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RPTs is "semi-state" church

by Aleksei Makarin
Segodnia, 19 January 2001

The growth of the political influence of the Russian Orthodox church is evident to the naked eye. The patriarch is pleased with the president and the president with the patriarch. The tensions which existed between His Holiness and Boris Yeltsin (for example, with respect to the law on freedom of religious confessions that restricted, in the opinion of many, that very freedom) are now in the past. The president conducts himself in church in a manner that befits a zealous parishioner; the new Russian anthem includes for the first time since 1917 the word "God" (apparently with a capital letter). On account of this His Holiness agreed to the "stalinist" music of Alexandrov. Having accompanied Putin and Schroeder to the Saint Sergius Holy Trinity lavra, Alexis II even came late to the Christmas service in the church of Christ the Savior. And according to some reports the Russian president, in his meeting with the German chancellor, raised the question of the transfer to RPTs of church on German territory that are now the property of the church "outside Russia." This also can be said of the episcopacy that, following the example of the primate, has been closely linked for some time with provincial secular authorities. Thus in Putin's Russia the Orthodox church is, if not the state church, at least the semi-state church--it already is that.

Whom are you with, ministers of worship?

How are the political processes in Russia viewed by "people of the church" who willy-nilly are involved in them? Let's say at the outset: the subject of communist repression either does not exist at all in the consciousness of the majority of the bishops and clergy or it exists way out on the periphery. The point is that after 1943 massive repressions against the church came to an end.  Under Khrushchev the last priests were arrested for nonpolitical crimes (at that time Archbishop Iov was imprisoned for nonpayment of taxes, a unique accusation for an absolutely nonmarket economy).  In those years seminarists also were forced to abandon their studies. Nikita Sergeevich even promised to show on television "the last padre." In this way the stalinist repressions have become the "heritage of history," and Khrushchev is hated by bishops and priests. Even more than Stalin and especially Brezhnev, who is accepted calmly. Under him only dissident priests were arrested, including Gleb Yakunin, whom the Orthodox episcopate itself unfrocked and excommunicated back in the democratic nineties.

The Orthodox elite is characterized by certain tendencies which can be "measured" by sociological surveys. In particular, such a survey was conducted by the "Religion and Values after the fall of communism" project, financed by the Finland Academy of Sciences. The result of this was the book "Old Churches, New Believers."

It has been established that the Orthodox elite (the bishops) to a significantly greater degree than other elite groups (political, economic, media) is convinced that "Russians possess moral qualities superior to other nations." That is the opinion of 26% of bishops questioned (by way of comparison, only 9% of big businessmen and 10% of politicians think the same). To the question regarding perspectives on democracy, an absolute majority of representatives of elite groups responded that in Russia democratic conditions still remained after the transition period.  The bishops constituted an exception: 15% were "democrats" while 37% chose the answer, "democracy is not for Russia." It seems that the words of St. John of Kronstadt, "Democracy leads to hell and tsarism to heaven," continue to have a serious impact on the monastic Orthodox hierarchy, and consequently on believers. It is important that the issue is not acceptance of democracy as such; even people of leftist views often advocate democracy, having in view its communist parody ("people's democracy," "soviet democracy," etc.)

"Which is more important, freedom or equality?" All of the elites answer "freedom" (even politicians, including many communists). Only the episcopate, although with a small edge, select equality: 22% against 19%. The attitude toward other religions also is significant: "very bad" attitudes toward Baptists are held by 35% of bishops, and 59% toward Jehovists and 50% toward Krishnaites. The negative attitude is sufficiently great also toward the so-called "traditional religions." Thus 32% of those questioned strongly dislike Buddhists and 24%, Jews. In addition to the "strongly dislike" was another "dislike" group, so that the statistics reveal an extreme dislike.

Dislike of other confessions and religious groups is one of the causes of dislike for democracy in general. This is not surprising. In the soviet years Jehovists were sentenced to prisons and camps and nothing was heard of Krishnaites at all. Baptists calmly published their "Bratsky vestnik" and did not engage in evangelism (as protestant preachers did in stadiums and squares at the beginning of the 90s). Now competitors are not considered. Catholics have been appointing their bishops in Russia for a whole decade (in USSR they were permitted to do this only in the Baltics); the so-called "new" religious groups are more actively recruiting into their ranks potential Orthodox believers (as clergy of RPTs consider, at least, the whole Russian population of the country).

One may ask, what about the churches and the numerous Orthodox publishing houses returned under democracy, and the abolition of the humiliating requirement of presenting the parents' passport at the baptism of infants? Or the opportunity to open educational institutions freely? In fact the majority of the Orthodox hierarchy does not associatethese benefits with democracy at all. It was under Yury Andropov that the decision was made to return to the church Saint Daniel's monastery by the millennium of the baptism of Rus (to be sure, RPTs requested a different monastery, the monastery of the Don, but it was satisfied with the smaller one). You see, after ten or twenty years the communists had come to the conclusion that they should not merely tolerate RPTs but even befriend it, while renouncing their outdated scientific atheism. But at the same time they would not let into the country any "foreign" confessions and groups. For the sake of this a great deal could be tolerated.

In the atmosphere of complete mutual understanding

If the government had not displayed its attitude toward RPTs, the attitude of the bishops and priests would have remained simply their personal affair, especially since the church is separated from the state, according to the constitution. This is like a closed club or monastery, where one accepts the prevailing rules. However the "state" role of the church forces one to pay attention to several particulars. For example, the presidential satrap in a federal district meets with the local clergy and inquires about needs and gets the response about how to shut down the "Puppets" program that ridicules government figures.  This is a disgrace for the whole government. And Bishop Maximilian suspected Grandfather Frost of dangerous paganism (who, as is known, has lived several years in Great Ustiug and even has a Russian passport). Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, who is personally acquainted with the president (he is even called by the media Putin's "spiritual advisor") actively campaigns against the introduction of taxpayer identification numbers, detecting in them the codified "number of the beast" from the Revelation, 666.

These small but typical items (and one could cite many more similar ones) along with the Finnish survey indicate what advice the "average" bishop or priest can give to political leaders. Of course there is the exceptional person of excellent education and broad view who only proves the rule.

One still cannot speak of direct influence of church leaders on a politician. Clerics of RPTs are forbidden to lobby governmental offices, and church canons forbid them to occupy bureaucratic office. However, in 1938 the patriarch was the prime minister of the Romanian monarchy. But for the foreseeable future this is impossible for Russia. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 January 2001)

by Dmitry Safonov, 16 January 2001

Today after the ceremony in the Kremlin of the awarding by President Vladimir Putin of medals to church leaders the chief of staff of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk, addressing reporters, said:

"The moment which occurred today is historic; it is a moment of history, I think, that must not be overlooked. The passing twentieth century was a very difficult century not only for secular society but also for the church and church people as a whole, and in the course of this century, in principle, nobody has in such a way thanked the church laborers for their activity, neither the imperial sovereign who was enrolled in the canon of saints, Nicholas Alexandrovich,, nor much less the authorities who replaced the tsarist regime and who declared atheism and godlessness as their slogan; and that the president of Russia has endowed such a large group of clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox church and other confessions on this day with signs of distinction, the medal of thanks--this speaks of the changes that have saliently happened in our society. We who have received these medals, surely, were happy from a human standpoint; of course it is impossible to hide this because after many decades of suffering, both fatal and not fatal, the church finally has been esteemed by the state; I think that these awards were not only for the work and contribution of the church in the past decade but also for the way the church, despite such difficulties, has always remained with the people and never betrayed them and did not give in to any enticements or allurements. It did not leave its people without sustenance."

Then Metropolitan Sergius answered questions of the reporter:

--Master, how, in your view, will church-state relations unfold in the twenty-first century? Are you satisfied with how they are unfolding at the present time?

--I think that the foundation which now has been laid is a healthy foundation; it promotes a very good balance of mutual understanding between the church and state because it is impossible to break up a living thing. We really do not deal in politics and the state does not interfere in church affairs, but our parishioners are the very same Russians, and we will never depart from this and thus we are doing one and the same thing. And it seems to me that the mistake that was made several centuries ago, when the church began to be viewed as a spokesman of interests that impeded the progress of Russia, I think, that this was a mistaken opinion. May God grant that in the twenty-first century this mistake will be understood and never repeated, because the church never was in opposition to society, never was in opposition to the state, but always promoted the strengthening of unity and the strengthening of Russia's might and the elevation of the moral health of the nation and strengthening of the family as the basis of society.

--Master, do you consider that the relation of the state to the Russian Orthodox church should be different from its relation to other confessions?

--If one is talking about the nontraditional confessions, then we oppose them because nontraditional confessions are new confessions and we oppose Russia's becoming a patchwork of such new ideological conceptions; ideological weapons are taking on religious forms and we oppose that. But as regards traditional confessions or those confessions which have acquired traditional status in Russia, I think that there always has been good cooperation with them, both in prerevolutionary Russia and in the soviet period, and I think there will be such cooperation in the twenty-first century as well. We do not want to be the state religion; we, more than anyone else, surely value the effects of the fact that the church is separated from the state and we are trying to maintain this status. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 January 2001)

Briefs: Orthodox church and internal affairs cooperate; reregistration; tax numbers; Ukrainian Catholics

NTV, 26 January 2001

Cooperation between the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) of Russia and the Russian Orthodox church "has been developing positively and is changing qualitatively," becoming a spiritual necessity for agents of the offices of internal affairs. This was stated on Friday at the Christmas Readings in Moscow at the MVD academy by Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Rushailo, "Echo of Moscow" reports, citing Interfax.

The minister noted the close cooperation of his administration with RPTs in the "hot spots," especially in Chechnia. In particular, he pointed to joint efforts on restoring an Orthodox church in Grozny and the evacuation from the republic of more than a thousand invalid retirees to gerontology centers on the territories of other regions of the Russian federation.

Rushailo spoke in favor of new approaches to cooperation of MVD with RPTs. He said that it is necessary to increase joint efforts of law enforcement agencies and the church for strengthening the legal order and to create a system of educational activity for this. Besides this, he said, joint activity of MVD and RPTs "should be aimed and directed in the first place to work with youth."

In the minister's opinion, an important aspect of cooperation of the two administrations should be the "struggle with illegal sects" whose activity represents a "threat to the moral and physical health of Russian citizens."

Taking part in the readings, Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, in his turn, said that the life of Russia in the twenty-first century will "to a great extent depend on whether the spiritual foundations are returned to our life and the legal order will be observed." In his words, "if each citizen will understand that he should follow the legal order, which is defined both spiritual and civilly, there will be less crime."  (tr. by PDS, posted 26 January 2001)

ITAR-TASS/Sobornost, 26 January 2001

On 26 January Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus and Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Rushailo declared the necessity of joint efforts of the church and law enforcement agencies for setting right life in Chechnia. They stated this in an interview with reporters at the time of the opening of the section of the Christmas Readings "Spirituality and the legal order at the turn of the century," in the MVD academy of RF.

"The church's duty is to support spiritually and morally the families of officers of law enforcement agencies who perished in performing their duties in hot spots," said Patriarch Alexis. The primate of the Russian Orthodox church  recalled that Orthodox priests have been in Chechnia continually, providing spiritual nourishment to those who are performing difficult service there for introducing order, establishing legality, and restoring a peaceful life. The Russian Orthodox church is also helping the population of Chechnia, sending humanitarian aid trucks with items of primary necessity.

Vladimir Rushailo expressed gratitude to the primate of the Russian Orthodox church for this aid and stressed that the efforts of MVD workers had restored the church of the Archangel Michael in Grozny that had been destroyed, which had been the unifying center of the Russian speaking population. "In Chechnia we have a joint plan of action," the minister said. "Our cooperation with the church provides for joint shipment for humanitarian purposes to this region."
Vladimir Rushailo emphasized also the necessity of active participation of the agencies of internal affairs in the struggle with illegal sects who pose a threat to the moral and physical health of Russians. In this matter the minister found the full support of Patriarch Alexis II.  (tr. by PDS, posted 26 January 2001)

NTV, 24 January 2001

According to preliminary data of the Russian Ministry of Justice, more than 4,000 religious organizations have not been reregistered and are liable to liquidation, the "Blagovest-info" agency reports. This was stated by Anatoly Pchelintsev, director of the Institute of Religion and Law, at a session of the Council of Directors of the Russian Department of the International Association for Religious Freedom (RO MARS).

According to Anatoly Pchelintsev, the final figures on reregistration of organizations will appear later. According to data from 18 October 2000, 56% of organizations had been reregistered, and according to data for December, 70 to 75%. Organizations created by foreigners have had special difficulties with reregistration.  As an especially difficult case Anatoly Pchelintsev noted the refusal to reregister the Moscow department of the Salvation Army. In the jurist's opinion, in the near future a struggle over the provisions of the law on freedom of conscience will again be revived. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 January 2001)

NTV, 25 January 2001

According to information from the chief attorney of the Moscow patriarchate, Viktor Kalinin, its employees have received taxpayer identification numbers (INN), the "Blagovest-info" agency reports. Noting that the INN problem has evoked many disputes within the Orthodox community, and individual parishes, clergy, and laity have categorically refused to accept this number, Viktor Kalinin referred to the official point of view of the leadership of RPTs on the INN question.

In his words, as a result of the meeting last summer of Patriarch Alexis II with the leadership of the tax department, an agreement was reached and published whereby Orthodox Christians may avoid sending to tax collectors applications for issuance of INN but they may merely fill out a corresponding form.

Besides this, in the certificates on assignment of INN there is no bar code in which many Orthodox detect the "number of the beast," 666, but a numerical code. Speaking of his own attitude toward INN, Viktor Kalinin declared that as an attorney he is doubly obliged to be a law-abiding citizen and receipt of INN is a requirement of the law. In the opinion of the chief attorney of the Moscow patriarchate, acceptance of INN does not violate freedom of conscience. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 January 2001)

Reuters, 26 January 2001

Ukraine's main Catholic Church accused the Orthodox Church, the country's biggest, of practices "unworthy of Christians" on Friday for asking the Pope to postpone a planned visit in June.

The eastern-rite Greek-Catholic Church's comments were the latest indication that Pope John Paul's June 23-27 visit risks being marked by acrimony among Ukraine's Christians, rather than the spirit of healing the Vatican says it is pursuing.

The head of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- which is subordinate to Russia's Orthodox Church -- said in a letter to the Pope on Monday that his visit would worsen already tense inter-church relations.

"The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, is notifying the Pope that it does not want His Holiness in Ukraine at all, ever," said Father Serge Keleher of the Greek-Catholic Church.

"Suggesting that a man of the Holy Father's age and health should 'postpone' such a trip is sheer cynicism and unworthy of Christian writing," he said in a written comment on the letter.

Despite the row, the 80-year-old pontiff says he is looking forward to the trip. The Vatican has said there are no plans to delay the visit, which comes three years after Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma invited him.

The Pope has visited other Orthodox countries, but his trip to Ukraine with its tight Orthodox links to Moscow brings him the closest yet to the Russian Church's sphere of influence. . . .(copyright, Reuters, posted 26 January 2001)

Associated Press, 26 January 2001

Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church elected a U.S. citizen as their new leader after the death of Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, church officials said Friday.

Lubachivsky's assistant Lubomyr Husar, 67, was elected by the gathering, or synod, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Thursday and Pope John Paul II approved the choice, a church spokesman said. Husar has administered the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine since Lubachivsky's death last month.

The synod, which opened Wednesday, was comprised of 26 bishops from Australia, Canada, the United States, Latin America, and Europe.

Husar, who was born in Lviv, left the country with his parents during World War II in 1944, the spokesman said.

He studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and at Fordham University in New York. He was ordained a priest in 1958 in Stamford, Connecticut and taught at St. Basil's College seminary in Stamford from 1958 to 1969. He was ordained a bishop in Italy in 1977.

He was named to lead the church in Ukraine's Kiev-Vyshgorod region in 1996 and helped Lubachivsky in his activities over the past five years.

Lubachivsky was hailed as a hero by the Vatican for his role in the struggle to preserve the church, which was outlawed by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1946 and driven underground. It resurfaced with the crumbling of Communism.

Lubachivsky, who also was a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen and had served as metropolitan archbishop of Philadelphia, headed the Ukrainian church while in exile in Rome until the collapse of the Soviet regime made it possible for him to take up residence in Lviv.

Greek Catholics have an Orthodox-style liturgy, but owe allegiance to the pope. There are some 4 million of them in Ukraine, which is mostly Orthodox.  (posted 26 January 2001)

Ukrainian Orthodox vs. pope

Pravoslavie v Ukraine, 22 January 2001

On 22 January 2001 a regular session of the Holy Synod and Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox church was held in the Holy Dormition Kiev caves lavra with the primate of UPTs, His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and all-Ukraine, presiding.

Before the beginning of the meeting a thanksgiving prayer service was conducted in commemoration of the Day of Community of Ukraine during which the episcopate of UPTs raised their prayers for our country, its president and government, and the God-loving Ukrainian nation.

At the session of the Holy Synod a number of questions of church life were reviewed, including the attitude of UPTs to the upcoming visit to Ukraine by Roman Pope John Paul II. Then at the subsequent Council of Bishops of UPTs the text of a statement from the primate of UPTs with regard to the upcoming visit of the head of the Roman Catholic church to Ukraine in June 2001 was heard.

To His Holiness Pope John Paul II of Rome

Your Holiness!

First of all permit me to thank you heartily for the greetings you sent for my sixth-fifth birthday. From your letter I received for the first time, although in indirect fashion, confirmation from Rome of the visit of Your Holiness to Ukraine that is being planned.

We had known about the invitations to visit our country that were sent to you by the president and government of Ukraine, as well as by Ukrainian Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic bishops.

Without question it is possible to understand the Catholic flock of Ukraine who desire to see the head of their church at their home. We also view with appropriate understanding the position of the leadership of the Ukrainian government which is striving to conduct a more open foreign policy and thus to raise the prestige of our country in the international arena.

Along with this it is necessary to remember that the majority of the population of Ukraine always has been and remains Orthodox in its religious profession. The whole historical heritage of the life of our nation, its culture and traditions, are linked with Orthodoxy in the closest manner. Ukraine is an organic part of the Orthodox East. The overwhelming majority of Orthodox believers of Ukraine constitute the flock of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. In this regard it causes amazement that the visit of Your Holiness to our country was planned from the start and prepared without an official notification of our church or any kind of invitation on our part.

This situation was discussed by the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox church who unanimously made the decision to send to Your Holiness a request to postpone your visit to Ukraine so that it can be conducted at a time more favorable for the interrelationships between our churches and so that the Ukrainian Orthodox church can officially take part in the invitation to Your Holiness and the planning of the schedule of your visit.

The main reasons for this decision is the irregularity of relations between Greek Catholics and Orthodox in western Ukraine. Of course, today nobody is committing outright violence. Against this background the illusion has been created, not without the participation of the official Vatican, that this problem is under control and that your visit will facilitate a final peaceful resolution of the interconfessional conflict in western Ukraine. However this view is profoundly deceptive. Even in the absence of outbreaks of violence relations between Orthodox and Greek Catholics in this region continue to be extremely tense. Up to now in many places of western Ukraine Orthodox believers do not have the possibility of using church buildings that have been seized by Greek Catholics. Not one of the agreements on this problem that were concluded between the Moscow patriarchate and the Vatican has been fulfilled. In connection with the foregoing there is the danger that your planned visit will only solidify the currently existing state of affairs that is extremely unfavorable for our church.

Your Holiness undoubtedly knows that in the course of the past decade Greek Catholics have seized more than a thousand churches, as a result of which three dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, Lviv, Ivano-Frankovsk, and Ternopol, have been broken up. Full-fledged church life in these dioceses has still not been restored. The appearance of peace between the Orthodox and Greek Catholics of western Ukraine that could be created with the help of your visit will signify an attempt to create peace without justice, which never is easy and generally is not genuine peace in the Christian understanding of the word.

Following the conclusion of such a "peace" the suffering of the Orthodox people of western Ukraine will continue. Can we really extend our hands to one another and create the illusion of harmony and well-being when people are suffering? Millions of simple Orthodox believers reject this visit and that puts me and the whole episcopate of the Ukrainian Orthodox church in a situation where we cannot meet with you. Thus we officially declare that if the visit of Your Holiness to Ukraine occurs at the scheduled time there will be no meetings between us, and none of the clergy of our church will take part in the program of the visit.

Another problem that poses an impediment to your visit to Ukraine at the present time is the ambiguity of the attitude of the Roman Catholic church to the schisms that now exist among the Orthodox of our country. Surely you know about the two schismatic structures that exist in Ukraine, the so-called "Ukrainian Orthodox Church--Kiev Patriarchate" and the "Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church." In all negotiations between the Moscow patriarchate and the Roman Catholic church the need for the Vatican to recognize the exclusively canonical Orthodox structures in Ukraine has been raised. If in the course of your upcoming visit there is a meeting of Your Holiness with any of the schismatic leaders, especially with the false patriarch Filaret who was anathematized by our church, this will signify that the Roman Catholic church is ignoring the principle of canonical relations between the churches and is crudely interfering in our internal affairs, supporting the schismatics with your authority. This could bring on the most undesirable consequences in relations between the Roman Catholic church and Orthodox believers.

Refusal to observe ecclesiastical principles of inter-church relations will signify a practical cessation of all relations between our churches and, consequently, the twilight of the epoch of the Second Vatican Council in Orthodox-Catholic relations. We pray the Lord that this will not happen and that Your Holiness' pontificate will not violate the principles of Orthodox-Catholic relations that have been achieved with such labor thanks to the wise actions of your predecessors and leading Orthodox bishops. We hope that you, Your Holiness, will pay attention to all the foregoing and in the name of the future positive development of relations between the two great churches will postpone your planned visit to Ukraine. We are sincerely convinced that if you display appropriate understanding of the feelings of Orthodox believers this will elicit the just support of broad strata of the population of Ukraine and will facilitate the achievement of peace and harmony among Christians of the two churches.

What has been said above is the official position of forty-two bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox church.

With love for the Lord and hope for understanding and sincere good relations.

Vladimir, metropolitan of Kiev and all-Ukraine

(tr. by PDS, posted 25 January 2001)

Papal Spokesman Clarifies Press Reports
Zenit, 23 January 2001

The Vatican made it clear that it has received no pressure from the  Orthodox Church to dissuade John Paul II from his planned trip to  Ukraine.

"No message has arrived here to this effect," Vatican spokesman,  Joaquin Navarro-Valls, explained Monday afternoon in an official  statement.

Italian newspapers had exaggerated revelations made by the Vatican  missionary agency Fides, according to which "in a recent meeting of  the Permanent Council of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox  Church, Metropolitan Vladimir, representing the Russian Patriarchate  of Kiev, was chosen to write an official letter to dissuade the  Pontiff from undertaking the trip." In its Jan. 19 news dispatch,  Fides said it quoted sources inside the Orthodox Church.

Navarro-Valls explained that the Pope will meet Catholics of Ukraine  "and hopes to contribute to a "peaceful ecumenical dialogue." For  now, the Vatican note makes no mention of meetings with the Orthodox.  The papal trip to Ukraine is scheduled to take place from June 23-27.

Reuters, 25 January 2001

ROME (Reuters) -- Pope John Paul announced on Thursday he will make his first visit to Syria this year and confirmed he will visit Ukraine despite differences with the biggest Orthodox Church in the former Soviet republic.

The Pope made his announcement at the end of homily at a prayer service with representatives of other Christian religions at the Basilica of St Paul in Rome.

"My expectations for the trips that will take me to Syria and Ukraine are great," he said.

It was the first time there had been official Vatican confirmation of the trip to Syria, which is expected to take place at the end of April or the beginning of May.

He also will most likely visit Malta as part of the same trip, although a possible stop in Greece is still in doubt because of objections from that country's Orthodox Church.

The trip is intended to re-trace the steps of St Paul, who converted to Christianity in Syria and preached in Athens and Malta before arriving in Rome.

Ukraine's biggest church has asked the Pope to delay his planned June 23-27 visit, saying it could anger the nation's diverse Christian groups. But the Vatican says the trip will go ahead as planned.

The 80-year-old Pope, the most travelled pontiff in history, said he hoped his trips to Syria and Ukraine would help contribute to reconciliation among Christians.

by Alessandra Stanley

John Paul II confirmed today his plans to visit Ukraine in June despite objections by the main Orthodox Church there, and also said he would visit Syria.

The pope's trip to Syria in March or April is an effort to retrace the steps of St. Paul, who converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, part of an uncompleted Holy Year pilgrimage that took the pope to Jerusalem last March.

His contested visit to Ukraine is another missed goal for the year 2000. It is part of the pope's hope of breaking through resistance in Moscow and Kiev and of trying to broker reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, divided since the schism of 1054.

The 80-year-old pope referred to the chilly distance between sister churches in a homily he delivered at a Christian unity service today before an audience that included representatives of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches, as well as Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists.

"We cannot and should not diminish the differences that still exist between us," the pope said. "True ecumenical commitment does not seek compromises and makes no concessions on truth. It knows that the separations between Christians is contrary to the will of Christ; it knows that they are scandalous and weakens the voice of the Gospel."

Earlier this week, the largest Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which is subordinate to Moscow, asked the pope to delay his visit and warned that if he had any meetings with leaders of two rival Orthodox churches, which Moscow considers heretical, it would break off all contact with Rome.

Tensions between the Orthodox Church and Rome are particularly high in Ukraine, where there are bitter church property disputes between Orthodox leaders and Eastern-rite Catholics, who follow Orthodox rites but are loyal to Rome.

The Russian Patriarch Aleksei II has often complained that Catholics throughout the former Soviet Union are seeking to convert Orthodox believers to Catholicism. The pope was invited to Ukraine by President Leonid Kuchma, and, apparently tired of waiting for an invitation from Orthodox Church leaders, leaped at the chance.

The president of Greece, Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, handed the pope another such opportunity during a papal audience on Wednesday, by extending for the first time a formal invitation from the government.

"We await you in Athens, in Greece, soon," Mr. Stephanopoulos told the pope as he left.

The pope has said he wishes to visit the main sites where St. Paul preached, including Athens and Malta. Malta is not a diplomatically sensitive destination, and the pope is likely to go there in the spring. But Greek Orthodox leaders have long opposed a papal visit, despite intense lobbying by the Greek government, which views a papal visit as prestigious.

After a meeting of the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church last year, church leaders said they could not oppose the visit of the pope to Greece as a head of state, but warned that it was "up to the pope to decide after considering all aspects of such a possible visit."

The Vatican has not yet announced any plans, but Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said on Wednesday that "The Holy Father thanked his guest, hoping the visit, in the footsteps of St. Paul, will one day become a reality."

If the pope does decide to go to Athens, his reception by Orthodox leaders is likely to echo that of Georgian church leaders in Tbilisi last year. Invited by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, he was greeted by Orthodox leaders as a visiting head of state, but there was little of the religious rapprochement the pope achieved in Romania in 1999 with Patriarch Teoctist I, who allowed joint religious services during the first visit of a pope to a mostly Orthodox nation in more than 1,000 years.

Ur, the city in Iraq where Christians believe Abraham was born, is another pilgrimage site on the pope's wish list, but his plans to visit Ur during the Holy Year were scuttled by the Iraqi government.  (Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company, posted 25 January 2001)

Briefs: Orthodox political movement; Lukashenko; Israeli President Katsav; Jewish congregations

by Alexei Kravchenko
TASS, 23 January 2001

The Russian national public political movement "The People's Deputy" will hold its founding conference in Moscow's House of Trade Unions on January 26, sources in the press service of the group of State Duma deputies of the same name told Itar-Tass on Tuesday.

Group chairman Gennady Raikov will make a key-note speech to the conference about the aims, tasks and prospects of the newly emerging movement, the sources said.

Gennady Raikov has declared that one of the basic principles of the programme of the new national movement will be its reliance on "common sense and the fundamental provisions of the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox church."

The People's Deputy group of lower house deputies ranks third in its numerical strength in the State Duma. It brings together 62 deputies elected in one-mandate constituencies. Forty of its members acted as Vladimir Putin's canvassers during the presidential elections campaign in the year 2000. (Copyright 2001 ITAR-TASS News Agency, posted 24 January 2001)

by Olga Kostromina
TASS, 23 January 2001

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II on Tuedsay awarded Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko a prize of the International Foundation for Unity of the Orthodox Peoples.

The ceremony at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was attended by Russian and Belarussian state and public leaders, church authorities and foreign guests.

Lukashenko and other politicians were awarded the prize for outstanding activities in forging the unity of the Slav people.

The patriarch of Moscow and All Russia hailed Lukashenko for contributing to economic and political ties between the two states as well as to spiritual revival of his people.

Lukashenko, for his part, qualified the award as "recognition of a contribution by my country, Belarus, to strengthening ties between our peoples." He stressed that the centuries-long strive to unity was a common national feature of the two peoples.

That is "where we should set an example to the entire international community," he added. "That is why Russian and Belarussian politicians seek to create a union," Lukashenko emphasized. (Copyright 2001 ITAR-TASS News Agency, posted 24 January 2001)

RIA OREANDA, 23 January 2001

Moscow. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko is arriving in Moscow today for the second time during the last seven days. The visit is linked with awarding him with the prize of the international fund "Unity of Orthodox peoples". The presentation will take place in the hall of Church Cathedrals of Temple of Christ the Saviour. The prizes will be delivered by Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II.

Meanwhile, some news agencies say that Lukashenko's arrival in Moscow is linked first of all with the detention in the USA of the secretary of state of the Union of Russia and Belarus Pavel Borodin.

It is known that President of Russia Vladimir Putin has not commented on the situation linked with Borodin. It is not informed, whether the meeting of presidents of Russia and Belarus is planned. (Copyright 2001 RIA OREANDA, posted 24 January 2001)

Agence France Presse, 23 January 2001

Israeli President Moshe Katsav arrived in Moscow Tuesday for a three-day official visit during which he will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and the head of the Russian Orthodox church Patriarch Alexy II, Russian media reported.

Katsav was met on arrival by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and was due to go straight into a meeting with Putin.

He is to meet the Russian patriarch on Wednesday, going on to address a group of Russian businessmen and visit a Moscow synagogue.

The visit is the second stage of a three-nation tour, Katsav having earlier visited Ukraine and being due Thursday to travel on to Georgia.

The tour is his first trip abroad since he took office in August.

In Kiev on Monday, Katsav said Israel was prepared to make "big concessions" to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians. (Copyright 2001 Agence France Presse, 23 January 2001)

NTV, 24 January 2001

On Tuesday in the Kremlin Vladimir Putin hosted an official dinner in honor of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who arriving in Russia for an official visit, RIA "Novosti" reports. Kosher dishes (ritually "clean" from the point of view of Judaism" were prepared for the distinguished guest under the personal supervision of the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FEOR), Rabbi Berl Lazar. He reported that the Israeli president took not of the skill of the Kremlin chefs. Moshe Katsaev and his wife were touched by the respect which the hosts showed to Jewish traditions.

As Berl Lazar noted, the menu was the same for everybody although identical dishes were kosher in some cases and not kosher in others. They included traditional dishes of Russian cuisine, in particular, pike and salmon. The menu also included mushroom soup, roast turkey with fruit, veal stuffed with vegetables, and various desserts, fruit, tea, and coffee. Kosher wine and Russian vodka also were served.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made toasts during the meal for the prosperity of Russian and Israeli citizens, further development of relations between the two countries, and peace in the Middle East, and he concluded with the word "Lechaim," which translated from Yiddish means "For life."

Moshe Katsav, in turn, noted that biblical prophecies speak of the onset of a time which all wars will cease and swords will be turned into plowshares. At that time, the Israeli president noted, all negotiations will deal only with the development of cultural ties. "May God grant that this will come in the near future," he added. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 January 2001)

NTV, 23 January 2001

All organizations that a members of the Congress of Jewish Religious Associations and Organizations in Russia (KEROOR) achieved reregistration with the offices of justice of Russia, the news agency "Blagovest-info" reports. This was announced by the president of the KEROOR presidium, Zinovy Kogan.

There are 100 organizations that are members of the congress. Zinovy Kogan said that in the past month 30 newly created communities that still have the status of a religious group but soon will receive the status of legal entity have become members of KEROOR. These are communities in the vicinity of Moscow and eastern and central Siberia. In February KEROOR plans to hold a conference for hearing reports on its work and electing leadership. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 January 2001)

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