Elie Wiesel, Religious, Government, and Human Rights Leaders Highlight Importance of Report
The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) today issued the second in a series of annual reports on antisemitism, xenophobia and religious persecution in Russia's regions. Copies of the report are available online at WWW.FSUMONITOR.COM. The report, which documents in detail threats to Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities in 74 regions, finds that:
"While the most violent incidents declined in 2000, Jews continue to face an infrastructure of antisemitism, grassroots and official, that has solidified in several regions as local officials have allied themselves with communist, neo-Nazi, Cossack, Russian Orthodox and other antisemitic agencies. These forces act with near complete impunity, sending the message that neither the central nor local governments will adequately protect Russian Jews." In addition, while President Putin has made positive gestures towards the Jewish community and has strongly condemned antisemitism, the brutal war in Chechnya, the racist campaign against dark skinned minorities in Moscow and other cities, government attacks against human rights and environmental NGOs, and the persecution of Russian Jewish Congress head and independent media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky have all occurred on his watch.
After reviewing a copy of UCSJ's new report, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said: "Antisemitism in various parts of the former Soviet Union has been gaining ground. This is dangerous, and this is the substance of this report. Obviously the newly won democracy in those countries has not succeeded in educating their populations on the perils of racial and religious hatred directed towards the Jews. The situation has become serious, and human rights organizations as well as governments must intervene on behalf of tomorrow's possible Jewish victims."
Other reactions to "Antisemitism, Xenophobia and Religious Persecution in Russia's Regions: 1999-2000" include the following:
"Information is our ultimate defense. UCSJ's report serves to educate and inform the public about antisemitism. As our sages say, 'knowing the illness is already half the cure.' It is particularly important now, as it comes at a time when we see the Russian authorities expressing an interest in fighting antisemitism in Russian society. It is our hope that this report will improve the situation." Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia.
"Russia is once again at the crossroads. The strengthening of the authoritarian vertical of power is accompanied by the growing strength of the security services. In seizing power and the minds of society, these forces use the usual instruments- fear, hatred towards 'the other,' nationalism and xenophobia. In these circumstances, the monitoring of societal trends, the violation of human rights and any occurrences of intolerance is needed by both Russian and the world community in order to understand the reality of the processes occurring in Russia. The survey done by UCSJ is a large-scale, serious and useful work, which in my opinion needs to continue." Deputy Yu. A. Rybakov, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the State Duma.
"Antisemitism, xenophobia and religious persecution are inherent components of human rights abuses in every 'closed' society. While no longer the closed society of the Soviet Union, trends in Russia are now running counter to the protections of a civil society and in favor of strengthening the security apparatus. Russian grassroots neo-fascists, and politicians in Moscow and especially the provinces, find this hateful phenomenon fruitful soil for deliberately kindling such lowly feelings and biased superstitions of the population, thus increasing the temperature of negative public opinion toward human rights and democracy to a highly dangerous degree. Therefore, the systematic monitoring and reporting of all forms of xenophobia, including antisemitism, conducted by UCSJ, are of great importance today in their own right, when extremist and fascist attitudes are so strong, but also as a bellwether for assessing the state of human rights and the infrastructure for a law-based society in general." Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chair, Moscow Helsinki Group and President, International Helsinki Federation.
"Once again UCSJ has provided us with a highly informative survey of manifestations of the persecution of Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities in Russia's provinces. By comparison with UCSJ reports in previous years, the new one is broader in its geographical coverage and more systematic in its presentation. What I found especially illuminating was the introductory analysis of the mixed impact of Putin's rise to power." Stephen D. Shenfield, author of the book "Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, and Movements," published in 2001 by M. E. Sharpe.
In announcing the results of the year-long monitoring effort, Micah Naftalin, UCSJ's national director, said: "We and our colleagues in Russia applaud recent statements by President Vladimir Putin pledging to lead the struggle to end this sadly common blight in Russia's history. But words without deeds are insufficient. UCSJ's report provides the roadmap to hate in Russia's provinces and a challenge to Russian and Western leaders to make concrete action on antisemitism and related issues a top policy priority."
UCSJ is a grassroots, independent Jewish human rights organization with
monitoring bureaus in Russia and six other countries of the former Soviet
Union that has monitored and reported on antisemitism and other violations
of human rights since 1970. (posted 10 February 2001)
The plenipotentiary on human rights, Oleg Mironov, intends to prepare for the first time a report on freedom of conscience in the Russian federation. The preparation of this report was begun recently in his office. It is expected that the report will be published in the fall of this year, by the fourth anniversary of the adoption in 1997 of the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." Representatives of the Russian ombudsman affirm that they are trying to present to the public an unprejudiced and, to the extent possible, objective picture of religious life. According to the director of the Department on Religious and National Questions, Mikhail Odintsov, primary attention in the report will be devoted to the rights and freedoms of the individual person and not of religious organizations. "We are interested primarily in whether the specific individual can, in our situation, actualize himself religiously and in the extent to which he is free to do this."
This approach that is untraditional for the mentality of Russian bureaucrats is fraught with "revelations": already it is now clear that our society can learn from it things it had not suspected about its religiosity and religious freedoms. "It is worth seriously considering, for example, whether Orthodox believers and believers in general are a majority in our society," says Mikhail Odintsov. "For some reason it is understood among us that this is the case. But you know, according to sociological surveys only 50% of residents of our country consider themselves believers. Besides the majority of them are not inclined to associate themselves with any particular confession, acknowledging an abstract idea of God. According to some estimates no more than 10-12% of the population of our country is genuinely Orthodox. From this point of view the incidents of the clericalization of the state that we confront at every step, when, for example, at serious military events the minister of defense is practically inseparable from a priest, which can by no means be justified by appeal to the claim that representatives of the church are representatives of the majority of the inhabitants of our country."
A substantial portion of the report will be devoted to an analysis of how the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," which has evoked numerous discussions and criticism, has been working in Russia. At the same time workers in the office of the ombudsman have been forced in the main to rely on materials in the newspapers and television and the results of monitoring the law enforcement agencies. That is not because they do not trust official statistics; it is simply that in Russia there still is no single state agency that would collect such information at the federal level. Law enforcement agencies are prepared to place at the disposal of the plenipotentiary for human rights a great quantity of such materials, which, in particular, was declared at the "round table" that took place recently in Moscow. According to data of the Moscow Helsinki Group, for example, the "draconian" rules and overt violations of the law prevented the reregistration before 31 December 2000 of 30% of religious organizations (representatives of the Ministry of Justice think that there were no more than 10%), depriving them thereby of legal status, and that means the right to have a seal and a bank account. It is not necessary to explain that in Russia, where paper is often more important than a person, such a measure has deprived many organizations of the possibility to exist and operate.
Practically all rights defenders have noted the growth of a mood of religious intolerance in society, going so far as attempts at public burning of Adventists in Buinaksk, which often has been provoked by corresponding actions by the state. For example, a special letter from the procuracy containing a characterization of "Jehovah's Witnesses" and Scientologists as sects with criminal tendencies. Employees of the office of the plenipotentiary on human rights promise that they will carefully check these facts and, if they are confirmed, will examine them in their report. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 February 2001)
The case for banning the Moscow community of Jehovah's Witnesses is legally unsound, defence attorneys John Burnes of Canada and Artur Leontyev of Russia told the Golovinskiy Court on Wednesday [7 February].
The prosecution has failed to prove that the religion of the sect foments religious intolerance, destroys families and has an adverse impact on the psyche of its members or that the ban on blood transfusions for sect members amounts to making people commit suicide, they said.
The court has adjourned until Friday. Another defence attorney, Galina Krylova, will address it then.
The court has refused to regard the findings of the Moscow State University Sociology Department as evidence, Krylova complained. The sociologists have found that the vast majority of Jehovah's Witnesses regard marriage as an important institution, view adultery as a grave sin and oppose abortions, she said.
On the other hand, the sect is banned in numerous countries. The media
have reported the deaths of people who have refused blood transfusions
on religious grounds. (Copyright 2001 British Broadcasting Corporation,
posted 9 February 2001)
"JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES" ACCUSED
by Oksana Alekseeva
Kommersant-Daily, 7 February 2001
Yesterday in the Golovin intermunicipal court of Moscow the trial for prohibiting the activity of the Moscow society of the religious organization of "Jehovah's Witnesses" resumed. The trial had been adjourned on 12 March 1999 for the conducting of a complex expert analysis of the teaching of the "Jehovah's Witnesses."
The civil case for the liquidation, cessation, and prohibition of the activity of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" was instigated by the procurator of the northern administrative district of the capital on the basis of an appeal from the public organization "The Committee for Salvation of Youth from Totalitarian Sects." The presentation of the procurator contains an accusation against members of the society of inciting national hostility, coercion toward destruction of families, infringement upon the person, rights, and freedom of citizens, refusal of emergency blood transfusion, and enticement of minors in the activity of the organization without informing parents. The judicial process began in the Golovin court on 29 September 1998.
The "Jehovah's Witnesses" were registered in the capital by the department of justice of Moscow in 1991 as a religious organization. According to information from the defendant's counsel, Galina Krylova, the re are 10,000 "Jehovah's Witnesses" in Moscow and around 250,000 in Russia.
In order to conduct the complex expert analysis of the doctrines of "Jehovah's Witnesses," specialists from the sides of both plaintiff and defendant, linguists, psychologists, and specialists in the sphere of religion, were recruited in 1999. The attorney Krylova considers that all accusations are based solely on the doctrinal literature of "Jehovah's Witnesses," which, in her opinion, are based on the bible. And appeals to doctrinal literature cannot, in the attorney's opinion, be "proof of action," and "theological disputes should be conducted elsewhere." Mrs. Krylova maintains that after conducting the complex expert analysis the specialists have not reached a united opinion.
Judge Elena Prokhorycheva denied a petition for the introduction of the results of the expert analysis into the record of the case and the court itself will investigate them.
Commenting on the situation the vice chairman of the Moscow governmental Committee on Relations with Religious Organizations, Konstantin Blazhenov, told a Kommersant reported that a religious society is an ordinary subject of civil law and in the course of its activity questions may arise which require resolution in court. According to data of the Ministry of Justice, 360 local congregations of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" organization are operating. Their religious center is located outside St. Petersburg, but juridically each of the congregations exists autonomously. A judicial resolution of the conflict situation is quite natural and the trial could extend for years and even decades. That is the experience of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" in several countries. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 February 2001)
MUSLIMS FIRST UP FOR MANDATORY LIQUIDATION.
RFE/RL, 8 February 2001
The authorities in Russia's North Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria
have initiated suits in court to liquidate 38 local religious organizations
that failed to gain reregistration before the deadline of 31 December 2000.
Thirty-seven of the 38 are Muslim religious organizations and the 38th
is a Jehovah's Witness community. (Keston News Service, 24 January) Copyright
(c) 1999. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio
Questioning by the sides of each other, defendant by plaintiff and plaintiff by defendant, occurred in the course of the judicial hearing of the case regarding liquidation of the Moscow society of Jehovah's Witnesses in Golovin intermunicipal court in Moscow, the "Blagovest-info" agency reports.
Lawyers posed questions requesting presentation of concrete incidents of violation by Jehovah's Witnesses of Russian legislation and clarification of what the procurator is requesting from the court: removing from the society the status of legal entity or a complete prohibition of its activity.
The representative of the procuracy did not produce concrete instances of violations of law and it also did not confirm that it is requesting prohibition of the Jehovah's Witnesses' activity. In his speech he stated that the court's satisfaction of the current suit would mean the beginning of a review of the results of the registration of 360 Jehovah's Witnesses congregations in Russia.
Judge Elena Prokhorycheva denied the petition of attorneys for introduction into the case of the results of a linquistic analysis of the doctrinal texts of the Jehovah's Witnesses that was conducted by the Institute of the Russian Language of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The judge also denied the introduction of information from a sociological survey of Jehovah's Witnesses conducted by the department of the sociology and demography of the family, of the department of sociology of Moscow State University.
Both scientific investigations called into question the charges of inciting national discord and destruction of the family that the procuracy had made against Jehovah's Witnesses. Attorneys intend to petition again from the introduction of these documents in the course of the trial. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 February 2001)
KEY TESTIMONY REJECTED AS MOSCOW BANNING TRIAL RESUMES
from Public Affairs Office of Jehovah's Witnesses , 7 February 2001
Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva yesterday rejected a motion to accept a sociological study entitled The Family and the Bible, conducted by A.I. Antonov, head of the Department of Family Sociology at the Lomonsov Moscow State University, as attempts to ban Jehovah's Witnesses resumed in the Moscow Golovinsky Intermunicipal Disctrict Court today.
Based on a random selection of about 1,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow, this sociological study establishes that the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses "plays an important role in strengthening the institute of the family." In particular it shows a divorce rate among Jehovah's Witnesses of less than 5 percent compared with 40 percent among the general population of Moscow. The study also revealed a much higher level of education, when compared with the average Muscovite, which tends toward independent rational thinking and decision-making by Jehovah's Witnesses. "Tolerant attitudes and conduct improve the longer a person is a Witness," said Professor Antonov. These conclusions refute some of the key charges against Jehovah's Witnesses in this trial, which is seen as a major test case of Russia's 1997 law on religious freedom.
Because of a lack of substantive evidence condemning their activities, the trial has the potential of developing into a theological debate centered on the Bible-based beliefs and doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses, which differ from Russia's traditional Orthodox teachings. John Burns, a Canadian human rights lawyer, compared this court case to the Inquisition. "It is reminds one of the treatment accorded to John Wycliffe in the Middle Ages and to later Protestant Reformers ."
Galina Krylova, a prominent Russian lawyer, said: "The trial demonstrates that theological differences should not be used as grounds for criminal accusations and should not be accepted by either prosecutors or courts of law."
The civil trial against the Witnesses, which began in September 1998, was suspended on March 12, 1999, pending a review of the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses by five court-appointed religious and linguistic experts. Four experts have presented an opinion that rehashes the old accusations. However, one of the experts submitted a dissenting opinion. (posted 8 February 2001)
CASE AGAINST JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES HAS NO LEG TO STAND ON - ATTORNEYS
Interfax, 7 February 2001
The case for banning the Moscow community of Jehovah's Witnesses is legally unsound, defense attorneys John Burnes of Canada and Artur Leontyev of Russia told the Golovinsky Court on Wednesday.
The prosecution has failed to prove that the religion of the sect foments religious intolerance, destroys families and has an adverse impact on the psyche of its members or that the ban on blood transfusions for sect members amounts to making people commit suicide, they said.
The court has adjourned until Friday. Another defense attorney, Galina Krylova, will address it then.
The court has refused to regard the findings of the Moscow State University Sociology Department as evidence, Krylova complained. The sociologists have found that the vast majority of Jehovites regard marriage as an important institution, view adultery as a grave sin and oppose abortions, she said.
On the other hand, the sect is banned in numerous countries. Media have
reported the death of people who rejected a blood transfusion on religious
grounds. (Copyright 2001 Interfax News Agency, posted 8 February 2001)
The judicial hearing on the suit of the procurator of the northern administrative district for liquidation of the Moscow society of "Jehovah's Witnesses" has been reopened in Golovin municipal district court, with Judy Elena Prokhorycheva presiding, the "Blagovest-info" agency reports.
As NTV already has reported, the case for liquidation of the Moscow society of "Jehovah's Witnesses " was opened in 1998 on the initiative of the public Committee for Salvation of Youth from Totalitarian Sects.
The representative of the procuracy of the northern administrative district, Tatiana Kondratieva, again read the suit's claims according to which "Jehovah's Witnesses" are accused of inciting religious discord, committing actions aimed at breaking up families, coercion to commit suicide, violation of the rights and freedoms of citizens, and enticing minors to participate in the activity of the society.
Attorney Galina Krylova addressed to the plaintiff's representative a request to present information about the destruction of families of members of the society of "Jehovah's Witnesses" and their suicides, to which Tatiana Kondratieva was unable to give a concrete answer. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 February 2001)
GEORGIA: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES ATTACKED AGAIN
RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies Vol. 2, No. 5, 1 February 2001
Renegade Orthodox priest Mkalavishvili and over 50 of his followers on 22 January attacked the private house of Jehovah's Witnesses at Abashidze 37 in the Vake region of Tbilisi, Human Rights Without Frontiers reported. They started ringing the doorbell and banging on the door of a family of Jehovah's Witnesses where meetings are often conducted. The family phoned the police and soon the police were also banging on the door. According to the report, the family looked through the peephole and saw that Mkalavishvili and his followers were standing side by side with the police, so they refused to open the door. Eventually, the police and Mkalavishvili and his followers left. Later, the police reportedly phoned and said, "Why didn't you open? We heard you were having a meeting and we were interested in seeing what was going on." (Human Rights Without Frontiers, 26 January) (posted 7 February 2001)
KAZAKH PROTESTANTS FIND COMMON LANGUAGE WITH GOVERNMENT
NTV, 6 February 2001
The director of the Association of Religious Associations of Kazakhstan, Vladimir Liashevsky, delivered to government offices statements from fifty representatives of protestant societies of Kazakhstan criticizing the draft of a new law of the country on religion, "Blagovest-info" news agency reports. The director of the Department on Relations with Religious Associations of the government of Kazakhstan, A.M. Mukashev, reported to Vladimir Liashevsky that the draft law already had been subjected to criticism from jurists, public leaders, and scholars of religion.
As a result the prohibitions of leasing the premises of educational institutions to religious societies and taking humanitarian aid from them have been removed. Mukashev assured Kazakhstan protestants that the draft law will be recalled and that the former liberal legal standards will remain in effect.
Only small amendments will be introduced into the new law. Registration of a religious association will become possible upon the recomendation of a competent central agency of the particular confession to which the religious association being registered belongs. The activity of each participant should accord with the goals which were defined at the time of receipt of permission for evangelistic work.
According to Vladimir Liashevsky, the question of preparing and publishing a handbook of all Christian churches of Kazakhstan has been agreed to in the Department on Relations with Religious Associations. "This action is very important for Christians, in order to protect them from slander," the religious leader noted. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 February 2001)
UNION OF ORTHODOX CITIZENS SPEAKS AGAINST PROHIBITION OF CREATION OF
NTV, 7 February 2001
The Union of Orthodox Citizens (SPG) has spoken out against the prohibition of the creation of political parties that have religious and national identity which is provided by the draft of the law "On political parties" that was introduced today for the review of the State Duma. As was stated to the ITAR-TASS reporter at the headquarters of SPG (a public organization of Orthodox laity that advocates the establishment of Christian values in the life of Russia) this prohibition actually deprives millions of Orthodox Christians and believers of other traditional confessions and religions of Russia of representation in legislative bodies.
In the opinion of SPG, without such political parties it is impossible not only to achieve the regeneration of the country and state but any kind of political stability of society. At the union headquarters it was recalled that Christian parties are a most important element of the political system of the developed countries of the world and especially western Europe.
According to church rules, priests of the Russian Orthodox church may not participate in political activity or be elected to executive or legislative bodies at the federal and local level. However such activity is not forbidden for the laity. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 February 2001)
Following its rebirth after the fall of Communism, the Catholic Church in Russia is still small. But it's growing.
Bishops from that immense land are currently in Rome on their "ad limina" visit with the Pope, giving him an account of what is happening with the Church in the East.
Four Catholic bishops reside in Russia. Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow is apostolic administrator for northern European Russia. Bishop Clemens Pickel of Saratov is apostolic administrator for southern European Russia.
The other two "dioceses" -- to date, they do not have this juridical status -- are in Siberia. The apostolic administrator in the western region is Bishop Joseph Werth of Novosibirsk, while Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk is responsible for eastern Siberia and the Far East. These are the most extensive dioceses of the Catholic Church.
According to a comprehensive report by the Vatican missionary agency Fides, John Paul II re-established the Catholic Canonical Sees in Russia and Kazakhstan in April 1991, after having established the canonical structures in the other satellite countries of the former Soviet Union and the regions that became independent in the course of the preceding years (1989-90).
Fides says this brought to completion the first phase of the Catholic ecclesiastical rebirth behind the Iron Curtain, after the latter's fall.
"The urgency was justified, especially because of the fear that the political vicissitudes would again make impossible the appointment of bishops and the reopening of churches," the Vatican agency points out.
Since the fall of Mikhail Gorbachev and the coming of the Boris Yeltsin era, the process of democratization seemed irreversible. Yet, the freedom that the Church enjoyed in the 1989-1991 period has been increasingly reduced, Fides states.
Five years ago, the Russian bishops, who at the time numbered only two (the Sees of Saratov and Irkutsk were nonexistent), had already gone to Rome to see the Pope on an "ad limina" visit. Their report was clear: The Church was reborn, but it lacked virtually everything: "The faithful were beginning to relearn the Mass prayers, the post-conciliar reform was unknown by the few courageous [people] who kept the faith in conditions of clandestinity and persecution," Fides reports.
The missionary agency says there are close to a half-million Catholics of the Latin rite in Russia, although official government statistics speak of almost 1.5 million. Of these, between 50,000 and 60,000 are in touch with the Church.
Most of the population, almost 60%, professes the Orthodox Christian faith; Sunday Mass attendance is around 5%. Protestant communities comprise about 2% to 3% of the population, as compared to the Muslims' (Caucasians and Asians) 15%. There are also 2 million Buddhists and 12 million Jews.
Over the last years, pagan and neo-pagan beliefs have also increased. Also active are sects, including New Age, Scientology, the Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Aum Sinrikyo.
Over these years, the Catholics have succeeded in reopening about 190 parishes, surpassing the number prior to the first persecution, which was close to 150.
There are just over 200 priests working in the four administrations ("dioceses"), the great majority being foreign, especially Polish.
Many of the priests belong to religious communities, including Salesians, Franciscans, Jesuits, and Divine Word missionaries. Nuns are present in almost all the parishes. Missionaries of ecclesial movements, such as the Focolares, Neo-Catechumenals, and Communion and Liberation are also present.
A seminary, reopened in 1993, was re-established in the historical headquarters of St. Petersburg in 1995. In addition there is a biennial pre-seminary in Novosibirsk, and a theology college for the laity in Moscow, with affiliates in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk, Saratov and Orenburg.
Caritas, the institution supported by the Church, which channels a good part of the aid for integral development, is extended throughout the territory.
There is a Catholic weekly newspaper, several monthly and quarterly publications, a few publishing groups, a St. Paul's Catholic bookstore in the center of Moscow, a TV center in Novosibirsk, and two radio stations, one in St. Petersburg and the other in Moscow. (posted 7 February 2001)
Residents of St. Petersburg wishing to find a place of worship are unlikely to be left wanting. Over the past decade the city has become home to a wide spectrum of Protestant and Catholic churches alongside the more traditional Russian Orthodox Church.
While the Orthodox Church is both architecturally and politically dominant - especially recently as the government leans controversially towards more widespread official involvement of Orthodox clerics - most Christian denominations continue to prosper in St. Petersburg.
That said, Russian Orthodoxy is theoretically open for all. Anybody may convert - regardless of nationality - and after conversion an individual is fully accepted from a doctrinal point of view and, in most cases, from a practical one too. Since the 1980s, when there were just 18 monasteries in Russia, 462 have been opened and the Orthodox Church now boasts 17,000 full-time priests and 150 bishops.
High Priest Boris Glebova of the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, on Preobrazhenskaya Ploshchad, off Liteiny Prospect, is a formidable character. On the subject of non-Russians attending his cathedral, he simply says, "We don't make any special arrangements for foreigners, but whoever comes, comes."
The Spaso-Preobrazhensky cathedral is a typically ornate building, and a visit during service time, regardless of religious persuasion, is always an experience. All services are in Russian or Old Church Slavonic.
Services are traditional, and foreigners, although free to observe and take part, are asked to be respectful of rituals and not to intrude with cameras. Females are also usually expected to cover their heads.
During Orthodox festivals the cathedral is breathing space only and a visit on such an occasion is a must, if only to witness the havoc.
Religious growth in Russia did not reach a point of stability until the late 1990s, as Major Joseph Smith of the Salvation Army explains: "After 1991 there was a mushrooming of religious growth, but then an equally rapid decline as people became disillusioned and churches disappeared." The Salvation Army has had no such problems and has grown so swiftly that come June when Major Smith moves on, every Salvation Army Corps in Russia will be led by a home-grown ordained local.
Their much publicized problems lie only in the legal decision to deny the Moscow Corps registration (a decision described by presidential administration official Alexander Kudryavstev as "illiterate") which Major Smith says will not force them to evacuate as there are "ways around the problem," namely to register as a national organization, possible thanks to the other registered centers that they have elsewhere in Russia. "Primarily a mission," the Salvationists offer services only in Russian, but welcome Russian-speaking overseas volunteers to help in their numerous social projects. It is not uncommon for volunteers to worship in other churches and play a part in the Salvation Army's mission and it seems that one of their strengths is the diversity of their members.
For those whose Russian is weak, English speaking churches and churches that offer translation into languages other than Russian are plentiful.
The Immanuel Baptist International Church is entirely English speaking and was founded four years ago in order to provide support for wandering Westerners. Greta Haustein, a teacher in St. Petersburg and member of the church's congregation, describes the church as a "normal Baptist church, which by definition means that it is pretty traditional!"
"Students come and go every three or four months, and so we are used to welcoming new people," says Haustein.
The same is true at All Nations Bible Church, which is a place of worship for people from many different backgrounds. Services are in a mixture of Russian and English, with songs sung in both languages, and talks are translated either from English into Russian or vice versa, with the additional option of translation into French.
The St. Catherine Roman Catholic Church, still under restoration after an arson attack in 1984, provides masses in Russian, English, Polish, Spanish and even Korean. High Priest Yevgeny Heinrichs is keen to fulfill the needs of all those seeking to worship in the city and promises that "we don't close the doors to anyone."
Since 1992, when the church was officially returned to the Catholic Church by the city government, the parish has grown to over 600 members and now runs several programs including a Sunday school, a youth group and a family center which provides marital advice and counseling, both for couples going into marriage and couples already married.
Someone with a vision for the city of St. Petersburg is the pastor of one of St. Petersburg's smaller churches, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Pastor Zhenya Kirichenko dismisses the idea that Russia is an Orthodox country, or indeed a religious one, arguing instead that the government is in no way Christian but secular and even pagan. "The religion here is work, money, women and alcohol," he sighs, evidently distressed at the low level of church attendance in Russia.
The Vineyard is another young church, planted only three years ago, but is growing steadily. Like the Salvation Army, it began under Western leadership but is now almost entirely Russified. Services are in Russian, although visiting preachers from around the world are frequent. Westerners are welcomed and there are several translators willing to provide for English speakers.
For residents of St. Petersburg interested in taking up local worship, there is certainly no shortage of options. As is the case with so much of life in Russia, the future of its diverse churches is uncertain, but the city is not without those who have faith in its continuity. As Father Boris put it, "God lasts forever."
For more details on religion in St. Petersburg, see "Worship" in Friday's All About Town. The Orthodox Church's useful Web site is at www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru/en.htm
All Nations Bible Church, 114 Obvodny Canal, 5542-3794.
St. Catherine's Catholic Church, 32-34 Nevsky Prospect, 311-71-70.
Spaso-Preobrazhenskaya Cathedral, 1 Preobrazhenskaya Pl., 272-36-62.
Vineyard Christian Fellowship, 15 Ul. Smirnova, 4th floor, 344-11-11.
(copyright The St. Petersburg Times 2001, posted 7 February 2001)
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