when perestroika began, I was offered a half-destroyed church near Obninsk. From there I was elected in 1990 as a member of the soviet of the RSFSR.

The position of the Moscow patriarchate

For the Moscow patriarchate, the announcement by Archpriest Viacheslav Polosin of his conversion to another faith came as a complete surprise.  In the Department of External Church Relations his move is explained as instability of character and convictions and a quick "subsequent change" of religious views is predicted.  In the patriarchate there is an inclination to let the matter drop, relying on the decision of Fr Viacheslav's ruling bishop, Archbishop Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk.

--Were you suspected of conversion to protestantism?

--American protestants, who in 1991 arrived in Russia in abundance and whom I received, proposed that we begin our meeting with prayer.  But I categorically objected, saying that this was a secular institution and that I protected freedom of conscience and thus there must not be any prayer here.  I was cordial with protestants, but where this rumor that I wanted to adopt protestantism came from, I don't know.

--For many it is a puzzle what your real position on the new law on freedom of conscience of 1997 is.  Some consider you its author and some recall that you have frequently criticized the law itself.

--As long as I am a state employee I cannot discuss the whole truth about this law.  I participated in the writing of this law as one of fifteen members of the working group and I had very little influence.  Then the law was presented to the duma where work on it went forward.  I can consider myself a coauthor of what resulted from this work.  But the demonization of the law was necessary to those circles and forces who figured on being able to make a name and money for themselves on the basis of the negative events that arose around the country.  Actually the law upheld the principles of a secular state and maintained the situation.

--Was your religious quest provoked by your displeasure with formal Orthodoxy?

--While I was working in the state apparatus I began to see more clearly how various activities within the church or politics affect the life of the people.  Some people try to interpret Christianity so as to justify the irresponsibility of the government, giving it an image of divine ordination.

--There are similar examples in the history of the Islamic world:  khans, Turkish sultans, palace intrigues of the Sublime Porte.

--In the Koran viewing the government as "God's anointed" is strictly forbidden.  It is said that if someone usurps power and a Muslim tolerates this, then he is an accessory to this sin.  In the Ottoman empire there was a stagnation of Muslim culture--the cult of the military, violence, slavery. Islam degenerated there. The Revelation itself is a different matter.

--What has been the reaction of your new Muslim brethren to your decision?

--My interview with the journal Musulmane provoked lively interest, so much so that it was necessary to put out another printing.

--What has been the reaction on the part of your leadership in the duma?

--Some naturally will be unhappy, but I don't care to please everyone.  I think that nothing will change in my work in the duma.  I do not intend to criticize Christianity.  When I was within Orthodoxy, I criticized it rather harshly.  Now I don't.  Islam, as it is presented in the Koran, is the most democratic religion because it contains a prohibition of tyranny; vis-a-vis the Creator is the people, society on earth.  There are no mediators of a priestly caste or anointed monarchs in the Koran.

Viacheslav Polosin's office

In the State Duma he occupies one office along with Murad Zaprishiev, a former deputy and now an employee of the staff of the duma Committee for Relations with Public Associations and Religious Organizations.  In a prominent place in the office there is the Koran and the walls are decorated with Arabic inscriptions. In this office Polosin and his colleague sometimes perform their prayers, for which they use a special rug. At the same time, Viacheslav Sergeevich opposes making a demonstrative profession of Islam in his secular work and especially in governmental service.

--Do you have plans to return to a more political life?

--For the time being, no.  I would prefer to use my profession and knowledge for socially useful activity within the bounds of Islam.  I see myself as a public and academic Islamic leader, but not a politician. But what the future will bring, only God knows.  In 1990 my election as a deputy also was unexpected.

INFORMATION:  Viacheslav Sergeevich Polosin was born in 1956.  In 1979 he graduated from the Philosophy Faculty of MGU and in 1984 from the Moscow Ecclesiastical Seminary.  He was ordained a priest and served in parishes in the dioceses of Central Asia and Kaluga of RPTs.  In 1990 he was elevated to the rank of archpriest.  In the same year he was elected a people's deputy of RSFSR from Kaluga region and headed the committee of the Supreme Soviet on freedom of conscience.  While working in the Supreme Soviet, he graduated from the diplomatic academy of the ministry of foreign affairs and defended his dissertation on the subject:  "The Russian Orthodox church and the state in USSR, 1971-1991."  From 1993 he has been an employee of the staff of the State Duma on relations with public associations and religious organizations.  He was a member of the Russian Christian Democratic Movement and a member of the Council of Christian Organizations.  In 1991 he went on leave from the Kaluga diocese and since 1995 he has not officiated in liturgies.  In his interview with the Musulmane journal, he officially called himself a Muslim:  "I consider that the Koran is the final Revelation on earth, sent down to the Prophet Muhammed.  There is no God but the One God, Allah, and Muhammed is his Messenger."  Viacheslav Polosin is the author of many scholarly works on historical, political, religious, and philosophical subjects.  In February of this year he defended another dissertation on the subject:  "The dialectics of myth and political myth-making."  His basic philosophical ideas are presented in his book "Myth, Religion, and the State" (Moscow, 1999).

From the point of view of Islamic theologians, to convert to the religion of the Prophet it is sufficient to recite the famous formula containing the profession of faith in the one God Allah and his prophet Muhammed.  In doing so it is not important which language is used for reciting the formula.  It is important that the recitation be made before two witnesses who are Muslim and can give written confirmation of the fact of the profession of Islam.  The rite of circumcision, which many consider to be analogous to baptism in Christianity, is not obligatory for entrance into the Muslim umma. (tr. by PDS)

"RUSSIAN ISLAM" RECRUITS ADHERENTS FROM RANKS OF ORTHODOX
by Sergei Chapnin
Metaphrasis

--Viacheslav Sergeevich, you first announced that you had embraced Islam in an interview in a small journal, "Musulmane."  What's is this related to?  Why did you not first announce that you were demitting the Orthodox priesthood?

--I did not want to make a political show or sensation out of my spiritual choice.  In Islam it is required that one profess monotheism in the presence of witnesses, and the journal for Muslims which is purely for internal use fully accords with this goal.  So I made the announcement in the presence of witnesses, which were all the readers of the journal.  And the print run of the journal, 7,000 copies, is not so small in our times; for example, its twice that of the newspaper "NG-religii."  And the issue is not the demitting of the priesthood but a complete break from the jurisdiction of a particular church:  it would be strange to profess Islam and consider one's self an Orthodox layman.

--The title under which your interview was published is "The straight path."  Does that reflect your personal conviction that your path to Islam was really straight?

--The words "straight path" frequently are used in the books of the Old Testament.  When the king rode along the stony gorges in the Palestinian hills, his servants cleared his path of stones and straightened it out.  When the prophet John the Forerunner called for making  straight the way of the Lord, that is, the path for Jesus the Savior, the spiritual Lord and King, John had in view the spiritual straightening out, freeing the soul from pagan superstitions and embracing the truth.  In the Holy Koran "straight path" is one of the central terms:  it is the path to the Most High without mediators or priests, without faith in the independent miracle working of manufactured objects. After all, even in the New Testament Jesus Christ called for this, saying that his goal was that all could turn directly to God, to "thou," "Abba, Father."  This was connected with Jesus' unconditional prohibition of calling anyone one's father on earth (Mt 23.9).  The straight path is direct communion of the soul with God through the only mediator, the Spirit of God, his action and energy.  Islam, monotheism, right belief--this is the exposure of all departures from the commands of the preceding prophets, including Jesus, and the affirmation of the social doctrine of monotheism which had earlier been lost.

--It is obvious that your decision will have enormous response in Russia and in the whole Christian world: for the first time in history a Christian cleric consciously and not under the pressure of circumstances embraces Islam.

--Twenty years have passed since I declared myself Orthodox.  In 1979 it was not easy to make the decision about entering seminary; such actions were then condemned by society and I faced many obstacles.  Strictly speaking, it is impossible to "leave" into Islam.  "Islam" in translation means submission to God,  entrusting one's whole self to God, or it can be translated as "resignation to God." From the root "sam" comes the world "salyam," or "shalom" or 'peace."  To embrace Islam doesn't sound right in Russian.  The issue is not an embracing but rather profession of strict monotheism.  My faith in God has not changed but only grown stronger, and I have changed my social status.

--Isn't your departure from the church connected with the fact that over the last ten years you have been engaged solely in political activity and you rejected active participation in church life?  What kind of spiritual path have you traveled in that time?

--Since 1993 I have been involved in politics only episodically.  It is possible to talk about the influence of lawmaking as an element of politics, but this isn't public or independent politics.  Thus there's no politics here.  Through participation in the state structures I came to see the consequences in practice of decisions that are made.  Sometimes they have very great effects in society.  Any mistake or  miscalculation of the public interests leads to difficult and sometimes tragic consequences and brings about disorder in society.  This forced me to think about how religious concepts can be applied to politics and how people use these concepts for their goals that are far from religion, for example, for usurpation of authority. In Islam there are no such concepts that all authority is from God. On the contrary, the power of the people is affirmed and accommodation to tyranny and to the one who usurps the power of the people is considered sin.  If we are talking about the decision to profess one's self as a strict monotheist, let's say, within the confines of the Abrahamic tradition, this matured gradually and is connected only with my worldview quests.

--What were the milestones along the way?  Were there new spiritual experiences? Were these conversations with people, reading books, or some other events?

--Yes, primarily it was books and people.

--In the interview with the journal Musulmane you mention Geidar Jemal. What kind of influence did he have on you and what role did he play in your conversion?

--His addresses and sermons on the program "Nyne" [Now] produced a strong impression on me. He often spoke about the tradition of Abrahamic monotheism.  Geidar Jemal is a respected man who participates in political processes and politics always evokes a multitude of questions. I would wish to distance myself from political activity in the field of Islam for I have not participated in it, but his religious sermons often produced an impression on me.  Besides this, my conversations with Murad Zargishiev also played a great role.  I studied the history of Christianity and Islam and the theological works of various writers, including the French philosopher Rene Genon who embraced Islam.  It was a long process.  In the end it was the same as going to graduate school after undergraduate.  Islam is for me not a negation of the former path nor a negation of Christianity, including  Orthodoxy.  It is a transition to some new quality which I view as the next stage for myself.

--Does that mean that your conversion to Islam personally does not mean renunciation of Christ the Savior?

--The way he is described in the New Testament is for me only partially acceptable inasmuch as there are questions about the authenticity of the texts, but I have not renounced Jesus as he is described in the Most Glorious Koran.  It is said, first, that he is a prophet; second, a righteous man; third, he was conceived in a miraculous manner.  He really saved people and thus is called Messiah in the Koran.  The doctrine of the divine essence of Christ arose in the fourth century and was made dogma in the fifth. For several centuries Christians got on well without professing that Messiah was God and there is no basis for considering that they were profoundly mistaken.

--The famous Orthodox theologian of the eighth century John of Damascus spoke of Islam as one of the Christian heresies.  Christian consciousness took Islam in the period of its beginning as one of numerous Christian sects.

--Yes, it  was considered that way. And really there were many Christian sects at the time in the East, so that even patriarchs were considered as "heretics" as well as whole local churches.

--What is your opinion about this?

--Islam is not an offshoot from Christianity but a second and great reform of Abrahamic monotheism.  Abraham believed in the one God and was the first to express this publicly. He announced it and confirmed it for his successors, becoming the "father" of all believers. Subsequently this tradition suffered deviations.  It is known that all of the prophets--incidentally many of them also are called "saviors"--criticized the people for their deviation into heathenism. And the greatest prophet, Jesus, also criticized people for heathenism. More than that, he himself spoke of himself in parables as sent by God with a special mission.  Before this people said:  "Prophets are sinners like us." But God sent a sinless Angel of God--in the bible angels are called "sons of God" (Job 38.7)--who really was a pure prophet but he was not obeyed. They conceived the desire to destroy him.  He criticized the dominating shortcomings of the time and spread the Good News of the one God beyond the boundaries of a single people, for all people; this was a great reform of Judaism.  Islam is the second reform, cleansing the Christianity of the sixth and seventh centuries from the pagan accretions which has been formed in the period of its acquiring official status and compulsory mass acceptance.

--How do you relate monotheism and the dogma of the Trinity? When you entered seminary and especially when you gave your clerical vows, it was required that you profess faith. What has changed in your understanding of divinity?

--Throughout the course of life a person develops.  I was from a nonbelieving family and the soviet environment, at a time when there was a system without religious education.  I knew nothing of religion before the age of eighteen.  There was only an internal urge and a faith in an unknown God. Twenty years ago I came to the Orthodox church. I accepted Orthodox teaching, perceiving it through a prism of my personal comprehension.  In my spirit I always believed in the one God and the teaching about a plurality of persons and hypostases I understood approximately as now I understand the teaching about the plurality of names in the Most Glorious Koran and the Old Testament.  There can be many names because a name does not signify the essence but an activity of God in this world.  If he clearly saves someone from danger, they say "God is merciful."  "Merciful" in this case is his name, but it is not the substance of God and does not pretend to be so. Moreover, in Christian dogmatic manuals it is said that we know nothing about the substance of God. At the same time there is a paradox here:  we know nothing about the substance but we distinguish several persons within this substance.

--Aren't you confusing person and action, hypostasis and energy?   If there is a plurality of actions and a plurality of names, this does not mean that there is a plurality of persons.

--I am talking about this as I understand it. What the Greeks thought in creating this teaching that was completely new for the church, which, note, was not even mentioned in the creed of A.D. 381, I do not know.  Incidentally, Jesus is not directly called God in this creed. Several years ago I specifically began investigating this subject in order to confirm all of this for myself theoretically.  In the Holy Koran it is said:  "You must not give companions to God." It does not speak of "hypostases," which means that the issue is that believers must not imagine two or more subjects of activity when discussing the Creator. If for the Christian a "hypostasis" is not a different subject but a "name," he is not violating the command of God. In the term "hypostasis of God" there is Greek influence in which there is much sophistry.  The fruit of such Greek thought were several doctrinal innovations which appeared many centuries after the New Testament was already well known.  For me this is obvious, but it does not mean that I criticize Christianity as a confession, but there already are many conjectures about this. I speak of levels of comprehension. In practice I do not know how a specific babushka believes who comes to the Orthodox church or some elderly Baptist woman. Do they have a concept of a companion of God or is it only an abstraction for her, only a name, or does she not even think about this? Perhaps she has blessed simplicity and God hears and receives her prayers. It is not important where she is, in an Orthodox church, or in a Baptist congregation, or in an Islamic one. Therefore in the Koran Christians and Jews are called brothers and "people of Scripture," that is, heirs of Abraham.

--I get the impression that until now you have been talking as an historian of religion who has come to God not through personal spiritual experience but more through analysis of the historical development of world religions. Does this mean that scholarly investigation for you means more than personal experience? Or are you simply defending yourself?

--No. In all that I have said there is an internal torment. Honestly, even in clerical activity several things disturbed me.  For example, an akathist is appointed and you open it up and there, for example, in a prayer to Saint Nicholas it says:  "Save us from our sins."  Of course, confusion arose here because this even contradicts the teaching of the Orthodox church. What is the point of Jesus' mission when some other person can save people from sin?   Of course, without theoretical knowledge, without historical study, there will not be a full picture.

--As an Orthodox priest, albeit in the past, you know well the Orthodox liturgical tradition. Do church music, hymnology, and iconography really confuse you? Is it really easy to renounce all this wealth?

--It is not easy, but this is not a spur of the moment decision and I have not renounced aesthetics and the spiritual beauty. In the beauty of singing the human search for God is expressed and this evokes awe. Over several years I gradually underwent spiritual cleansing. There were both doubts and internal struggle. In Orthodoxy this is called "spiritual  growth," and in Islam this inner struggle with thoughts and self-analysis is called the "great jihad." For about the past four years I have continually thought about this and approximately a year ago I finally got it settled.  I treat with great care and respect the feelings of other people who experience awe in the face of what you have mentioned, standing in church and everything that is connected with prayer. I do not criticize this in the least and I do not criticize people.  I consider that in any case it is impossible to pull them anywhere, even if I consider that some form of religion is better.  Monotheism lies at the base of Christianity and thus, when people turn to God, God the all-seeing and all-powerful, he can hear them just as in Islam. Trying to win them over only brings harm. It is a different matter if a person is dissatisfied and seeks answers to questions. It is possible to talk with such a person and to help him in his movement.  I regret that the newspaper "NG-religii" wrote that I have criticized Christianity.  This is not true.

--It is no secret that in recent years  your relations with the Moscow patriarchate have not been harmonious.  Did this play any role in your conversion?

--No.  The decision to adopt Islam and to profess monotheism was a deeply internal decision and my interrelationships with the patriarchate had no place here.  In 1991 I went on leave on my own initiative and I began wearing secular clothing. If I had continued believing as I had been believing when I entered seminary, I would have continued to serve in a parish.  After the dismissal of the Supreme Soviet in 1993 the patriarch offered me the rectorship of a wealthy Moscow church, but I declined.  Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk suggested in 1994 that I work in OVTsS, but I declined myself and agreed only to be an external consultant for it and I received the appropriate official authorization for his signature. This was a definite move in the direction about which we are now talking.  But at the time my decision still had not been formulated and there was only some reservations with regard to concrete liturgical practice.  I emphasize that as a priest I served sincerely and did not deceive anyone when I performed the sacraments, rites, and rituals. People who partook in these services should not have any doubts. There were no personal contacts between me and the hierarchy.  Metropolitan Kirill I consider the de facto leader of the church and he also is a potential candidate for president of Russia.  If the "Regeneration" society nominates him for vice president of Muslims of, say, Tatarstan, his rating will dramatically increase.  I wish him and Fr Chaplin well!

--It is impossible to remove your action from the political context.  Whether you want it or not you are on the edge of very serious problems.  On the one hand, Islam in Russia is divided into several groupings.  On the other hand, Russian Islam has no clear figures who really belong to the political elite. Will not the Islamic leaders each try to win you over?

--I don't know; nobody has made any suggestions to me.

--Would you agree with the correction "nobody has made any for the time being"?

--No.  In 1990 by God's will I became a deputy of the Supreme Soviet.  It is an awesome thing, of course, to speak of the will of God himself, but events were filled with coincidences.  The unclear position of the synod in those years was like this: Archbishop Platon, with the blessing of the synod, was running for Supreme Soviet, but lower level bishops were not supposed to permit priests to run for seats.  One exception was made for Fr Aleksei Zlobin. Then some Kalugans suggested to me that I run.  Struggling with doubts, I went to Bishop Ilian and told him that people wanted me to run.  He said:  "I wanted to run myself for this district, but the synod forbade me to and so I give you my blessing and let them solve the problem."  He blessed me.  I speak about this in order to show that this was not a human intention on my part.  Everything happened as if by itself.  I met with voters only three times and the election district was the whole province. Everything worked out.

What the future will be, I do not know.  I try to be obedient.  The word "Islam" means "obedience, submission to God."  If such is God's will, I am obliged to submit to it.  If not, I myself will not strive for it.    By nature I am a quiet man, peaceful.  Scholarship attracts me more and I would return to it.  Reading books, writing, involvement in education activity among my own people so that everything will be quiet.  Now my desire is not to return to politics, much less to public politics.  In today's Russia this would be unpleasant for a nonbelieving person and for the time being nobody has the power to change it.  I see myself in the public  educational field but being a political pawn in somebody else's hands is not to my liking.

--One more question about your "past" life.  In 1991 you became a priest on leave.  What have the recent pages of your spiritual life been like?  Have you officiated since then; were you assigned to some church?

--No.  When I was a deputy and arranged with the patriarch for the leave, I retained the right to officiate in Kaluga diocese.  However I did not exercise that right often and since 1995 I have not conducted the liturgy at all.

--And when was the last time you wore vestments?

--Several years ago.

--What will be the fate of Orthodoxy and Islam in Russia?  Will there be real cooperation between them?

--My civil position has not changed.  Today, as in the time of the Supreme Soviet, I consider that between Christianity and Islam in Russia there should be a social union. Specifically social, confirmed at the governmental level.  Before the revolution, both Orthodox and Muslims were present at official ceremonies.  Of course, Orthodox ceremonies were governmental, but Muslims were present at them, though they did not participate directly but stood alongside.  Muslims had special prayers for the tsar as their earthly patron.

Russia always has been a Eurasian country, widespread and essentially imperial.  The empire was integrated, although there were colonial acquisitions and the union of Christians and Muslims was complementary.  Moreover the ideology of the state, as a secular program, must be based on values of monotheism, because this is the essence of what is. In the ideology there should be no questions like whether one must kiss icons or not or what processions to make or what kind of vestments to wear.  The ideology provides only the most general matters which pertain to every person.  This is the moral basis and then the laws are a reflection of the morality.  If someone is punished for something, this is a moral judgment.  This scale of moral values of society must be based on monotheism, which is common between Christians and Muslims:  do not kill, do not steal, do not wish another ill, help the needy, do mercy, etc.  The future ideology of Russia, if Russia is destined to survive and again become great, is monotheism and concretely a social union of Islam and Christianity.

--If one speaks of Islam as an ideology, then it is obvious that there are various trends:  fundamentalism, "euro-islam," and the like.  Which is more attractive to you?

--What is more attractive is simply monotheism in its pure form in order not to think of God in an unworthy manner.  I like it when there are no contradictions and there is logical consistency.  The Glorious Koran  says outright that the truth is not contradictory.  There is the doctrine of the transcendental God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Merciful and all the rest should be in agreement with this.  If something contradicts this, that means it must be eliminated.

--How do you perform the prayers?

--Usually, five times a day is required.

--Daily or only on Friday?

--I made my announcement only recently and before this it was necessary not to advertise all of this.  Now I will do it as required.

--Do you have a prayer rug?

--I do.  In state service it is extremely difficult to perform the prayers, but all rules are constructed flexibly.  If by force of circumstances it is necessary to put it off, it can be done after work. Incidentally, it's the same in Christianity. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 10 June 1999)



 

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/.