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Catholic-Orthodox tensions in Russia, Ukraine

ITAR-TASS/Radonezh, 29 May 2001

There are 220 Catholic parishes operating on the territory of Russia. That statistic was cited on 29 May by the head of Russian Catholics, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz at a press conference in Moscow. In his words, another approximately 300 congregations have not been registered because they are small, and in all on Russian territory there are around 600,000 persons following the Catholic Christian tradition. Of the 215 Catholic priests, almost all are foreigners. According to information from the apostolic administration, before the revolution there were 150 Catholic parishes in Russia. Thus, the head of Catholics of Russia himself gives evidence that today their number has doubled. And this recognizes that all of the truly Catholic population that remained after the fall of USSR was on the territory of Belorussia and Ukraine. The conclusion from this can only be that the Vatican is engaged in a most cynical manner in proselytism in Russia. At the press conference the Latin archbishop also expressed the opinion that the status of the Russian Catholic administration is defective and thus the Vatican intends to review the question of raising it to the level of a diocese. "But for this it is necessary to adjust relations with the state religion as well as raising the status of the diplomatic representation of the Vatican to the embassy level," the archbishop said. In his opinion, the number of Catholic churches is insufficient. "In Moscow alone, every Sunday there are 26 masses while only two churches are operating," Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz noted. (tr. by PDS, posted 31 May 2001)

ITAR-TASS/Radonezh, 29 May 2001

On 29 May Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and all-Rus met with Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was named Russian ambassador to Ukraine. His Holiness informed the Russian ambassador about the situation in the religious life of the republic and turned over all documents pertaining to problems of the complex relations between Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholics, as well as materials describing the essence of the schism that has already existed more than ten years in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. As a result of the schism, as the patriarch said, in Ukraine there now are besides the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, to which the majority of believers belong, also schismatic groupings, the so-called Kievan patriarchate, headed by the unfrocked and anathematized Filaret Denisenko, and the so-called "Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church." Viktor Chernomyrdin promised the patriarch that in his post as ambassador to Ukraine he will make decisions that are directed toward bringing the peoples of Russia and Ukraine closer together.  "Our relations are a two-way street and it is necessary to create mutually beneficial conditions for reviving traditional and adapting new ties," Chernomyrdin said. Disruption of such contacts he considers to be undesirable for both countries; "it is shameful and painful when we disagree, especially in questions of religion," Viktor Chernomyrdin said. He noted that this "weakens and impoverishes our peoples." The patriarch congratulated Viktor Stepanovich on his new appointment, saying that he is bringing to his new post enormous diplomatic, administrative, economic, and humanitarian experience. (tr. by PDS, posted 31 May 2001)

Mir religii, 29 May 2001

Representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox church subject to the Moscow patriarchate do not plan to meet with Pope John Paul II, who will arrive in Ukraine 23 June. Patriarch Alexis II stated this to Viktor Chernomyrdin who is setting out for Kiev as the Russian ambassador, reports.

The patriarch recalled that Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and all-Ukraine even wrote a letter to John Paul II in which he asked him to postpone his arrival, but without results. At the same time, RIA Novosti reports, Alexis II again declared that he does not rule out in principle the possibility of meeting with the pope. "Very often mass media speak of how good the pope is when he wants to meet with the patriarch, and how bad the patriarch is when he does not want to meet with the pope," Interfax quotes Alexis II. However, the patriarch recalled, this meeting should be well prepared and contradictions between the churches should be resolved, principally the active expansion of Catholics and Greek Catholics on territory that is traditionally considered Orthodox.

Alexis II also briefly explained again to the designated ambassador the religious situation in the country to which he is being assigned. According to the RIA Novosti report, that situation according to the primate of the Russian Orthodox church looks like this: the flock that is true to the Moscow patriarchate is the most numerous in Ukraine, and there are two schismatic organizations, the Kievan patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous church.

At the conclusion of the meeting with Viktor Chernomyrdin the patriarch turned over to him a document that states the church's position on the visit of the Roman primate to Ukraine and reviews the situation of conflicts with Greek Catholics. (tr. by PDS, posted 31 May 2001)

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Presidential council reviews religious situation

Mir religii, 29 May 2001

At a meeting of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the Russian presidency on 29 May the deputy ministry of justice of Russia, Evgeny Sidorenko, announced that 13,922 religious associations in Russia (87% of them by 1 January 2001) had successfully undergone reregistration, reports.

The minister recalled that on 1 October 1997, when the law on freedom of conscience and religious associations became effective, there actually were around 16,000 such organizations in the country. In accordance with the requirements of the law they were supposed to undergo reregistration by 31 December 1999, although in that time only 5,000 associations were reregistered. In connection with this it was decided to extend the reregistration deadline to 31 December 2000.

Sidorenko reported that 2,095 religious associations, which had not been reregistered, are subject to liquidation and the question regarding this will be resolved by judicial procedure. At the same time he noted that liquidation means denial of the status of legal entity, but it does not prohibit their religious activity; such associations will be able to conduct services and engage in education and training of their followers. Besides this, religious associations that have not been reregistered can liquidate themselves and be registered as new religious organizations.

Speaking about existing legislation in this area Sidorenko stressed that several provisions of the law on freedom of conscience require amendment and supplementation. In particular, the regulation of the activity of foreign religious associations and property and financial relations are insufficient. In Sidorenko's words, the Ministry of Justice has already prepared a draft of amendments to provisions pertaining to supervision of the activity of religious organizations.  (tr. by PDS, posted 31 May 2001)

by Dmitry Safonov, 29 May 2001

Today under the chairmanship of director of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin a regular session of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the RF presidency was held. The council reviewed three basic questions:

1. Results of state reregistration of religious organizations

Russian Deputy Minister of Justice E.N. Sidorenko presented the results of reregistration as of 1 January 2001.

On this issue this decision was made: 1) to receive for information the report of Deputy Minister of Justice E.N. Sidorenko regarding the results of state reregistration of religious organizations.

2) To recommend to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian federation and its territorial offices in accordance with procedures established by law to present materials in court regarding religious organizations that did not undergo reregistration within the established period for appropriate decisions.

3) To suggest to the Commission on Matters of Religious Associations of the government of the Russian federation to review the suggestions of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian federation, based on the practice of implementation of the law in the course of reregistration of religious organizations, with regard to making appropriate amendments and supplements to the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," and to inform the council of the results of the review.

2. Russian Deputy Minister of Justice E.N. Sidorenko gave a report on the course of work on adoption of regulatory legal acts by constituents of the Russian federation regarding freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and religious associations, in accordance with the constitution of the Russian federation and federal laws. On this matter the council adopted the following decision:

1) To receive for information the report of Deputy Minister E.N. Sidorenko regarding the adoption of regulatory legal acts by constituent elements of the Russian federation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and religious association in accordance with the constitution of the Russian federation and federal laws.

2) To recommend to legislative and executive bodies of constituent elements of the Russian federation to adopt necessary measures for instituting regulatory legal acts on matters of freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and religious associations in accordance with the constitution of the Russian federation and the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."

3) To suggest to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian federation within established parameters of competence to continue work on conducting oversight of the correspondence between regulatory legal acts adopted by constituent elements of the Russian federation and the constitution of the Russian federation and federal legislation.

3. Russian Deputy Minister of Taxes and Duties S.N. Shulgin described the procedure for implementing tax privileges established by legislation of the Russian federation for religious organizations and their enterprises.

Regarding work on a draft of a tax code for the Russian federation in its portion pertaining to the taxation of religious organizations and their enterprises, a report was made by the director of the Department of Tax Policy of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian federation, A.I. Ivaneev.

These reports were received by the council for information. The council also recognized the value of confirming in the draft of the tax code of RF the prospective privileges in active legislation regarding taxation of religious organizations and their enterprises.

The chairman of the council  is the director of the presidential administration. The vice chairman of the council is the first deputy director of the main administration of domestic policy of the presidential administration, Sergei Abramov; the executive secretary is Alexander Kudriavtsev.

All representatives of offices of executive authority were removed from the council by President Vladimir Putin on 17 March 2001. Previously the membership of the council comprised bureaucrats representing federal ministries. But since the government has its own Commission on Questions of Religious Organizations, the president considered it worthwhile to eliminate the personnel parallelism.

In their place the council incorporated representatives of the discipline of religious studies. The council comprises the chair of the department of religious studies of the Academy of State Service within the presidency of the Russian federation, Professor Nikolai Trofimchuk, the director of the department of philosophy of religion and religious studies of Moscow State University, Professor Igor Yablokov, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yaroslav Shchapov, specialist of NII of social systems of the Moscow State University, Islamic scholar Professor Alexander Ignatenko, and the director of the Independent Center of Religion in Contemporary Society, Professor Miran Mchedlov.

Thus in the formation of the new composition of the council it was considered how to strengthen the mutual relations between religious and secular scholarship that have developed in recent times. It is essential that among the new members of the council there are scholars of religious studies who are recognized for their specific confessional affiliation and others who are strict adherents of secular religious studies.

Besides this, several changes pertained to the composition of representatives of religious associations. From the Russian Orthodox church, Metropolitan Mefody Nemtsov of Voronezh and Lipetsk joined the council. It is noteworthy that in November 2000 it was Metropolitan Mefody who presided at the session of the "round table" on problems of church-state relations that the presidential administration of RF held in the "President" hotel that included a broad circle of authoritative representatives of the Russian Orthodox church, hierarchs, theologians, and church historians. At present Metropolitan Mefody heads the St. Makary Foundation that grants prizes for the best research in the area of ecclesiastical studies (and thus supports the trend for relating ecclesiastical and secular studies) and the historical subcommission of the Moscow patriarchate.

Members of the council from the Russian Orthodox church include the following: Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk, the chief of staff of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna, and Archbishop Evgeny of Vereisk, chairman of the Academic Committee of the Moscow patriarchate and rector of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and Seminary.

In March the place of Adolf Shaevich in the council was assumed by the chief rabbi of Russia, Berl Lazar. As explained at the presidential administration of Russia, it is chief rabbi Berl Lazar who represents the majority of Jewish communities of the country, so that the Kremlin finds nothing surprising in his being a part of the council and rejects the statement of Adolf Shaevich, who called his replacement by Lazar an interference in the affairs of the Jewish community. However, inasmuch as the dispute between Berl Lazar and Adolf Shaevich over leadership of Jewish communities in Russia is far from resolution and is at a stalemate it can be said that Jewish communities will be represented in the presidential in the "Berl Lazar version," which does not rule out some possible future representation in the council from communities that are under Adolf Shaevich's leadership.

Of former members of the council there still remain all representatives of the following religious associations:  Old Ritualist Metropolitan Alimpy of Moscow and all-Rus; chairman of the Buddhist traditional sangkha of Russia Pandito Khambo Lama Damba Aiusheev, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia Ravil Gainuddin, Tolgat Tajuddin, chairman of the Central Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia, chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Apostolic Administrator for Catholics of the Latin Rite of the North European portion of Russia Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusievicz, Vladimir Murza, president of the Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith--Pentecostals, Petr Konovalchik, president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Vladimir Pudov, head of the representative of the Evangelical Lutheran church in Moscow,  and Vasily Stoliar, president of the west Russian Union of Associations of Seventh-Day Adventist churches. The council includes also Andrei Sebentsov, deputy chairman of the Commission on Questions of Religious Associations of the government of the Russian federation, who coordinates relations between the council and the governmental commission.

In the previous composition of the council the Armenian church was represented by Archbishop Tiran Kiurgian, administrator of the Russian and Novonakhichevan diocese of the Armenian Apostolic church, but since he no longer heads Armenian parishes in Russia he was removed from the council, although the new head of the diocese, Archimandrite Ezras, has not joined the council. Previously the Catholic church was represented by two bishops, but since Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was elected president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops it was decided that only he would remain in the council.

The council was created in 1995. This is the first session of its revised composition. The council has a consultative and advisory character, reviewing questions of the relations among offices of governmental authority and religious organizations. The president and his administration use the recommendations of the council in making decisions in the area of state-church relations.  (tr. by PDS, posted 31 May 2001)

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Mormons' newly occupied church shut down

Mir religii, 29 May 2001

Adherents of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) of Ufa officially opened their worship premises, one of the first in Russia, AiF Novosti agency reports. The building, erected near the city hall of the capital of Bashkiria, was constructed according to western standards and is equipped with modern security systems and valued at 2.5 million dollars.

Speaking at the ceremony, the chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs of the republic's cabinet of ministers, Anvar Muratshin, noted that it is possible to pose technical questions in various inspections to owners of new buildings, and they should not be taken as restrictions upon believers on the part of authorities. By a strange coincidence, on the same day the worship facilities were closed by the state inspection board. The basis for this was uncompleted construction on neighboring property. However, in the words of the head of local Mormons, Dmitry Egoshina, this was an unfortunate misunderstanding and the question will be resolved in the next few work days. (tr. by PDS, posted 31 May 2001)

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Prosecutor dogs Jehovah's Witnesses

from Jehovah's Witnesses, Office of Public Information, 29 May 2001

On 30 May the Moscow City Court will hear an appeal by the prosecutor’s office in Moscow’s Northern Administrative District against Judge Yelena Prokhoricheva’s historic decision on 23 February to dismiss charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Mr. S. Belikov, Senior Counsellor of Justice, called for a re-trial, arguing: "I consider the court ruling illegal, unfounded, and subject to reversal."  The prosecutor’s office is using their interpretation of the 1997 law on Religious Freedom in an attempt to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow.

On 15 March 2001 the Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted the first Russian judge of the European Court of Human Rights, Vladimir Tumanov, as being "severely critical" of the methods employed by the prosecutor’s office in trying to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow.  He "warned" the chairman of the Supreme Court of Russia that the Court in Strasbourg has ruled in favour of Jehovah’s Witnesses against other European countries in a number of cases.

Artur Leontyev, lawyer for Jehovah’s Witnesses, pointed out that "the elongated trial process is delaying re-registration and preventing 10,000 Witnesses in Moscow from renovating and building places of worship."   Jehovah’s Witnesses were re-registered in Russia by the Russian Ministry of Justice on April 29, 1999.  However, Moscow has persistently refused to come in line with the Federal Government and 360 communities across Russia which have already legally recognised Jehovah’s Witnesses.

"The case has attracted international attention because it indicates whether Russia is willing to live with a variety of faiths and abide by its international agreements", said Vasilii Kalin, chairman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. (posted 30 May 2001)

Agence France Presse, 30 May 2001

Moscow's Jehovah's Witnesses are facing a new ban after an appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court's ruling allowing them to practice in the Russian capital, the RIA Novosti agency reported.

The appeal was brought by the state prosecutor's office and a group called "Defence Committee against Sects," made up of relatives of people belonging to the organisation.

After a trial lasting over two years, a Moscow court in February refused to ban the city's branch of Jehovah's Witnesses despite support for such a move by experts.

The Moscow branch has been accused of "breaking up families, inciting its members to suicide and harming their life and health" through not allowing its members to have blood transfusions.

The group says its members number 250,000 in Russia, some 10,000 of them in Moscow. (Copyright 2001 Agence France Presse, posted 31 May 2001)

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Influence of foreign protestants in Russia

Mir religii, 29 May 2001

The last bell rang for twelve pupils of the "Grace" Christian gymnasium founded in the Strelna district of St. Petersburg seven years ago by the protestant "Blagodat" church, the "Blagovest-info" agency reports. The graduation of 2001 was the fourth to be held already. Since 1998, 62 high schoolers have received diplomas. As noted in her address at the commencement evening, the director of the academic portion of the gymnasium, Irina Kim, said "at this moment the honors list of 'Grace' contains ten silver medalists. One pupil finished our gymnasium with a gold medal."

Today 70 youth study in the four classes of the gymnasium. In the words of gymnasium director Vladimir Burkov, "the gymnasium daily schedule has been adopted in the Nakhimov and Suvorov military schools. The curriculum of academic topics in 'Grace' coincides with the subjects required in the curriculum of regular Russian schools. The only exception is that our pupils study sacred scripture. Once a week a pastor conducts 'sacred hour,' and on Sundays there is mandatory church attendance."

This year, on the basis of interviews including questions in mathematics, literature, and Russian and English languages, the gymnasium plans to enrol 35 pupils in the eighth grade. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 May 2001)

Mir religii, 28 May 2001

Around 100 protestant elders from Moscow, Tambov, Orel, Blagoveshchensk, and Murmansk are arriving for a five-day pastors' seminar of the Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians (STsEKh), which is being held in a guest house in the Moscow suburb of Dubrovka, "Blagovest-info" agency reports. The meeting will be opened with prayer by STsEKh president Bishop Aleksei Ivanov. At the time of the seminar classes the students will study the following subjects:  "What is evangelism?" "The growth of the evangelical church," and "Evangelical and Orthodox churches."

Lectures will be given by missionaries from South Korea, the president of the "University Student Mission," professor Li Kin Su, the president of the Cultural Center in the Korean Subway Transportation, professor Chong Sam Ji, and the general director of the Chong Sin university, Kim I Kvan. They will discuss the essence of evangelism, awareness of God's call, and the necessity of religious education and of intense practice of prayer, and they will acquaint those assembled with their own views on the role of Orthodoxy and protestantism in Russian history and with the spiritual experience of the evangelical churches in South Korea. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 May 2001)

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Catholics speak out

Mir religii, 29 May 2001

"Filled with a spirit of gratitude and hope, we again invite Your Holiness to visit Russia,"--such was the invitation sent to Pope John Paul II by participants of the Moscow Catholic symposium, the "Blagovest-info" agency reports. "The celebrations that took place became an act of gratitude for the decade of regeneration and a prayer and blessing for the future, and a time of strengthening the perception of the church through awareness of its biblical bases," a special letter said, which was adopted at the symposium and sent to the Vatican.

Further the pope was informed that during the biblical-ecclesiological  symposium its participants in plenary sessions and round tables discussed the centuries-long history of the catholic church in Russia and biblical aspects of ecclesiology in the light of Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran, and Catholic traditions, which permitted a renewal of ecumenical hope. Also discussed were the experience and prospects of catechesis and education, work with youth and families, and study and testimony about the Bible in the life of the church and society.

With words of thanks for the blessing from the pope relayed through Archbishop Jean-Louis Toran, symposium participants expressed hope that "the Lord will hear our prayers and grant the joy of meeting with Your Holiness to all who want to see the bishop of Rome in our fatherland." (tr. by PDS, posted 29 May 2001)

Mir religii, 28 May 2001

"Why do people work on Sundays in Russia," a Catholic priest, Bernardo Antonini asked in an open letter addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Antonini has served in our country for more than ten years already, the "Blagovest-info" agency reports.

"This year I was very upset by two events with which I had direct connection," Bernardo Antonini writes. "On 11 March I conducted a 'Day of the Bible' in the Gatchina parish and I noted with amazement that children, youth, and many adults were not participating in the mass because Sunday had been declared an official working day. About the same thing happened on 29 April in Perm, where because of the May holidays the public schools and institutes worked on Sunday."

For a foreigner such a state of affairs seems "an unpleasant circumstance," the priest notes. "I am amazed that the situation remains unchanged ten years after the end of the period of perestroika," the open letter states. "It is impermissible that adult Christians have lost the understanding of the necessity of honoring the resurrection day, and children and youth thereby are imbued with the idea that classes in school are more important than worship of God."

Referring to the Bible and the decisions of the fourth Lateran council, which oblige Christians to observe Sunday, Bernardo Antonini sadly concludes that in contemporary Russia he would like to see "more social justice, especially as regards the young generation."

The Catholic priest called the president to make Sunday a day off under all circumstances. "I pray that the Holy Spirit will give politicians wisdom in supporting the religious authorities in changing the calendar, which would be for the good of all Russia," Antonini said in conclusion to his letter. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 May 2001)

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Jehovah's Witnesses win reprieve in Kazakhstan

Jehovah's Witnesses, Office of Public Information, 28 May 2001

A trial aimed at banning Jehovah's Witnesses in Taraz, Kazakhstan, was scheduled to resume on May 21, 2001, in the City Court. The trial began on February 9, 2001, but was suspended on February 22, pending a review of the religious literature of Jehovah's Witnesses by the Council of Religious Affairs, which is composed of Orthodox and Muslim leaders.

On May 7, 2001, the Zhambilsky Regional Court upheld an appeal against the judge's decision for the review. The court accepted the argument that the prosecutor's office only resorted to an expert study because of a lack of evidence to support that office's allegations of illegal activity by the religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses. In reaching its decision, the panel of judges referred to a previous ruling by the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan that the literature and activities of Jehovah's Witnesses neither instigated subversion nor endangered the rights or health of citizens.

The charges to ban the group that were brought in this case are similar to accusations raised by a Moscow prosecutor, which were dismissed by the judge 36 days after the resumption of the trial and following evidence from 13 experts.

Jehovah's Witnesses were legally registered in Kazakhstan on January 22, 1997. International observers have voiced concern at recent draft amendments to the religion law, which would severely limit religious freedom. On March 15, 2001, in an address to the United States House of Representatives, the Hon. Joseph R. Pitts of Pennsylvania concluded that "if these draft amendments to the religion law are passed, the effect could be to make only Islam and Russian Orthodoxy the permitted religions in Kazakhstan. Other faiths and religious organizations would be severely restricted if not actually outlawed."

The current move to ban religious freedom is reminiscent of the court trials and deportations during the Stalin era, which resulted in many of Jehovah's Witnesses from the Ukraine and Moldova being exiled to Siberia. A number of exiled Witnesses were permitted to settle in Kazakhstan to join those who had been there since 1940. Currently, there are 33,000 Witnesses and associates in Kazakhstan.  (posted 29 May 2001)

Russian Religion News Current News Items

UNESCO journal studies religious diversity in Russia

The latest issue of the MOST Electronic Journal on Multicultural Societies (Vol. 2, no. 2, 2001), entitled "Religious Diversity in the Russian Federation," has just been published ( It includes five articles in French, with English summaries, dealing with aspects of the indicated topic.

The MOST (Management of Social Transformations) Programme is a UNESCO Programme which focuses mainly on international comparative policy-relevant research (

Orthodox church was not tool of soviet aggression in Estonia

from Communications Service,OVTsS, Moscow patriarchate, 26 May 2001

Such was the title of an article published in the April issue of the Finnish church magazine "Ortodoksiviesti," by Metropolitan Kornily of Tallin and all-Estonia, in which the primate of the Estonian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate expressed his attitude toward the current disagreements between the Moscow and Constantinople patriarchates over the canonical state of Orthodoxy in Estonia.

One of the earlier issues of the magazine carried an article by the head of the church structure of the Constantinople patriarchate in Estonia, Metropolitan Stefan, who, in particular, affirmed that only the "small remnant" of the Estonian church headed by him "can transform the destruction experienced by Estonia during the time of soviet occupation into resurrection."  Metropolitan Stefan paradoxically justifies the action of the Constantinople patriarchate in Estonia by the obligation of the latter to be the "sentinel of the precise observance of canonical principles in the Orthodox world." Declaring that in 1996 the Tallin "metropolitan see was not occupied," he maintains that "nostalgia for the past or romanticism will not serve Christ's church and the people of God, but only political goals and aspirations."

Below we present the full text of Metropolitan Kornily's articles that was printed in the "Ortodoksiviesti" magazine with some abridgment.

First, I want to thank the editors of "Ortodoksiviesti" for giving me the possibility of expressing our position also on the question of the church disorders that are continuing in Estonia. The conflict, which casts a cloud not only over the life of Orthodox Christians of our country but also over mutual relations between the Moscow and Constantinople patriarchates, has been drawn out pretty well. Already much has been said and written about it. I do not want to burden the reader with disputes about the significance of canonical rules to which appeal often is made in establishing the doctrine of the "special rights" of the Constantinople patriarchate.  I shall point out only that authoritative interpreters of the canons do not at all support the new teaching, worked out only in the 20s of the past century and not shared by the majority of local Orthodox churches.

It seems much more important to me to base one's self on the Orthodox teaching about the nature of the church, one of the main characteristics of which is conciliarity [sobornost]. On this concept is based the entire church discipline, the entire system of church canon law. Because conciliarity is the unity of love, unity of faith, and unity of the conscience of all Orthodox Christians, both living and departed, united by the single Head--Christ. Church conscience inspires the believer to bring his life into accord with that sacred unity. Not simply with "our fathers and grandfathers," but specifically with the holy fathers, that is, with those who perhaps are far from us in time and ethnic descent and on other earthly criteria; who, perhaps, are far from us also by virtue of their moral superiority, but are near to us in only one criterion--we are united by a common faith. We, like they, profess God, united in Trinity; we profess the Son of God incarnated for the sake of our salvation--Jesus Christ. It is just that in this confession they seemed more decisive, consistent, and purposeful than we. And if we want to be in unity with Christ, we are called to imitate them energetically and to heed their advice. Canonical rules also constitute such sacred patristic advice. They are the decrees called to repair inner church relations in the spirit of ecclesiastical conciliarity and in the spirit of holy patristic unity of love. To relax these rules is permissible in certain circumstances according to the dictates of church conscience for the sake of that very love, for the sake of the good of the church, and for the sake of healing spiritual infirmities. And violation of church standards through pride and adherence to earthly values (however elevated they might seem) is a departure from that unity which alienates us from the conciliarity of the saints--all those who in the world counted the world rubbish if only they could win Christ alone. When we forget the church--the house of God--when we begin conducting ourselves in it as if in our own house, establishing our own procedures, then we, possibly, might not remain alone and will win supporters and co-workers in this activity, but such unity will be less and less in Christ, and all the more against him.

And so in order not to sin against the gracious unity, for eight years now the clergy and laity of various nationalities, pastors and parishioners of 29 Orthodox parishes of Estonia have remained in canonical subordination to mother church, despite serious trials and pressure from secular authorities that they have had to endure. We would go against ecclesiastical conscience if we gave preference to any temporal benefit over filial fidelity. And these same tugs of conscience will not permit us to recognize ourselves to be a newly formed structure (in order to receive some kind of registration) because this would mean to agree with the lie that is urged upon us to the effect that the Russian Orthodox church supposedly "occupied" the Estonian church and liquidated it, and created in its place a new Estonian diocese.

What happened in the twentieth century with regard to the Estonian church? When was it begotten in general?  In 1923, as His Beatitude Stefan maintains? It is impossible to agree with that. Orthodoxy has been spread throughout Estonia for a thousand years now. In 1030 the Russian Prince Yaroslav the Wise founded the city of Yuriev (Tartu) where Orthodox churches were built. Canonically the local church began to emerge in the middle of the nineteenth century when an independent Riga diocese was established. You know, the diocese is the original form of the local church. Then within its structure the Revel vicariate was formed in 1917, to whose leadership the first Estonian bishop was appointed, Platon Kulbush.  At the beginning of 1919 red commissars shot Bishop Platon. And in 1920 His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon of all-Russia granted autonomy to the newly formed Estonian Orthodox church. Out of its ranks was selected the priest Alexander Paulus, who at the end of that year was elevated to the chair of archbishop of Revel. At the same time he took an oath of fidelity to the Moscow patriarchate and mother church.

So why, in speaking about the birth of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox church (EAPTs) does His Beatitude Metropolitan Stefan mention 1923? Because in this year Archbishop Alexander, because of the church troubles and persecution of the church in Russia, turned to His Holiness Patriarch Meletius of Constantinople with the request for a grant of autocephaly. He did not grant this autocephaly, although without a charter of release he took it into his jurisdiction, justifying this violation of canonical order by the political and ecclesiastical disorders in Russia.

But then came 1940--Estonia lost its sovereignty and became a constituent republic of USSR. The period of Estonia's inclusion in the Soviet Union is viewed by opponents of the Moscow patriarchate as the occupation or liquidation of EAPTs by the Russian Orthodox church. But really, wasn't the latter (RPTs) persecuted over the course of the entire nearly seventy years of soviet rule? Did this regime ever really ask the church's opinion about depriving Estonia of political independence? By that time the few priests remaining alive in Russia had been deprived of practically all human rights and thousands of their brethren had been shot or perished from unbearable labor and starvation in concentration camps. We consider it a blatant injustice when the Moscow patriarchate, which suffered more than everyone else from the atheistic regime, is substituted for its torturers and accused of supposedly suppressing the Estonian church and effecting its compulsory inclusion within its jurisdiction.

Having found itself for reasons independent of itself within the territory of USSR, the Estonian church now was forced to bear the cross of atheistic persecution, which the Russian Orthodox church had already been bearing for twenty years. The leadership of EAPTs decided in 1940 to reunite with mother church. The reunification through repentance of the sin of schism (and with the administration of a new oath) was concluded in the next year, 1941. But with the start of the war, Metropolitan Alexander again violated his oath and departed from submission to the Russian Orthodox church. In 1944 Master Alexander emigrated. At that time another 22 priests also emigrated.

And our church still faced long years of tribulations. Many of the priests who remained with the flock were repressed. By the providence of God, the fate of spending time in the soviet camp fell even upon me during the period of the Khrushchev persecution of the church.

So, judge in your conscience. We, the Orthodox of Estonia, never ceased to consider ourselves as children of one and the same local Orthodox church. The church which was begotten long before the revolution and became autonomous in 1920 and transferred in 1923 to the canonical administration of the Constantinople patriarch, and in 1941 returned to fellowship with the mother church and shared with her the burden of persecutions. In doing so we devoted every conceivable effort to prevent the cessation of church life. Indeed, we were forced to make compromises with the regime in secondary matters in order to keep what is most important. We changed the status and name of our church, but we never ceased being what we were--the very same Estonian church. And suddenly we are informed that it is not we who are the ministers and members of that church, but those who at the time found themselves unprepared to bear the cross of confession and abandoned their parishes, creating new ones in diaspora. It turns out that we are occupying other people's churches. . . .

Reading the article of His Beatitude Stefan one could think that I simply do not exist, because as my brother in episcopal rank writes, in 1996 the see of metropolitan of Tallin and all-Estonia "was not occupied." Meanwhile, the autonomy granted to our church by the holy prelate Tikhon in 1920 was restored by a tomos of the Most Holy patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus in April 1993.

And, in conclusion, about love. On the basis of love, as we have said already, the church permits some departures from canonical standards, taking into account historical circumstances. Such an approach is called "housekeeping" [ikonomiia] (in contrast to a harsh and overt application of the letter of the law [akriviia]).  In our opinion the extreme limit of housekeeping was reached by the Russian Orthodox church in negotiations with the Constantinople in Zurich in 1996 when they agreed to a voluntary allocation of parishes of the historic local church. At the time it was agreed to remove bans imposed on some clergy for schismatic activity. Representatives of the Moscow patriarchate understood quite well that their agreement to the creation in Estonia of parallel Orthodox jurisdictions was an extraodinary step that had no basis in canonical standards (especially if one takes into account that in 1978 the Most Holy Patriarch Dimitrius of Constantinople declared the tomos of Patriarch Melitius accepting Estonia into his jurisdiction ineffective). But you do what you can for the sake of peace in the church in hopes of restoring brotherhood. Now we hear talk of some misinterpretation of the contents of the Zurich agreements because, as our opponents quite rightly note, there cannot be on one territory two autonomous churches--that for sure is uncanonical.

At the local council of EAPTs in November 1993 we determined that we would register together and then sort things out, considering that some pastors and parishes wanted to depart from the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate. And this arrangement could have been worked out in a fraternal manner if there had not been overt violations by some state bureaucrats of their own laws and by some clergy and laity of ecclesiastical standards. In all these years things were very shameful for our Orthodox brethren who facilitated the schism. Nevertheless I believe in a better future. If our church survived under the yoke of atheist tyranny, then now, after the collapse of the atheist regime, it does not lack the possibility of freely fulfilling its mission of preaching the word of God, religious education, joining people to the gracious life of the Kingdom of Heaven, and leading its children to eternal salvation in Christ and unity with the Lord. Of course, at the same time we maintain the hope that the Estonian state, in accordance with its proclaimed principles of democratic freedoms, will cease depriving us of the rights of legal entity and continuity simply because we are in canonical unity with the Moscow patriarchate, and that our parishes will be guaranteed the right to church property, including the churches that were built by our ancestors. I agree with Master Stefan that nostalgia for times past does not serve the creation of Christ's church. And the ones who are least inclined to pine for the past are those for whom it was a torturous time of persecution. (tr. by PDS, posted 28 May 2001)

Russian Religion News Current News Items

First patriarch to visit Azerbaijan


Reason and tolerance in the resolution of conflicts were what Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus wished for all peoples of the Caucasus while he was performing today in Baku the great consecration of the church of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women following its restoration, ITAR-TASS reports. He noted especially that Azerbaijan, where peace and mutually respectful relations reign between Muslims and Christians, can serve as a good example for Caucasian peoples on the road to reconciliation.

The consecration of a third Orthodox church in the capital of Azerbaijan was a socially significant event in the life of this transcaucasian republic. A respectful attitude toward Orthodox brothers was attested by the head of the Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukiur Pasha-Zade.

Addressing believers, Patriarch Alexis II stressed the role of the head of Muslims in strengthening interconfessional peace both in Azerbaijan and in the whole of the region. "The rebirth of a church from the ruins is yet another sign of the renovation of the spiritual life of Azerbaijan," the primate of the Russian Orthodox church said. "The church of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women," he thinks, "is a visible testimony to the peace and unity of the fraternal peoples of Russia and Azerbaijan."

This Orthodox church was built in 1905 on the grounds of the barracks of the Saliansky regiment at the expense of the famous Azerbaijani petroleum manufacturer and patron Zeinalabdin Tagiev. It was destroyed during the soviet period. The church was reconstructed with the cooperation of the Russian Lukoil petroleum company along with the "Soiuzkontrakt" company and "Russkii aliuminii" trading house. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 May 2001)

by Alexander Korolev
Trud, 26 May 2001

Despite the wind buffeting Baku last Thursday, the restorers of the church of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women managed with the help of a heavy crane loaned by the administration of the capital of Azerbaijan to place a cupola with a cross onto the church belfry. Thus the church that had been returned to Orthodox believers by the state was completely ready for its consecration, scheduled for 27 May. It is especially pleasant to speak of this incident because yesterday His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus arrived in the Baku diocese of the Russian Orthodox church for an archpastoral visit. In many respects this visit must be considered historic.

One begins from the fact that never in the past have Orthodox ecclesiastical leaders of Russia visited Azerbaijan; the head of the Russian church is for the first time becoming acquainted with the Baku diocese, which was restored in 1998; and finally this is the first archpastoral trip by His Holiness in the new century and millennium.

At the Baku airport Patriarch Alexis II and his entourage were warmly welcomed by Azerbaijani Prime Minister A. Rasi-zade, the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of the Caucasus Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukiur Pasha-zade, Bishop Alexander of Baku and the Caspian, Baku Mayor G. Abutalybov, state counsel I. Orudzhev, the Russian ambassador to the Azerbaijani republic, N. Riabov, deputies of the parliament, clergy, and believers.

Soon after his arrival Patriarch Alexis II visited the church of the Archangel Michael, located in the center of the Azerbaijani capital, where a brief prayer service was served.

Bishop Alexander of Baku and Caspian reported to "Trud" over telephone about the schedule of His Holiness' stay in the Azerbaijani land. Today, Saturday, the primate of the Russian Orthodox church will address deputies of the Milli Medzhlis. At the cathedral church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos there will be an all-night vigil with the primate's participation. On Sunday the patriarch will conduct the consecration of the restored (after long use for other purposes) church of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women. Alexander said that a meeting with Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliev is planned for Patriarch Alexis II, as well as a trip by His Holiness about the diocese.

In concluding the brief conversation, Bishop Alexander noted that in Azerbaijan relations of Muslims and Orthodox Christians are distinguished by respect, friendship, and mutual trust. "I am convinced that Patriarch Alexis II's visit will permit these relations to be strengthened even more, so that nothing will be able to mar the calm, creative life of believing people," the ruling bishop stressed.  (tr. by PDS, posted 27 May 2001)


With the mediation of the Russian Orthodox church, a meeting of the spiritual leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan will be held, Patriarch Alexis II declared Saturday in Baku, where he is making a visit.  Today in the capital of Azerbaijan a patriarchal service was held for the very first time: an all-night vigil was conducted by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, ITAR-TASS reports.

The cathedral church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Baku accommodates 600 believers, but three times that number gathered for the patriarchal service. A multitude of people stood in the street in front of the church for the three hours that the service lasted.

Addressing believers the primate of the Russian Orthodox church said that now the Baku and Caspian diocese, which also includes Orthodox parishes of Dagestan and Chechnia, is not simply a geographical label. "I will recall with special feeling all of you who live on this land. I will leave with the awareness that here live Orthodox people who love the church of Christ and that here, far from the center of Russia, solemn Orthodox singing resounds," Alexis II said at the conclusion of the service.

He called the believers to maintain their fidelity to holy Orthodoxy, to help one another in trials and tribulations, and to be courageous. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 May 2001)

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"Weekly ritual" of anti-Jehovist violence

from Jehovah's Witnesses Georgia, 21 May 2001

In what is becoming a weekly ritual of violence, at around 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, a cowardly mob of 30 Orthodox extremists, known followers of priest Vasili Mkalavishvili forced their way into an apartment in the Mukhiani region of Tbilisi where a meeting of about 60 Jehovah’s Witnesses was being held. The attackers viciously assaulted men and women, one of whom is pregnant, wielding clubs and ransacking the apartment in the process. Victims suffered multiple bruising including facial and head injuries.

Police were called immediately and arrived shortly thereafter armed with automatic weapons. They pursued the attackers, even firing their weapons in the air, before eventually capturing three of them. However, eyewitnesses reported that the attackers were released after the police identified them and took statements.

Government ministries and the police have consistently demonstrated either an unwillingness, or inability, to punish Orthodox extremists. Inertia on the part of the authorities emboldens the perpetrators who have violently attacked individuals and congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses with impunity since October 1999.

There is now an established pattern to the violence. On Sunday, 13 May, as reported in the Dilis newspaper, religious extremists burned down a home belonging to a Kurdish family of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Samgori region of Tbilisi. The eleven occupants narrowly escaped death.

Last week Kavkasia television broadcasted this chilling statement by Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili: "I am gravely warning all of Georgia and the population, especially the representatives of the sect of the Jehovists, not to gather together and not to hold their satanic meetings. Although I am forbidden to go to them … my parishioners will come, and after today their terrible pogroms will begin."

In March 2001 the Georgian Supreme Court issued a press statement regarding the 13,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia in which it confirmed "their right to have peaceful meetings" and "their right of association with others."  (posted 27 May 2001)

Russian Religion News Current News Items

Jehovah's Witnesses publish rebuttal

The Jehovah's Witnesses web site in Moscow has recently posted the rebuttal to the expert analysis required by the judge in the suit brought by the prosecutor requesting a legal prohibition on Jehovah's Witnesses' actiivity in the capital.

Rebuttal to the Composite Expert Conclusion
(Civil Case 2-452/99) Golovinsky Intermunicipal Court,
Northern Administrative District of the City of Moscow

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