Church's patience with hostile newspapers reaches breaking point
By Andrei Zolotov
Moscow, 17 October (ENI)--The Russian Orthodox Church's synod has lashed out against two Russian newspapers for publishing "anti-church" articles. However, the synod stopped short of imposing church sanctions on the newspapers' editors and reporters.
Abandoning its traditionally neutral stance on the media, the church leadership publicly vented its anger in a statement censuring a mass-circulation, liberal newspaper - Moskovsky Komsomolets, and a more conservative publication - Rus Pravoslavnaya, a religion supplement circulated with the Communist newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya.
These two publications have very different political views. They are united only in their attacks on the church's leadership.
The synod statement does not refer to particular authors or articles in the two newspapers, but the two journalists commonly believed to be the target of the synod's outburst are both members of the Russian Orthodox Church, despite their constant criticism of church activities and policies.
Sergei Bychkov, religion correspondent for Moskovsky Komsomolets, has consistently criticised Metropolitan Kirill, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations, claiming that on behalf of the church he was involved in economic activities to the value of millions of dollars. Metropolitan Kirill has responded that some sections of the media are waging a vendetta against him, largely because of his support for links with ecumenical organisations outside Russia, such as the World Council of Churches.
Konstantin Dushenov, co-editor of Rus Pravoslavnaya, is also widely known as an aggressive opponent of the Russian church's contacts with Western Christianity and participation in the ecumenical movement.
Dushenov, who was an aide to the conservative Metropolitan Ioann of St Petersburg (who died in November 1995), has become unelected spokesman for the Orthodox Church's growing fundamentalist trend which condemns Western Christianity and ecumenism as heresy, and campaigns for the total isolation of the Russian church.
On 10 October the synod, which includes six permanent and six rotating members, and is chaired by Patriarch Alexei II, expressed its "regret" about the newspapers which, the synod statement alleged, "contain utterly biased interpretation of church history and spread deliberate lies and libel ..."
The synod rejected "ungrounded accusations of 'apostasy' and 'heresy'" made by the newspapers. The synod went on to accuse the two newspapers of continuing "the struggle against the church, which had previously been conducted under the banner of state atheism".
Though the journalists' actions "deserve church sanctions" - which could include outright excommunication, or a temporary ban on receiving the Eucharist - the synod decided instead to "appeal to their conscience by reminding them that if they consider themselves Orthodox Christians, they should realise the sinfulness of their evil deeds".
Moskovsky Komsomolets reacted angrily to the church's statement. On its front page on 14 October it published another article strongly critical of Metropolitan Kirill, claiming his "agents" might launch repressions similar to those of Ivan the Terrible. The article also dubbed the synod as
the "Mitropolitburo", in a reference to the Soviet Communist Party's ruling Politburo.
"It appears as if we are returning to the dark times when clerics interfered in all spheres of life and attempted to dictate views," the article, signed by "MK journalists" stated. It also compared the newspaper's journalists to the leading Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, whom the synod excommunicated in 1903.
"Here we are confronting clericalism in its most repellent manifestations," Bychkov told ENI on 13 October. He said he did not see his actions as "anti-church".
Dushenov said that the synod statement did not refer to him personally. He was, he said, just one of many writers for Sovietskaya Rossiya.
"They are sending a signal that the problem has gone beyond the point at which they could ignore it," Dushenov said. But he added that there were no direct accusations against him and the criticisms would not affect his writings. "I am a church person, and if I was presented with firm accusations, I would unconditionally bow to the verdict of the church leadership," Dushenov said.
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