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Variety of views on foreign church dispute

by Pavel Korobov
Kommersant-Daily, 19 November 2001

In the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) a schism has occurred, accompanied by sensational events. The former first hierarch of ROCOR, Metropolitan Vitaly, refused to retire and turn over the ROCOR church property that was ascribed to him.  He has been subjected to psychiatric observation which determined that Metropolitan Vitaly is psychologically healthy. Returning from the medical examination to the Mansonville monastery in Canada, Metropolitan Vitaly issued a decree creating a new Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (ROCE). Kommersant reporter Pavel Korobov asked several Orthodox bishops and priests to comment on the situation that has developed.

Bishop Agafangel of Simferopol and Crimea (ROCOR)

"All of this has not been Metropolitan Vitaly's doing; behind the schism are people whose ambitions have not been satisfied. And they are using Metropolitan Vitaly as a cover. I hope that these people will sober up, and if they do not then they are unworthy to be in the church. There cannot be two foreign churches; the church is one. The election of Metropolitan Laurus to succeed Metropolitan Vitaly as first hierarch was completely legitimate. Metropolitan Vitaly himself recognized this at first while he was still at the council. The so-called new church in exile is not a canonically originated movement and it violates all church rules. This is an illegal, arbitrary movement that clearly has separated itself from the church. But I hope that in time reason will come to those who have created this church."

Bishop Merkury of Zaraisk, administrator of parishes of the Moscow patriarchate (RPTs) in USA:

"What has happened is very sad. In my view, the future of the 'church in exile' is the same as for all sects. This is a self-appointed organization; it formed itself and has no canonical basis whatever. And if someone thinks that those who formed this sect will come to their senses they are mistaken because these people are too ambitious. But of course everything is in the Lord's hands."

Archimandrite Mark Golovkov, vice chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate (RPTs)

"I think that the people who organized this new church are not thinking of the welfare of the Orthodox church. Their inspiration does not lie on the level of the church. I do not think that this organization can become an alternative to ROCOR. The new 'church in exile' will not be an influential church because it is a marginal grouping that believers will not follow. In my view, all these events should not disrupt the healthy thinkng of ROCOR, and it will take the path of unity with the mother church."

Archpriest Mikhail Ardov, dean of the Moscow district of Suzdal diocese of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church:

"I think that by this step Metropolitan Vitaly and his associates have saved the honor of the foreign Russian church. I think that to a certain extent the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile can become an alternative to ROCOR because the better parishes of France and a parish in Belgium will follow it, and very many in Canada itself will support it, and I hope that almost all churches of ROCOR in Russia will transfer to ROCE. ROCOR will spend some time in a suspended state and in the end will fall into the clutches of the Moscow patriarchate, which will swallow it up as a pike devours a carp."

Secretary of the St. Petersburg deanery of ROCOR, Nikolai Savchenko:

"This is a schism. I think that this new church will not be able to exist for long because it now relies only on the authority of Metropolitan Vitaly. But it never will be able to become an alternative to ROCOR. Other than two or three parishes in America and Canada, nobody will follow them. Russia is a different matter because there are radicals among the clergy who do not believe that the Moscow patriarchate will be able to recover from its enemies. I think that all of this is a deception and lie." (tr. by PDS, posted 21 November 2001)

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Jehovah's Witness wins case for conscientious objection

Rossiiskaia gazeta, 16 November 2001

An unprecedented judicial investigation whose chief figures are an eighteen-year-old draftee and the leadership of the city military committee began in Pskov province. The occasion for the possible battles on the judicial field is a recent decision made by a local district court in the city of Krasnye Strugi granting deferment from army service to a young believer.

As we were told at the city military committee, eighteen-year-old Viacheslav Kisliuk, over whom judicial passions have been ignited, is a "hereditary" member of the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses. His parents lead the city's division of the sect and it was they who decided to protest the action of the military committee in the district court, appealing to their convictions that do not permit their son to bear arms.

The judges, apparently deciding not to tangle with religious fanatics, granted the young man deferment for the time being, "until a mechanism for alternative service has been created." The issue is the absence for now of a law which would establish the nature and length of service for "alternative servicemen." The decision of the court has upset the local military command; now young people will begin actively turning to the sectarians in order thereby to avoid the army. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 November 2001)

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Ukrainian minister wants Orthodox churches united

Mir religii, 21 November 2001

The schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy bears a persistent character and has a strong impact on the mood of society. This negative situation was noted by Ukrainian Vice Premier Vladimir Seminozhenko at an all-Ukrainian conference "Religion and law: problems of legal regulation of state-church relations," ITAR-TASS reports.

Separate churches and political and social leaders have tried to do everything possible for creating a united Orthodox church in the country. "It is difficult to say when, but we believe that this will happen in Ukraine," the vice premier said. At the same time he rejected the accusation against the government that it has intensified the schism by its resolutions.  "Interference of the state in relations among confessions is impermissible. It should only create conditions in which such a unification would become possible," Seminozhenko said. One of the questions on the agenda of the conference is introducing amendments into the law "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations," adopted in 1991. It lags behind current reality inasmuch as the number of religious organizations at the present time has doubled, the number of monasteries has increased five times, and there are eleven times more religious missions. Now Orthodoxy in Ukraine comprises 52% of the total of religious organizations. In Ukraine religious organizations number around 27,000 in all. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 November 2001)

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European deputies to discuss Salvation Army plight

Mir religii, 21 November 2001

Reporters for the Commission on Russia and Chechnia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) David Atkinson and Rudolph Bieding intend during the course of their visit to Moscow to devote special attention to the situation involving the prohibition on the activity of the Salvation Army in the Russian capital. This was stated in a live broadcast on the "Echo of Moscow" radio by PACE representative David Atkinson.

"Such a decision surprises us greatly because the Salvation Army worked with people directly on the streets," the PACE deputy explained. "We intend to clarify what is the cause of such a prohibition."

In order to do this, Atkinson explained, the PACE deputies will meet "with representatives of this division of the Salvation Army that worked in Moscow in order to clarify why they were banned by judicial decision and with representatives of the court in order to ascertain their position as well."

According to Atkinson, in the hundred-year history of the existence of the Salvation Army, this is the first case of a ban on an active organization. "I set aside the USSR where the Salvation Army did not even begin to work," he added.

The regular visit to Russia of PACE deputies R. Bieding and D. Atkinson is being conducted within the course of monitoring the Russian federation's fulfillment of the planned obligations undertaken upon entry into the Council of Europe. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 November 2001)

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Duma deputy discusses Estonian church conflict with Turkish legislatiors, patriarch

Mir religii, 20 November 2001

The problems of the Estonian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate (EPTsMP) were discussed by the head of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Dmitry Rogozin and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Dmitry Rogozin told "Interfax" on Monday that a meeting with the patriarch was held at the end of last week in Istanbul. According to the deputy, during the course of the meeting he expressed his opinion that the problem of EPTsMP "is of a political and not ecclesiastical nature." The head of the committee is convinced that "Estonian authorities have prevented the registration of the church for what are actually far-fetched reasons and they do not recognize the legal precedence of the Moscow patriarchate and thus are depriving the Russian community in Estonia of the right to freedom of religious confession."

Dmitry Rogozin also reported that he called the leadership of the Turkish parliament's attention to this problem. "We were promised cooperation in the resolution of this question," the deputy said. As reported by the BNS news agency, this summer EPTsMP complained against the Estonian government in court, protesting the regular refusal of MVD to register it under its current name.

In May of this year the Estonian MVD declared that it could not register EPTsMP since its name as indicated in its charter did not conform to the requirements of the law. In MVD's opinion, the name "Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate" is not clearly distinguished from the name of the other Orthodox church already in Estonia, the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox church.

In its turn, EPTsMP appealed to the results of an expert linguistic study of the church's name conducted by specialists of the Institute of the Estonian Language and the law faculty of Tartu University. According to the specialists, the names of the two Orthodox churches are clearly distinguished from each other.

In September Prime Minister Mart Laar again confirmed that the government of Estonia supports in all ways the registration of the church under the name "Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate." Laar stressed then that the name "Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate" can be used only in full form and not in an abbreviation since only then in it distinguished from the name of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox church.

The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox church of the Constantinople patriarchate, which during soviet times existed in exile, is registered and active in Estonia. The Estonian MVD still has refused registration to the "Moscow" church, specifically on the basis that the names that it wants to use are identical in whole and in part with the name of the "Constantinople" church.

The dispute over the name and registration of the much larger "Moscow" church is linked to the issue of the rights of the property of parishes. At the beginning of November EPTsMP appealed to the Tallin administrative court for a two-month delay in the discussion of the suit it had filed, while it seeks to reach agreement with the Estonian MVD regarding the name of the church outside of court. As Judge Lea Kuuze told the BNS news agency, the next session of the court has been postponed to 9 January 2002. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 November 2001)

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New defense of Fr Kochetkov

Fate of Fr Georgi Kochetkov remains murky
NG-religii, 14 November 2001

The church public, which only recently was following the official polemics regarding the theological works of the Moscow priest Georgi Kochetkov, is again plunged into an atmosphere of expectation. Summer has passed; the October session of the Holy Synod of RPTs has gone by; and the future fate of the author of the sensational works, as well as that of his large Moscow parish, remains undetermined.

A clear silence in this area of the information field settled in some time ago. It has not been interrupted either by the site, which once was an extremely active commentator on these events, or by the interested parties. Even the marginal "Blagodatnyi ogon," the print organ of Orthodox ultrafundamentalists, quite recently revived the old inaccurate text of conclusions of the Moscow commission that worked under the leadership of Archpriest Sergei Pravdoliubov (NGR has published much about the insubstantiality and even falsifications of its conclusions).

As is known, the most difficult decision is the one that could suit everybody and at the same time be a genuine resolution and not its imitation. At the same time it would be naïve to expect something that would transcend the limits of the logic of compromise. The "Kochetkov case" already has gone on several years and many people who are well known to the Orthodox world have been dragged into it in various ways. Considering everything it is natural to suggest that "in the interests of church peace" the anticipated patriarchal decision will be aimed at preventing further stirring up of the situation. The reasonable question arises:  is this possible?

It seems that there could be a positive answer to this in the case that the delicate balance that has been achieved for now could be transformed into a new and more dynamic form.

It is known that different kinds of compromise exist. In one case, for example, the situation is bottled up in the naïve hope that "everything will settle down by itself." Most often it is not justified because bottled-up problems remain problems however much people act as if they have disappeared. It is another matter when the problem itself is recognized along with a discussion of it and, consequently, various approaches to it are seen. Then the possibility of an argument opens up, which derives from practical experience and not from somebody's abstract opinions or subjective impressions. This is a much more productive and viable approach that contains more chances of finding real conclusions  and resolutions that are fruitful for the church.

Returning to the "Kochetkov affair," it is worth recalling that its sources, in essence, are rooted in various, sometimes almost antagonistic, views on a problem that is critical for current church life, the churching of contemporary adult people. It is especially acute because the absolute majority of our fellow countrymen are people with an atheistic past who are deprived of real (and not imaginary) Orthodox traditions and roots.

Nobody disputes in the final analysis the very existence of the problem. Now to the fore have come questions about the practical forms of churching and about how to help the searching person to join the church and settle into it. Fr Georgi Kochetkov has dared to propose a certain systematic approach to the problem that naturally gives occasion for responses of skepticism, disagreement, and even complete rejection. But really, isn't it obvious that all kinds of misunderstandings on this matter would be better resolved by discussing actual experience. The writer of these lines has already had occasion to express on the pages of NGR regret that the Russian Orthodox church has hitherto been deprived of the possibility of serious internal discussion of topical and inevitably controversial questions, which promotes not "peace and harmony" but a growing division that leads to the separation of the church into hostile camps and groupings.

That such phenomena are unacceptable is clear. Then is there any sense in bottling up the accumulated problems and thereby neglect the nowadays rare possibility of a comprehensive, calm, and interested review of actual experience that already exists in the church? While that seems to be so debatable that its broad acceptance seems to be premature, at least there is no basis for ignoring it, much less forbidding it "until a more opportune time." It would be easier and more useful to make this experience an initiative that is available to everybody. This corresponds completely with the historic practice of the Russian Orthodox church, where, for example, back before the revolution of 1917 in individual parishes the ruling bishops (and in the 30s even the synod itself) permitted rectors to serve with open royal gates in the Russian language and with the recitation of the "secret' prayers aloud. Why is there such fear of mistakes, including those of translations, when there is the possibility of correcting them in the church? We recall in this regard how much has been said in Russia since the sixteenth century about all manner of inaccuracies and even nonsense and serious mistakes in the currently employed Church Slavonic liturgical texts. Even our Old Believers and "foreign" church folk do not object to such a framing of the question.

In conclusion we suggest that readers themselves consider who in the end has won from the situation where four years ago the only parish in all of Moscow where, with the knowledge of church authorities consistent and successful evangelistic activity was conducted, was liquidated. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 November 2001)

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Patriarch answers ROCOR accusations

Sluzhba kommunikatsii OVTsMP, 9 November 2001

On 5 November 2001, after meeting with the new US ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, the primate of the Russian Orthodox church, His Holiness Alexis II, responded to reporters' questions, including those dealing with the reaction of the bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) to the fraternal letter of the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church.

His Holiness' answers to this problem are produced below.

--Your Holiness, how do you assess the ROCOR bishops' council response?

--I thought that there would have been a softer response to our fraternal letter. Apparently this reflects the schism that has today taken place in the Russian foreign church: there are clear opponents of any contacts with the mother church and there is a large group of hierarchs who are supporters of beginning a dialogue and possible unification.

We hope that the opinion of the majority of healthy-thinking hierarchs of the foreign church who think that it is necessary to return to the bosom of the mother church will prevail. Today there are not any bases for continuation of their existence outside the mother church. In proportion to the passage of time, the Russian foreign church will progressively lose its Russianness because the new generation of its episcopate and clergy already in the main are not Russian by nationality and they belong to the nations of those countries where ROCOR conducts its ministry. Another decade will go by and the Russian foreign church will be Russian in name only. Time does not wait--it is necessary to be reunited with the mother church.

--Your Holiness, in the ROCOR bishops' council letter the accusations against the Russian Orthodos church of "sergianism" and ecumenism were again repeated. What can you say about this?

--About the accusations against us of so-called sergianism I want to say that it was necessary to live here in the motherland in order to understand that this is an artificial accusation and artificial pretext that they are trying to exaggerate so as simply to prevent reunification. In the main it deals with the letter by Metropoliran Sergius in 1927, the so-called Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. By this letter he wanted to show the authorities, who, I remind you, had imprisoned and shot clergy and believers, that the church was not a counterrevolutionary organization. Thus the letter said: "we want to be Orthodox and we want to realize the Soviet Union as our motherland, whose joys are our joys and whose sorrows are our sorrows." Most often it is these words that evoke the far-fetched criticism: "What kind of joys can be in common with an atheist state?" But the letter is not talking about an atheist state; it is talking about the motherland, although in 1927 this concept was almost forgotten.

This was a clever step by which Metropolitan Sergius tried to save the church and clergy. In declaring that the members of the church want to see themselves as a part of the motherland and want to share her joys and sorrows, he tried to show to those who were persecuting the church and who were destroying it that we, the children of the church, want to be loyal citizens so that the affiliation of people with the church would not place them outside the law. So this is a far-fetched accusation.

And as regards the accusation of ecumenism, I will say that today there is not a single church, including the Russian foreign church, that can depart into isolation. We live in this world and we should, and we will deal with people of other confessions and religious beliefs. Today especially, when global terrorism is being spread throughout the world, everybody must unite efforts against evil.

I want to stress that in participating in the work of international Christian organizations, the Russian Orthodox church has always testified to holy Orthodoxy. Its presence has helped the representatives of western confessions to understand the Orthodox position. Never has anybody who has participated in the work of international Christian organizations departed from his faith by an iota. We always bear witness to Orthodoxy and to our adherence to the holy Orthodox church. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 November 2001)

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Metropolitan Filaret wants return of soviet religion council

by Pavel Korobov
Kommersant-Dailhy, 9 November 2001

Interview with Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk

Over the past two weeks a new situation has developed in the relations between the Russian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate (RPTs) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). RPTs sent to the stated bishops' council of ROCOR a "Fraternal Letter," whose sense was that it is necessary to approach reunification of the Russian church. The response of the bishops' council of ROCOR was somewhat immoderate; it raised the issues of both the ecumenism and sergianism of the RPTsMP. Besides, the confrontation was complicated by rumors about the kidnapping of the former first hierarch of ROCOR, Vitaly, followed by his sudden reappearance and refusal to retire. K-D has written about all of this. At the same time there appeared predictions of the creation in RF of a state committee on religious affairs. Reporter Pavel Korobov asked a member of the Holy Synod of RPTs, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, the patriarchal exarch for all-Belorus, to comment on these events.

I will speak for myself only, since there still has been no reaction by our church to the letter of response by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. But I think that I express the general opinion of the Holy Synod. The fact that our appeal to the bishops' council of ROCOR was not left unanswered (and incidentally the answer expressed thanks for the fraternal appeal from our church) means that our attitude in our appeal to our brothers, the bishops of the foreign church, was understood correctly. And apparently they have a readiness to overcome the schism and for dialogue. Of course, after long silence, when our earlier appeals were left without official response, this letter from ROCOR should be viewed as a positive step on their part, which gives the hope that we have moved off of dead zero.

It was pleasant to hear that the foreign church views our letter to them as a call for unity. And it is ready, as they say, to procede to a search for acceptable principles toward this end. I think that they, as we, are inspired by the evangelical ideal of the unity of the church and the unity of the followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. And with God's help a joint quest for this unity has begun. Most likely, it must begin with unofficial meetings which would not obligate either side. It is time, finally, to investigate what we mean by the word "ecumenism" and what they mean by the term "sergianism." Thank God yet another question that divides us has been eliminated, namely, the canonization of the tsarist family. I think that the problems associated with the response of the ROCOR bishops' concil can be overcome in fraternal dialogue.

As regards the matter of the creation in Russia of a state committee for religion, even here I also will express only my own opinion, and it could seem strange to you. The Council on Religious Affairs of the USSR Council of Ministers had a positive and constructive role. I am not now talking, of course, about the way it frequently carried out not its own will but the directives of the secretariat for ideology of CC CPSU. But at the time we felt that this state agency understood the problems of relations between church and state. Now the situation has changed. There is not a single "line"--that of the communist party--so such a state committee would be able to exist more freely. When in Belarus we had to face the question whether we should have a council on religious affairs or not, I argued that we need such a council and that we need to work with the people who were active in the period of the repression of the church and were convinced of the uselessness of that policy. When 1989 arrived, those people who were then working in the Council on Religious Affairs immediately let it be known that they renounced the course which they had been following under CC CPSU, and that they understood very well the importance of the church in the history of the state. And therefore it was easy for me, as the head of the synod of the Belorussian Orthodox church, to work with these people.  For example, when with the opening of the borders various foreign religious organizations simply flooded into Russia, Belorussia, and Ukraine, these former personnel of the Council on Religious Affairs helped the church in resisting their influence.

I don't know for sure what the situation in Russia is like and I can't make an evaluation. But it seems to me that even in the Russian federation there should be a substantial state body that does not control or dictate to the church but works with it. We need a state partner. We cannot deal with all of the ministries. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 November 2001)

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Psychiatric assessment of ROCOR's Vitaly

Kommersant-Daily, 9 November 2001

According to a report appearing on the Internet "Vertograd" this week, the former first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), Metropolitan Vitay, was subjected to a psychiatric evaluation at a university hospital in the city of Sherburg, to which he had been moved from the Mansonville monastery in Canada under police guard. As a result of the evaluation the metropolitan was given a statement that said that Mr. Vitaly Ustinov, 91, living in Mansonville, had been remanded by decision of the court for evaluation of his psychiatric state. No psychiatric illness was observed in the metropolitan, other than "some failures of his memory, that is, distinguishing present from past." The physicians drew the conclusion that the patient was fully competent to resume his professional activity.

The goal of the evaluation, as has become evident, was exposing the incapacity of Metropolitan Vitaly. If as a result it could be established that the former head of ROCOR was psychologically ill, then all his authority in administration and control of the property within the Canada diocese would pass to Bishop Mikhail, the administrator of the diocese of Canada. As Bishop Mikhail of Toronto said to K-D, "the matter of the evaluation of Metropolitan Vitaly has still not been concluded," inasmuch as the metropolitan has not been examined by the chief of the hospital. And Bishop Mikhail does not agree with the medical conclusion that already has been rendered.

The secretary of the St. Petersburg deanery of ROCOR, Fr Nikolai Savchenko, told K-D that "there now is being conducted a medical evaluation of Master Vitaly, since powerful sedatives were administered in the synod building." Fr Nikolai did not rule out the possibility that these substances were administered to the metropolitan by his former secretary, Liudmila Rosnianskaia.

"The examination was conducted on the basis of the court's order," Nikolai Savchenko said, "since the question of the property of the diocese of Canada, which had been assigned to Metropolitan Vitaly's ownership, was to be decided. Now, when he has ceased working and retired, this property should be transferred to the church. But since the bishop is being used in the plot, there is a danger that he will be used in an attempt to reassign all church property to his former secretary, Liudmila Rosnianskaia. For the court, the issue is a matter of property; but for ROCOR there is also a canonical question, since if the former first hierarch is not in possession of his faculties, then it is necessary to review all of his decisions: first he recognized the decisions of the ROCOR bishops' council's decision and then he renounced this recognition and, even after retiring, consecrated new bishops." (tr. by PDS, posted 9 November 2001)

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Schism threatens in foreign church

Obshchaia gazeta, 7 November 2001

At the extraordinary bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) not only was a new primate elected but a course was set toward rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate (RPTsMP). That became a  long-expected sensation.

The story of the schism is as follows. In 1920 the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church, Tikhon, instructed dioceses whose communications with Moscow had been interrupted after the revolution to unite temporarily in an autonomous structure. In 1924 bishops who after the civil war were located outside the boundaries of USSR held a council in Sremsky Karlovac (Serbia) at which the foreign church was created. Three years later, after the publication in Russia of the declaration by the patriarchal caretaker, Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky, that proclaimed loyalty to the soviet leadership, the foreign church severed relations with the domestic church administration. It declared that genuine Orthodoxy had been preserved only within its parishes and the Moscow patriarchate had plunged into the abyss of the "sergian heresy" and agreement with atheist power.

Only in the time of perestroika did the situation begin to change. The foreign church greatly helped Russian Orthodoxy that was being regenerated. Many Russians who converted to the faith at the end of the 1980s recall with gratitude their first Bibles and prayer books published and distributed often gratis by foreign Orthodox brethren.

At the beginning of 1990s the Karlovtsy faced a complicated problem. On one hand the church in Russian had clearly been reborn and thereby the need for the foreign church as a separate structure had become much less. On the other hand, the Moscow patriarchate did not issue repentance of its former sins and did not hasten to renounce its "heresy." It was led as previously by bishops who were viewed from abroad as none other than proteges of KGB. Two wings formed in the foreign church: proponents of rapprochement and, in the end, unification with the Moscow patriarchate and unreconciled opponents. Metropolitan Vitaly, who headed the foreign church since 1986, stood on the side of the latter.

The Karlovtsy made the first step toward a way out of this complicated collision by uniting with the Russian catacomb believers. In the emigration, a heroic mythology had accumulated around these underground Orthodox societies on the territory of USSR, who did not recognize the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate over them. In reality, by the end of the 1980s the True Orthodox church, as the catacomb believers called themselves, represented a multitude of hostile groups; the total number of its followers was minuscule. The appointment of catacomb bishops to their posts was dubious from a canonical point of view. Thus many true-Orthodox believers were happy to move into the jurisdiction of ROCOR; at least the Karlovtsy had an undoubted canonical episcopal succession. The foreign chuch also attracted malcontents from RPTs--aggrieved priests and ideological dissidents. Thus in 1990 in USSR "parallel Orthodoxy" arose, with its own parishes and churches.

From Moscow's point of view the foreigners had encroached upon RPTs territory. This gave the Moscow patriarchate a basis for petitioning the civil authorities for a transfer to it of buildings and property of ROCOR. After a noisy sensation over the "seizure" by the Moscow patriarchate of churches in Palestine, the tone of mutual accusations became indecent.

The pacification of the conflict was helped to some extent by the bishops' council of Russian Orthodox church held in August of last year, where the Russian new martyrs were glorified, including Nicholas II. Besides this, the social doctrine of RPTs was adopted and relations between  church and state were clearly articulated for the first time.

The bishops' council of the foreign church that was held soon thereafter assessed these developments as positive. Under pressure of the proponents of rapprochement with the Moscow patriarchate it decided to create a commission to review the question of the restoration of unity.

For former metropolitan of ROCOR Vitaly these events were a bone in the throat. He tried with all his might to block the process of establishing mutual relations of the two churches. He disavowed in practice the documents adopted by the bishops' council of the Karlovac church and publicly rejected the very thought of unification with the RPTs "false church." This summer the conflict between the "unreconciled" and "pacifists" reached its apogee. Metropolitan Vitaly suffered a stroke and on 10July announced his decision "to retire due to illness and weakness." To select a new primate it was decided to conduct an extraordinary council of ROCOR. And although Metropolitan Vitaly tried to reverse course, declaring that he felt fine and that rumors about his ill health were being spread by ill-intentioned enemies, the council was held nevertheless.

Archbishop Laurus Shkurla became the new primate of the foreign church, who manifests a cautious but consistent desire for reconciliation with the Moscow patriarchate. On the eve of the council Patriarch Alexis II's letter to the foreign churchmen was published, in which he called for forgetting strife and being reunited.

Is it possible to hope that the schism of Orthodox will in the near future be replaced by unification? Alas, there is little basis for such hopes. The entire leadership of the Karlovtsy "parallel" Orthodoxy in Russia has already declared its rejection of the decision of the past council. One cannot rule out serious opposition on the part of Metropolitan Vitaly who continues to have authority in the foreign church. There also are other influential opponents of unification, for example, Archbishop Varnava of Cannes. As a group they could diverge from Archbishop Laurus' course.

And if the unreconciled opposition is not able to block the process of the rapprochement of the church, it does have the power to split the foreign church. Those desiring to support a schism within Russia will be found; after all it is the Russian emigres who are most unreconciled toward the Moscow patriarchate. The huge fundamentalist association "Select brotherhood of Saint Joseph of Volotsk" recently distributed an appeal "To all true-Orthodox Christians in regard to recent events in ROCOR." This document that is typical for radicals says "We are overcome with grief when we observe how quickly and easily the unification of all apostate forces has been achieved and how they are able to find a 'common language' with the modernists 'who have gone out from us' (that is, former Christians), but who now do not belong to Christ but are ecclesiastical groupings and jurisdictions who are attaching themselves to the final antichrist. . . ."

Further the brotherhood promised to assemble in the near future a preconciliar conference at which all possible forces of their fellow thinkers will unite in order to struggle against those who attach themselves to the antichrist. In general, as Roosevelt said, this is not yet the end and it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 November 2001)

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Government working group takes up changes in religion law

Mir religii, 6 November 2001

The vice chairman of the Commission on Affairs of Religious Associations of the Russian government, Andrei Sebentsov, conducted the first session of the newly created working group for introducing amendments and additions to the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," Blagovest-info reports. As reported earlier, the initiators of corrections in the law include several offices of justice of the Russian federation and the Russian Orthodox church, who point out a genuinely existing disconnect between the legislation and the practice of implementation of the law in the sphere of church-state relations.

It is proposed that one of the key concepts of an updated law could be the concept of "traditional confession," whose introduction into Russian legislation would lead to a differentiation among religious associations on the basis of their "traditionality."

At the first session of the working group, which was closed to outsiders, amendments to the preamble of the law were reviewed. In particular, it was stated that recognition of the "state-forming role" of the Russian Orthodox church was necessary. Results of the discussion were not reported. It is known only that a significant portion of the amendments had come from offices of the executive branches of components elements of the Russian federation. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 November 2001)

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