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Old Believers resist overtures from Moscow patriarchate

Many Old Believers critical of dialogue with Russian Orthodox church

by Mikhail Tulsky
NG-religii, 14 December 2000

On 27 November in Moscow a jubilee conference devoted to the 200th anniversary of the existence of United Belief parishes within the bosom of RPTs was held.

United Believers are a particular portion of priestly old ritualists that transferred in 1800 to the jurisdiction of RPTs after Paul I signed a decree. They were permitted to conduct services in accordance with the old (pre-Nikonian) rituals, but at the same time they were supposed to have priests appointed by bishops of RPTs and submit to the Holy Synod just like clergy and parishioners of RPTs. In the United Believers' situation there was a blatant ambiguity: since 1800 they had the blessing of the Holy Synod for liturgical use of rituals and books while at the same time these books remained under ban (curse). The old ritualist United Believers themselves at congresses in 1912 and 1917 resolved to ask the Holy Synod to lift the bans from the old rituals which had been imposed by the council of the Russian church in April 1656. Finally in April 1929 the patriarchal Holy Synod, after careful review of the history of the question, resolved to lift the bans from the old rituals, rescinding the corresponding decisions of the councils of the seventeenth century. However, inasmuch as the issue was removal of bans which also had been imposed by a council in a completely canonical and legal manner, only another council could remove them. The bans were removed by the council of 1971.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad gave the basic report at the conference. In 1999 the Holy Synod of RPTs, by a determination of 19 July 1999, established the interest of the church in the development of mutual activity with Old Belief. At that time there was created a special commission on mutual action with Old Belief. Metropolitan Kirill stressed the importance of the order given by the synod to all teachers in ecclesiastical schools to maintain a strictly objective presentation of the history of the church schism.

The existence within RPTs of ritual diversity testifies, in Metropolitan Kirill's opinion, to the ability of the church "to maintain the unity of the faith in the bonds of peace." No less liturgical variety exists among local Orthodox churches (for example, between the Russian and Greek churches). United Belief has often been used as an instrument of pressure on Old Believers by which the government has tried to sow division and subsequent repression for Old Belief, Metropolitan Kirill noted.

Thus, in Metropolitan Kirill's opinion, there arose a long time ago the necessity of creating a special structure of the Moscow patriarchate which would deal with coordination of the church life of Old Believer (United Believer) parishes. A model for the creation of such a structure could be the supreme old ritualist councils of priestless old ritualists in the Baltic region. The conference was addressed by the senior rector of the Littoral [Pomorie] Old Believer Grebenshchikov parish of Riga, Latvia, Ioann Miroliubov. He expressed agreement with Metropolitan Kirill's opinion that the term "United Belief" requires careful review and probably its rejection.

The patriarch also sent a message "To the children of the Russian Orthodox church who maintain old Russian rituals in worship in connection with the bicentennial of the canonical existence of old ritualist parishes in the bosom of the Moscow patriarchate," in which he said:  "In the face of historic facts it is impossible not to recognize that persecution and restrictions in relations with old ritualists and coercive measures for overcoming the schism have been the consequence of ill-conceived state policies of Russia in the past centuries which have produced division in the Russian church which has been difficult to overcome and has existed to the present.  Thus it was not so much the correction of liturgical books and the change in rituals that were conducted under Patriarch Nikon as it was the cruel and unjustified methods for achieving obedience that have played the determinative and most tragic role in intensifying the schism.

"In assessing the events of the length of three centuries we do not consider that we have the right to judge concerning the responsibility of separate individuals who were involved in repressive actions with respect to a portion of our flock, for they all long ago stood before the judgment of God. Now, following the Savior's command "by this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves" (Jn 15.34), we extend our love to all of the adherents of the old rituals, both those who are within the bosom of the Russian Orthodox church and those who are outside it, calling for ending the former offenses and injustices and not renewing fruitless liturgical debates and especially not allowing mutual recriminations, since one or another ritual is sanctified and equally salvific where there is unity of the doctrines of the faith and Orthodox confession. The children of the Russian Orthodox church must recall that the ancient church rituals constitute a part of our common spiritual and historical heritage, which must be preserved as profoundly valuable in the liturgical treasure store of our church.

"Bestowing our patriarchal blessing upon all priests, monks, and believers in connection with the bicentennial of the canonical existence of old ritualist parishes within the bosom of the Moscow patriarchate, we cordially wish the almighty aid of God for all adherents of the ancient piety and we hope that your labors will become a weighty contribution to the churchwide activities of the Orthodox proclamation of the divinely revealed and saving truths of Christianity."

After the conference a joint worship service was held in the Dormition cathedral of the Kremlin by United Believers and clergy of RPTs. Many representatives of RPTs as well as the mass media (for example, NTV) interpreted the conference and worship as a unification of old and new ritualists.

Two days later, in response to the announcement by RPTs of the unification of the old ritualists with the new ritualists, the metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Old Ritualist church (RPSTs)of Moscow and all-Rus, Alimpy Gusev, also made his own announcement. He "expressed amazement" with regard to such announcements by RPTs. The ancient Orthodox metropolitan "could not in any way plan to take part in ceremonies on the occasion of the jubilee of United Belief, thereby participating in worship with clergy of a different confession which is categorically forbidden by church rules. I do not understand how, as reported by a number of media, the patriarch supposedly could 'call old ritualists to forgive offenses,' since all Christians by definition should forgive those who offend them and at the base of the Russian schism lie from now on not personal offenses but so-called 'church reforms' which RPTs(MP) has not renounced to the present day. . . . The celebration of the jubilee of United Belief is an internal affair of RPTs  which RPSTs has nothing whatever to do with," declared Metropolitan Alimpy.

As was declared in an interview with a NG-R reporter by an aide to the primate of RPSTs, Aleksei Riabtsev, actually five old ritualists took part in the United Belief service and the appropriate canonical punishment was imposed upon them. According to Riabtsev, a correspondent of the old ritualist magazine "Tserkov" was not allowed into the worship service in Dormition cathedral nor into the conference at the St. Daniel's hotel. In the process representatives of the organizing committee justified it by claiming that the event was an internal affair of RPTs. The aide to the metropolitan considers that the ceremonies that were performed possibly are the beginning of a new propaganda campaign against RPSTs.

The NG-R reporter asked the secretary of the RPTs Commission on Mutual Action with Old Ritualists, Monastic Priest Nikita Dobronravov, for a comment on the statement by the heirarchy of the Belokrinitsa old ritualists. He declared that the correspondent of the Tserkov magazine himself refused to attend the address by the patriarch, stating that he "was not interested in this but he was interested in participating in the discussion," for which he did not receive accreditation and as a result was not able to attend the conference at all.  The Tserkov magazine, like a majority of the old ritualists of the Belokrinitsa hierarchy, has a sharply negative attitude toward RPTs. For example, in the third issue of this journal it was stated that "RPTs communes without confession and on a full stomach," Fr Nikita declared. Adherents of RPSTs call RPTs "heretical" and consider that it is forbidden to have any contacts with it. According to Fr Nikita, at one of the last press conferences Aleksei Riabtsev declared that "RPTs will not turn over to old ritualists the church of the Tikhvin Mother of God (on Khavskaia street in Moscow) and there is a restaurant in it." This church never belonged to RPTs and the Moscow patriarchy never made any claim to it. In 1991 RPSTs itself did not submit an application for the Tikhvin church, thereby giving it up (in the opinion of Fr Nikita Dobronravov this happened because "there were few parishioners at the Rogozha cemetery," and they would not be able to maintain an additional church), as a result of which this church was bought by a commercial operation.

The secretary of the RPTs Commission on Mutual Actions with Old Ritualists thinks that such a negative attitude of RPSTs toward the Moscow patriarchate is explained by the fact that "new converts have replaced the traditional old ritualists and among them politicized elements dominate, who approach church problems in the way politicians approach political ones." At the same time, in his opinion, RPTs has not had such relations with all Old Believers as it has with RPSTs. The ancient Orthodox church of the Novozybkov hierarchy and especially its new archbishop, Alexander Kalinin, "who is an educated, active, and well intentioned man," are ready for dialogue with RPTs and Fr Nikita hopes that soon representatives of the Novozybkov group will join the Commission on Mutual Actions, as the priestless old ritualists of Latvia already have done. In general the priestless old ritualists are more favorably disposed toward RPTs (including the priestless of Lithuania and Belarus). The fact that in the nineteenth century United Believers consisted almost exclusively of priestly old ritualists and now, by contrast, the priestless (who in the nineteenth century were radical opponents of RPTs) are the portion of old ritualists who are more friendly to the Moscow patriarchate is explained by Fr Nikita as the result of "the raising among them of the question of adopting a priesthood and since they are critical of the possibilities of either a Belokrinitsy or Novozybkov hierarchy they are turning to the Moscow patriarchate."

Father Nikita considers that the conference and worship service on the occasion of the bicentennial of United Belief were gestures of good will signifying that old ritualist parishes are necessary to RPTs and that "on our part all impediments to the healing of the schism have been removed and nothing prevents old ritualists from entering the bosom of RPTs, which has acknowledged both rituals as equally salvific." (tr. by PDS, posted 20 December 2000)

Senator Lugar riles Orthodox Russians

Interfax News Agency, 19 December 2000

The Union of Orthodox Christians Citizens has firmly rejected the allegations by U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) that religious freedom is limited in Russia and that one of the bones of contention between Russia and the new U.S. administration will be the persecution of religious minorities.

However, his statement has surprised wide circles of Russian faithful belonging to the Union of Orthodox Christian Citizens. In the words of a Union statement, "our country has no serious problems with religious freedom, except for crude attacks on the dominant confession, the Russian Orthodox Church, by some remaining militant atheists who raise obstacles to setting up theology departments in Russian universities as it is done in practically all the European countries."

The statement, obtained by Interfax on Tuesday, points out that the rights of Orthodox Christians are also being violated "in Russia's regions, whose leaders repeatedly show separatist tendencies, as in Tatarstan, for instance, where the authorities of Naberezhniye Chelni obstruct the construction of the Orthodox Christian Nativity Cathedral, although it would serve the needs of half the city's population."

Furthermore, the statement says, it seems "more than strange to hear the actual defense of totalitarian sects whose activities are at least to some extent regulated by Russia's law on the freedom of conscience, from a member of a party[ the Republicans] that has proclaimed its devotion to traditional, including religious, values."

The Union made note "the blatant double standards with respect to Russia that mark the senator's statement; many European countries are far more severe towards non-traditional confessions, for example, France with its recently passed law. But members of the U.S. establishment make no statements on that occasion. Nor are they indignant over the unprecedented mass infringement on citizens' religious freedom in Ukraine."

Returning to the statement made by Senator Lugar, the Union expressed the hope that "relations between Russia and the U.S. will be built on the basis of dialogue between partners, but not of dictate," and that "the statement was just Senator Lugar's private view, and not the position of the U.S. and its new administration."  (posted 19 December 2000)

Agence France Presse, 18 December 2000

The Russian Orthodox church claimed Monday that freedom of religion was totally respected in Russia, refuting US accusations that religious persecution was widespread, Interfax agency reported Monday.

"Freedom of religion is not bound by any restrictions in Russia and those who wish to practice their own religion have every right to do so," said a spokesman for the Orthodox church, Viktor Malukhyn.

Malukhyn was reacting to a string of accusations by US officials, including Republican Senator Richard Lugar, that religious persecution in Russia was widespread.

"Even if Russian law recognises only four traditional religions (Orthodoxy, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam) all other religious persuasions benefit from the same rights provided they are not a threat to public morality," said Malukhyn.

Malukhyn said Russian laws governing religious freedom, adopted in 1997, were "much more liberal than those in some western countries."

Since October, US officials have maintained that Jews, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses living in Russia have been singled out for persecution. (posted 19 December 2000)

Interfax, 18 December 2000

The Russian Orthodox Church has dismissed on Monday [18 December] a statement by US senator Richard Lugar that there are limitations to religious freedom in Russia and that the administration of President-elect George W Bush will take a hard line over the alleged restrictions.

"Religious freedoms are not being restricted in Russia and all those who wish to practice their religious doctrines enjoy the complete right to do this on a lawful basis," church spokesman Viktor Malukhin has told Interfax commenting on a statement by Republican Senator Richard Lugar.

"Although the preamble to the law on the freedom of conscience speaks about the special role of Orthodoxy, the Muslim religion, Judaism and Buddhism in Russian history, under the law itself all religious associations in our country enjoy the same rights; on the condition that they are not antisocial or destructive and do not destroy public morality or the physical or moral health of Russians."

The Russian freedom of conscience law "is much more liberal than the legislation of many Western countries, where there exists a state church, something that Russia does not have, as is well known," Malukhin said.

He said restrictions to be put on religious organizations that have not registered by 31 December 2000, mean "no disaster because no-one is banned in Russia from praying or preaching their religious beliefs to their followers, for example, by setting up communities".

"If an association is not able to re-register, this only means that its right to become a legal entity will be delayed until later, before which it will not receive access to educational institutions or to the army and will not be able to preach its doctrine widely through the mass media," the spokesman said.

In 1997, while it was still going through parliament, the freedom of conscience law evoked a "sharply negative reaction on the part of the leaders of Western countries and the Vatican, which the Russian Orthodox Church qualified as a response by the liberal circles of the West to the desire of the new Russia to live in accordance with its own traditions and religious and moral standards rooted in the history of our country", Malukhin said.

"There are few in the world today who can dispute the right of each nation to build their future in accordance with their own cultural and historical ideas. I don't think that the new Republican administration of the United States will question this."

Malukhin expressed the hope that "this statement of the American senator reflects his personal point of view because none of the close advisers of President-elect George W. Bush have so far commented on the issue of religious freedom in Russia". (posted 19 December 2000)

Reregistration deadline looms

by Andrei Zolotov Jr.  Staff Writer
Moscow Times, 16 December 2000

Hundreds and perhaps thousands of religious organizations around the country are unlikely to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for re-registration and thus may be forced to disband or severely limit their activities, a prominent religious rights lawyer said Friday.

Only 56 percent of about 17,500 organizations registered under a 1991 law on religion had been re-registered by July under a stricter 1997 law, Alexander Kudryavtsev, a presidential administration official in charge of relations with religious organizations, said Friday. More recent figures are not available, he said.

Lawyer Anatoly Pchelintsev said many Russian Orthodox parishes, Moslem groups and Protestant churches, mostly in the distant regions, have ignored the requirements or waited too long, or faced resistance on the part of local authorities and had to spend months fighting in court.

Groups that belong to a "centralized" organization, such as the Moscow Patriarchate or Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, may be able to register next year as new organizations.

But small churches of religious organizations new to Russia, often described as "sects," are likely to be downgraded to "groups," said Pchelintsev, head of the Law and Religion Institute. They would thus lose their right to hold services in public places, distribute literature, own property or invite foreign guests.

Pchelintsev said that across Russia, authorities have been particularly hard on Pentecostal groups, often denying them registration for ridiculous reasons.

In Cheboksary, he said, a Pentecostal group was initially refused registration on the grounds that it prayed for healing without having a medical license.

The Moscow branch of the Salvation Army was recently denied registration on the grounds that as an "army," it represents a "security threat." Kudryavtsev, however, said the decision was "illiterate" and predicted the Salvation Army would eventually be registered.  (posted 18 December 2000)

Orthodox church moves forward with reregistration

from Communications Service, OVTsS MP, 18 December 2000

The Moscow diocese of the Russian Orthodox church has completed the reregistration of all of its structural subdivisions on the territory of the Moscow province that were active before the adoption of the new "Law on freedom of conscience and religious associations," as provided by the legislation of the Russian federation.

The new juridical documents have been received by 732 parishes, 17 monasteries, 3 annexes, 1 brotherhood, and 1 ecclesiastical seminary, a total of 756 religious organizations. In this period the process of the creation of new parishes and monasteries continued without a pause and 131 parishes and 2 monasteries received new registration.

Thus, at the present time Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, is exercising leadership over the activity of 887 juridically formed subdivisions of the Moscow diocese of the Russian Orthodox church.  (tr. by PDS, posted 18 December 2000)

Patriarch objects to western influence, views problems at home

Interfax News Agency, 15 December 2000

According to Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II, the West is to blame for the moral degradation of Russians, most of all its young people.

"We should realize that there is a well-planned, bloodless war going on against our people, aimed at exterminating them," the Russian patriarch said at a Friday Moscow Patriarchate meeting. In his words, "In the Western countries a powerful corruption industry is at work, which brings to Russia enormous amounts of pornography, textbooks on so- called sexual education, which advertise depravity in all its manifestations and legitimize living according to the image of Sodom and Gomorrah."

There is in Russia today "a huge market for alcohol, drugs, pornography, and contraceptives, which brings profit to foreign companies and the mafia, whose activities have caused an unprecedented demographic crisis in our country and is causing our people to degrade and die out at unprecedented rates," Alexy II said.

The patriarch said he believes that the only force capable of "opposing this deadly threat" is the Russian Orthodox Church. He called on all Orthodox believers to "organize a national resistance to actions that cause moral degradation of the population of young Russians."

"We should raise the Russian people up to fight for the lives of their children," the patriarch said. He explained that he does not mean "war and massacres," but "the example of a truly spiritual, Christian life" that believers should set for those around them. (posted 17 December 2000)

The Moscow Times, 15 December 2000

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexy II, attacked the West on Friday for attempting to corrupt the morals of the Russian people.

"We must realize that a planned, bloodless war is being carried out  against our people with the aim of destroying them," Alexy II said in  a speech at the annual diocesan meeting, Interfax reported.

The patriarch blamed the West for a flow of pornographic magazines,  contraceptives, drugs and alcohol into Russia and the promotion of a  lifestyle suited to "Sodom and Gomorrah."

Alexy II said the church was the only counter to these threats. "We  have to get the Russian people to fight for the lives of their  children," he said.  (posted 17 December 2000)

by Olga Kostromina
ITAR-TASS, December 15

Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia on Friday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to support the church in the protection of family values. Addressing an assembly of Moscow clergy in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the patriarch said family ties have been threatened.

According to official information, more than half the number of families break up in Russia every year. As many as 46,000 families have been stripped of parental rights. There are from two million to five million vagabond children in Russia and up to 30 percent of children kept in children's homes have one parent only.

According to the patriarch, the breakup of families was "a result of a multi-year policy imposed by the state ideological machine." The patriarch held government responsible for lack of a timely family strategy.

Unbridled propaganda of violence and debauchery in the media, in cinema, theatre and literature has lead to adultery, divorces, infanticide, deserted children, juvenile crime and drug addiction, the patriarch said. (posted 17 December 2000)

by Olga Kostromina
ITAR-TASS, December 15

Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia on Friday severely criticised some clergymen for their eagerness in the pursuit of material gain.

Speaking at an assembly of Moscow clergy in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, he said it is not normal when clergymen build luxury homes and have feasts while refusing to allocate funds for spiritual education. "If this trend continues, the pastors may end up alone amid their luxurious surroundings," the patriarch said.  (posted 17 December 2000)

Patriarch objects to European bill of rights

from Communications Service, OVTsS-MP, 14 December 2000

On 14 December His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus sent to Archbishop Christodule of Athens and all-Greece and Pope John Paul II of Rome letters that contained a number of opinions that arose from a study of the text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union published on 7 December in Nice at a session of the European Council (a summit of heads of state and governments of the member countries of E.U.). Similar letters also were sent by the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, to the Russian minister of foreign affairs, I.S. Ivanov, and general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, Pastor Keith Clements.

The dispatch of the letters in connection with the adoption of the charter, which has the potential to become one of the bases of a constitution of a united Europe, was caused by concern over the possible reaction to this document by the flock of the Russian Orthodox church, many of whom live in countries which have already become candidates for acceptance into the European Union. During the time of preparation of the charter Orthodox, Catholic, and protestant churches, as well as the Conference of European Churches expressed a number of critical comments on the text of the document. In appealing to the addressees of the above-mentioned letters, the hierarchy of the Russian church expressed hope for solidarity and the development of joint efforts for improving European international law.

In his letters His Holiness the patriarch said:  "Recognizing that the charter has great positive significance, because it strengthens many of the vitally important human rights, including a broad spectrum of economic and social rights, I am forced to call attention to a large number of weak aspects of the documents.  First, I must note the insufficient expression of the spiritual and moral bases of human dignity, as well as the practically total ignoring of the question of the moral responsibility of the individual and the obligations that are based upon it, which are inseparably linked with rights. The preamble of the charter, as representatives of Christian churches and associations have already often noted, ignores the religious heritage of Europe, stressing the role of humanistic values only, which are not an unconditional priority for a comprehensive religious worldview.

There are also more specific but no less important notes. Article 21 of the charter forbids "discrimination on any bases," including religion, "political or other opinion," and "sexual orientation." A literal interpretation and radical application of this principle by a state could lead to an insurmountable contradiction with the rules of the Orthodox church and many other religious societies which are guided in their internal life by religious law that is esteemed by believing people above any human law. This also pertains to the provision of article 23 that specifies equality of the sexes in employment. I would suggest that the application of these principles should be balanced by measures that strengthen the noninterference of the state in the internal life of religious organizations, which are formed on a voluntary basis, and thus cannot be a source of discrimination in the indicated situations. We do not recognize that identification on the basis of "sexual orientation" is rooted in the nature of a person and thus we see bringing this identity into article 21 as in no way justified.

Article 13 removes virtually any restrictions from various forms of artistic self-expression, which, as is well known, can be used for unseemly purposes and can serve as a means of arousing political and other discord as well as offending religious, national, and other feelings. Restrictions also are removed from scientific research, which also can serve ill-intentioned goals and interests. We consider it important to work out a more balanced and responsible approach to these questions, one that is required by realistic circumstances of life.

There also are other reasons for concern, in particular, the failure to grant a number of political, economic, and social rights to persons who are not citizens of EU member countries, while in several countries that are candidates for membership such persons constitute a substantial portion of the population and they do not have the possibility of receiving citizenship right away. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 December 2000)

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