Monitoring news media reports about religion in Russia and other countries of former USSR
Copyrighted material. For private use only.
Archive of News Items

Bishop of Baku receives patriarchal permission to meet pope

Interfax, 23 May 2002

Pope John Paul II, who is in Azerbaijan for a visit, met on Thursday with leaders of traditional religious societies of this country.

As reported to Interfax at the Moscow patriarchate, with the blessing of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox church, Bishop Alexander of Baku and Caspian took part in the conversation with the pontiff. In addition, the audience was attended by the spiritual leader of Muslims of Azerbaijan, Allakhshukiur Pasha Zade and the chairman of the society of Mountain Jews of the country, Semen Ikhiilov. At the time of the meeting, which lasted 15 to 20 minutes, participants exchanged greetings. In particular, Bishop Alexander said that in connection with the pope's visit he recalls the importance of the recent visit by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus to Azerbaijan. Bishop Alexander also briefly welcomed the pope in connection with his visit to Azerbaijan and presented him an icon. According the representatives of the patriarchate, the visit was of a formal nature and questions of interchurch relations were not discussed. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 May 2002)

Mir religii, 23 May 2002

A meeting of Pope John Paul II with the heads of religious societies of Azerbaijan was held in the Baku Catholic parish, ITAR-TASS reports.

Opening the meeting, the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, Sheikh Allakhshukiur Pasha Zade, noted that he considers the pope's visit to Azerbaijan as a "significant event." The sheikh especially stressed that this is not the first time a supreme hierarch of a Christian church had come to Azerbaijan. "We received in Baku as a most dear guest His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus," Pasha Zade declared. He expressed the hope that these visits "will promote the establishment of peace and mutual understanding among people."

In the opinion of the head of Muslims of the Caucasus, having been in Azerbaijan the pope "was able to be persuaded for himself that people of many nationalities who profess diverse religions get along with each other peacefully in this land." As a memento of the meeting he present John Paul II a copy of the Quran.

The Roman pope expressed his respect for the confessions that are active in Azerbaijan and for the country itself. "This really is a blessed land," John Paul II said.

The head of the diocese of the Russian Orthodox church in Azerbaijan, Bishop Alexander of Baku and the Caspian, took part in the meeting with the pope. He presented John Paul II an icon with the image of the apostle Bartholomew. The Roman primate asked him to relay greetings to Patriarch Alexis II. In an interview with an ITAR-TASS reporter Bishop Alexander noted that he received permission from the primate of RPTs for this meeting. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 May 2002)

by Christian Lowe
Agence France Presse, 23 May 2002

Concern about the fragile health of 82-year-old Pope John Paul II deepened on the final day of his visit to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan on Thursday, when his sermon at a mass in Baku was frequently unintelligible.

The pontiff suffers from Parkinson's disease and arthritis which have rendered him nearly immobile and also paralysed part of his face -- though the Vatican has not confirmed it -- making it hard for him to speak distinctly.

But leading mass at the Volleyball Palace in the Azeri capital the pope's voice was unusually weak, he slurred his words more than on previous public appearances and saliva continually escaped from the corner of his mouth. . . .

On Thursday he had a symbolic meeting with local Russian Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim leaders, part of his stated aim of using the visit to mainly Muslim Azerbaijan to convey a message of religious tolerance.

Until the last minute there had been speculation the local Orthodox archbishop, Alexander Ischein, would not see the pope because of a row with the Russian church over alleged Catholic proselytizing in eastern Europe.

But Archbishop Alexander joined the representatives of the other faiths and presented the pontiff with a religious icon. "I think the meeting went well," he told AFP as he left.

The pope is keen to mend relations with the Orthodox church so he can fulfil his long-standing ambition to visit Russia.

Allahshukyur Pashazade, spritual head of the region's Muslims, and Simon Ihi'ilov, leader of the indigenous Mountain Jew community, also met the pope at the Catholic mission in a suburb of Baku.

"The pope's visit here,.. his closeness to the people, is an historic event and will help to widen the ties between the confessions," said Pashazade, who presented the pontiff with a copy of the Koran.

Earlier in the day, the mass was briefly interrupted when an unidentified man on crutches climbed onto the altar and tried to approach the pope. He was restrained and then led off by security personnel.

Pope John Paul seemed unfazed by the incident. He blessed the man by making the sign of the cross in his direction.

In his sermon, the pope praised Azerbaijan's 150-strong Catholic community, one of the smallest in the world, who had kept their faith during the years when the country was part of the Soviet Union.

"Today the pope is with you," he said. "He too knows of your suffering and has carried you in his heart during the years of wandering in the desert of persecution. Today the eyes of all are turned to you, the litle flock."

The pontiff blessed a foundation stone for a planned new Roman Catholic parish church in Baku, to replace the one blown up in 1937 by the atheist Communist authorities. (Copyright 2002 Agence France Presse, posted 23 May 2002)

by Christian Lowe
Agence France Presse, 23 May 2002

Pope John Paul II led a mass on Thursday to pay tribute to Azerbaijan's tiny Catholic community for surviving the persecution of the Communist regime on the final day of a visit which has highlighted his fragile health.

The mass was briefly interrupted when an unidentified man on crutches climbed on to the altar and tried to approach the 82-year-old pontiff, but he was restrained and then led off by security personnel.

The pope seemed unfazed by the incident. He blessed the man, reported to be a 40-year-old refugee from Azerbaijan's war with Armenia in the early 1990s, by making the sign of the cross in his direction. The pope, who is battling Parkinson's disease and arthritis, had to be lowered from his aircraft by a hydraulic lift when he arrived in the mainly Muslim republic of Azerbaijan on Wednesday, the first time this had been done on a foreign trip.

But his health appeared no worse than normal as he led the mass in the Volleyball Palace in Azerbaijan's capital. His left hand trembled and his words were indistinct, legacies of illnesses that have already been affecting him for some time.

In his sermon, the pope praised the country's 150-strong Catholic community, one of the smallest in the world, who had kept their faith during the years when the country was part of the Soviet Union.

The mass was heard by some 4,000 people, with the Catholic congregation bolstered by pilgrims, officials, diplomats and local people.

Before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Azerbaijan had a strong Catholic community. But today there are barely 70 local Catholics -- the rest of the parishoners are expatriate workers -- who hold mass in a makeshift church.

"The universal church pays tribute to all those who succeeded in remaining faithful to their baptismal commitments," the pope said.

"I am thinking in particular of those who lived permanently in this country and who experienced the tragedy of Marxist persecution and bore the consequences of their faithful attachment to Christ."

"Today the pope is with you. He too knows of your suffering and has carried you in his heart during the years of wandering in the desert of persecution... Today the eyes of all are turned to you, the little flock."

The pontiff blessed a foundation stone for a new Roman Catholic parish church in Baku, to replace the one blown up by the Communist authorities in 1937 as they enforced their regime's aetheist ideology.

He has offered an undisclosed sum to help with construction of the church, to be built on land provided free by Azeri President Heidar Aliyev.

For the second time in two days, the pontiff also paid tribute to the Russian Orthodox Church for holding out against Communism.

A row with the Moscow patriarchate over alleged Catholic proselytizing in the former Soviet Union has soured relations and the pope is keen to resolve it so he can fufill his long-standing ambition to visit Russia.

Later on Thursday the pope is due to meet representatives of the Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim faiths at the Catholic mission.

After that he will fly out for the next leg of his tour, in Bulgaria. (Copyright 2002 Agence France Presse, posted 23 May 2002)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Orthodoxy as semi-official religion of Russia

As Church Enjoys Revival of Influence, Its Past Remains Clouded
by Sharon LaFraniere
Washington Post Foreign Service , 23 May 2002

Beneath the stone arches of the Church of St. Sofia of God's Wisdom, in the courtyard of the former KGB headquarters in central Moscow's Lubyanka Square, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church joined the hierarchy of the Federal Security Service in early March for a prayer.

There, in what served during Soviet times as a warehouse, Patriarch Alexy II asked God's blessing for the leaders of what was once the KGB's dreaded internal security arm. He asked the church to help ensure Russia's safety "in the face of external and internal ill-wishers, if not enemies" and prayed that the little chapel be spared further "storms and ordeals."

For the man who has run Russia's dominant church for the past decade, it was a classic patriarchal performance: steeped in patriotism, tinged with mistrust of the wider world and remarkable for what was left unsaid. Nowhere in his blessing did Alexy note that it was from the same Lubyanka address that Stalin's KGB ordered the imprisonment and execution of millions of innocent people branded enemies of the state -- including much of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Skeptics say Alexy's remarks mirror the greater irony of his 1,000-year-old church. After being subverted, penetrated and virtually remade as an arm of the Soviet state during seven decades of communism, the Russian Orthodox Church has been reborn under the leadership of its strong-willed, 73-year-old patriarch. Alexy has created 12,000 new Orthodox parishes, rebuilt hundreds of majestic onion-domed churches once used as Soviet animal pens and garages, and parlayed a religious revival in free Russia into a dramatic renewal of the church's public authority and political influence.

But at the same time, Alexy's many critics say, the newly empowered church has found it difficult to shed or even admit key aspects of its communist legacy. Under Alexy's leadership, they say, the church has continued to walk in near lockstep with the secular Russian state, parroting the Kremlin line on issues as diverse as the war in Chechnya, NATO relations, poultry imports and the conduct of this winter's Olympic Games.

The critics describe the church as fiercely nationalistic and deeply suspicious of outsiders, and they say it uses its political clout to throw up barriers to other faiths, from the Jehovah's Witnesses to the Roman Catholic Church, with which it split in 1054. It has retained its penchant for secrecy, they say, refusing to disclose its income from such activities as tax-free cigarette sales, which amount to government subsidies.

Most painfully, they say, it has balked at publicly expiating its own Soviet past, including compelling evidence that Alexy was for decades an important asset of the KGB.

Church-State Ties

Many Orthodox priests were forced by the Communists into relationships with the Soviet police, often under threat of execution. Researchers say that evidence indicates that Alexy rose to power in part as a reward for his service as a KGB informant, and that he was decorated for that work as recently as 1988, two years before church leaders elected him patriarch.

Alexy declined repeated requests for an interview for this article. But the Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the church's foreign relations department, said in an interview in March that clergymen had no choice but to report to Soviet authorities. As long as they did not turn in fellow believers and priests, he said, they did no moral wrong.

"To reject Soviet power as something totally bad, and to blame someone just for being in good touch with Soviet authorities, I think is a highly politicized approach," he said. Many Russians share the church's attitude that to explore the Soviet Union's grisly past would be useless and painful.

In an interview 18 months ago with the Britain-based Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Russia and other countries, Chaplin said that the church and the state continue to have common concerns, such as Russia's greatness and the church's role in the world. "We don't consider that everything which was done in that [Soviet] period was incorrect," he said.

There is no doubt that the Russian Orthodox Church and its believers suffered grievously under Soviet rule, and that some of those wounds, such as the loss of the church's assets and some of its flock, could take years or decades to heal. Still, some religious activists and critics say the church remains in many ways influenced by the Soviet experience.

"In a very real sense, the patriarchate of Moscow is the most Soviet institution in Russia today," said the Keston Institute's director, Lawrence Uzzell. "It is the only institution whose top leadership has not changed since the fall of Soviet Union."

Alexander Nezhny, who frequently writes about religion, said Alexy represents the Soviet-era bishops who want "to make religion subordinate to state ideology" and to sound a message of "national and religious superiority."

Others say Alexy is captive to far more conservative bishops whose power he cannot challenge. Unlike the Catholic Church's pope, the Russian Orthodox patriarch serves at the pleasure of a council of bishops. Some contend that Alexy is not as hard-line as some of the church's bishops, but reflects their views.

"He conducts the line of the majority of the bishops, and today the majority of bishops are people of yesterday," said Anatoly Krasikov, director of the Center for Social and Religious Studies, funded by the Russian Academy of Sciences. "Inside and outside the church, there are people who want the church to take the place of the former Communist Party as the keeper of ideological unity, ideological purity in Russia."

The Russian Orthodox Church has never represented itself as a solely religious institution. It has long been lashed to the state, with its moral power used to legitimize czars and justify state policies.

Those ties are much less pronounced now, with the Russian constitution and a comprehensive religion law guaranteeing freedom of worship. Still, the church sees itself as Russia's semi-official religion and, to a certain extent, is treated as such by the state.

Roughly half of Russia's 144 million citizens now call themselves Orthodox Christians, as do millions more in such former Soviet states as Ukraine and Belarus -- although only a small percentage of those in Russia attend church services.

Modern Russian leaders, from former president Boris Yeltsin to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, have treated the patriarchy with special deference. Only Alexy is called upon to bless august state occasions, such as Yeltsin's transfer of a briefcase containing secret nuclear codes to Vladimir Putin on Dec. 31, 1999. Chaplin, the church spokesman, said that Putin regularly consults Alexy on domestic issues and that church leaders talk almost daily with Putin's aides.

The patriarch "has managed to elevate the status of the church within the state. He is a politician," said Maxim Shevchenko, a journalist here who has written about religion for years.

Cigarettes, Bottled Water

The relationship Alexy has built with the government appears to have worked to both sides' political benefit -- and for the church, financial gain. But that has not come without controversy.

The church emerged from communism a pauper, stripped of riches it had accumulated over a millennium. While the Kremlin has since returned many Orthodox churches, it has held on to other assets, including land and schools, arguing that such property always belonged to the state.

Partly as compensation, the Kremlin allowed the church in the mid-1990s to import between $75 million and $100 million worth of cigarettes duty-free. About the same time, the church acquired 40 percent of MES, an oil-export firm whose quotas on foreign oil sales, like all such allowances, were set by the government. The company estimated its revenue in 1996 at $2 billion.

The government canceled the cigarette concession in late 1996. The church lost oil as a source of income about four years ago when MES went out of business.

"Of course the church was in a tough position financially after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But people saw that the church was tarnishing its reputation by that sort of activity," said Krasikov, of the Center for Social and Religious Studies.

Now, the church survives partly on a bottled water business and contributions from wealthy enterprises, including the state-controlled natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, and Lukoil, an oil company that is partly owned by the state. At Lukoil's behest, Alexy expressed his gratitude to the firm for its patronage in a television commercial that aired in November.

While there is no indication that government favors have shaped church policy, Alexy is unquestionably a strong and reliable supporter of the Kremlin. After Yeltsin decried NATO's 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, also a predominately Orthodox country, Alexy condemned the air war as a "criminal act" and a challenge to God.

Yet he is unflinchingly behind Russia's war in the rebellious southern region of Chechnya. Two years ago, he denounced a vote by Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly to suspend Russia's voting rights because of widespread human rights violations in Chechnya. Alexy said biased Western delegates had blackened the reputation of Russian troops while ignoring terrorist acts by Chechen rebels.

Sergei Ivanenko, a Russian board member of the International Association for Religious Freedom, argues that Alexy is no Kremlin puppet, especially on issues of how to deal with the West or other religions. "The church is trying to resist the expansion of Western ideals," Ivanenko said. "Our president is much more liberal."

Still, the church's support of the Kremlin has earned it a degree of state protection against competition from other religions. Prodded by the church, Yeltsin signed legislation in 1997 that raised a daunting series of bureaucratic hurdles for other faiths that have come to Russia seeking adherents.

Since then, the Mormon Church, the Salvation Army and others have had to fight for the legal status to rent space for worship and hand out literature. The Orthodox Church has linked arms with hard-line local officials, warning against the danger of religious sects.

Catholicism is still regarded as a threat, almost 1,000 years after the 1054 schism that severed the Orthodox and Catholic churches over issues of doctrine and authority. Although Pope John Paul II has begun to mend fences with other estranged faiths, he has yet to be allowed to visit Russia, largely due to Alexy's objections. After the pope delivered a short prayer via satellite to a Moscow cathedral in February, Alexy denounced it as a "spiritual invasion."

More recently, Orthodox groups have mounted what Catholics call an organized campaign against them. One of Russia's four Catholic bishops was stripped of his visa last month. A group linked to the Orthodox Church recently organized a nationwide protest after the Vatican upgraded its Russian bureaucracy, creating dioceses like those in almost all other nations. Orthodox leaders have a ready explanation for their close ties to the state: The church needs the government's protection and its support to recover from more than 70 years of Communist persecution.

Critics agree that the state owes the church at least an apology for the wrongs of the past. But they argue just as strongly that the church owes its flock an explanation of its own complicity in the Communists' persecution of believers. The church set up a commission in 1992 to investigate its ties to the KGB, but no report was published.

A Questioned Past

The questions begin with Alexy himself. A wealth of recent research strongly indicates that he was recruited by the KGB in 1958 when he was a 28-year-old priest in his homeland of Estonia and served as an agent for 30 years. Documents unearthed in Estonia's capital, Tallinn, describe how the KGB planned to reward a priest code-named "Drozdov" by making him bishop there; Alexy received the post in 1961. Although the priest's real name is not given, Alexy was the only priest in the Estonian diocese who matches the KGB's description, according to the Keston Institute, which reviewed and published the records.

Alexy said in a 1991 newspaper interview that he was "sometimes forced to give way" to Soviet authorities. He apologized for "such concessions, the failure to speak out, the forced passivity and expressions of loyalty of the church leadership."

Chaplin, the church spokesman, said in March, "Nobody has ever seen a single real document that would confirm the patriarch used his contacts with Soviet authorities to make harm to the church or to any people in the church."

That doesn't satisfy Vera Afanasyeva, 56, a former cultural center director. She paused to discuss her faith one recent Saturday as she sat in Moscow's Catholic cathedral, contemplating whether to convert.

"I think Orthodoxy has tainted itself. And it won't change until Orthodox priests repent before people and prove they are totally different from the past," she said. "They are all former KGB. They need to renounce the Soviet ideology." (copyright The Washington Post Company, posted 23 May 2002)

Russia Religion News Current News Items


Orthodox may boycott pope in Azerbaijan

Religiia v Rossii, 22 May 2002

The Roman pope will land in Baku. According to the press service of the Holy See, "John Paul II is going to Azerbaijan on a mission of religious peace." The visit to Azerbaijan will be the fifth trip of the pope to the territory of the former Soviet Union (before this he has been in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Ukraine). But as before, the question remains unanswered: will this trip by the pontiff bring closer the achievement of his old dream about Russia? Formally, the visit to Baku by the head of the Roman church is timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and the Vatican.

In the course of his visit the head of Catholics for the first time in twenty years will stay in a small private hotel, "Irshad," which in translation means "spiritual journey." Usually during foreign trips the pontiff stays in the residence of the local nuncio or in quarters provided by the local Catholic church. That seemed rather problematical in a country where even with the foreigners who work in the embassies Catholics barely number 130 persons (that is, fewer than will fly in one airplane with the pope).

No less interest attends the subsequent means of transportation of John Paul II about the city, since the "pope mobile," a vehicle with bullet proof windows in which the head of Catholics usually travels, has already been taken to Bulgaria, where the pontiff will go on the next day. John Paul II's plans do not by any means include the pope's spending idle time in his hotel room. So, instead of the "pope mobile" the head of Catholics will travel around Baku in an armored Mercedes.

According to the official schedule of the "apostolic visit" announced by the Vatican, first the pope will visit the monument to the victims of the movement for independence. The schedule provides for a meeting of the head of the Holy See with Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev at which it is planned to discuss questions of the political and religious situation in the region and the struggle with international terrorism. After this the pontiff will hold a meeting with religious leaders and representatives of politics, culture, and art.

In Baku it is being stressed in every way that it is not the primate of the Roman Catholic church that is coming but the head of the Vatican state. However on 23 May the pontiff will lead a holiday mass in the Baku Palace of Table Games at which no fewer than 5,000 persons are expected, and then he will lunch with Fr Daniel Pravda and other priests who are responsible for the flock in the country.

After midday John Paul II will head up a joint meeting with representatives of the main religious confessions of Azerbaijan, the leader of the Caucasus Board of Muslims, the bishop of the Russian Orthodox church, and the president of the "Mountain Jews" community. On the same day there will be a meeting between the pope and refugees from Armenia and Nagorny-Karabakh. After this, in the second half of the day the pontiff will make his way to Bulgaria.

However, one cannot rule out the likelihood that some of the planned meetings will be changed on the spot. Thus, until now there is a great question about the possibility of the meeting of the pontiff with representatives of the Russian Orthodox church. It is known that yesterday Bishop Alexander of Baku and the Caspian flew off to Moscow on an emergency trip.

In the past six months, control of the state over all aspects of religion in Azerbaijan has strengthened, which is directed by Rafik Aliyev, who was appointed last year head of the State Committee for Affairs of Religious Organizations. The controversial registration process that began at the end of last year and is still under review has resulted in the number of religious communities of all faiths that were registered under the old system dropping from 406 to 125. More than 90% of the citizens of Azerbaijan call themselves Muslims.

The law of Azerbaijan forbids the registration of Muslim societies that are not under the Caucasus Board of Muslims. In Azerbaijan there is only one active Catholic church in Baku, which 50 parishioners attend. Besides the Catholic parish, there are six Orthodox parishes functioning in the country and several protestant churches of various denominations, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Zoroastrians. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 May 2002)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Pope's visits promote interreligious ties

Mir religii, 22 May 2002

The president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, hopes that the Roman pope will sometime visit Moscow, but he recognizes that such a visit is hardly likely to occur in the near future, Interfax reports.

In this regard the head of Russian Catholics, speaking today on air from "Echo of Moscow" radio stating, cited the tense relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox church in connection with Rome's decision to create four Catholic dioceses on Russian territory.

Meanwhile the head of Russian Catholics assigns great significance to the pope's visits to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, the first of which begins today. He said that these trips, first of all, are pastoral. John Paul II "wants to meet with Catholics, his fellow believers, who are awaiting him."

However John Paul II's visit to Azerbaijan, where the absolute majority of believers profess Islam, bears an interreligious character which "is very important today in our world," Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz stressed. He said that in the course of the visit to this country there will be meetings between the head of the Catholic church and Muslim leaders and representatives of the Azerbaijani public. Besides this, Kondrusiewicz noted, a meeting between the Roman pope and the Orthodox bishop is planned.

Speaking of the Roman primate's visit to Bulgaria, where the majority of believers are Orthodox, the head of Russian Catholics noted that "this meeting is exceptionally important for the future development of inter-Christian dialogue." (tr. by PDS, posted 22 May 2002)


A letter of solidarity and support from Catholics of Lithuania, signed by the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Lithuania, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkiavichius, and the secretary, Bishop Jonas Boruta, was received by the head of the Catholic bishops of Russia, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. "The Lithuanian bishops are profoundly disturbed by the news about the persecution of the Catholic church in Russia," the letter says. "Only recently we rejoiced together at the rebirth of the Catholic church in the land that has suffered much, and thus it is very difficult to believe that in the third millennium you are being forced to face blind hostility." Recalling that Catholics of Lithuania "have gone along the painful way of the cross" and that their fidelity to the Catholic church helped them withstand the difficulties "of persecution and restriction," the letter's writers call Russian Catholics "to put their hope in divine providence, which leads the church through trials." The bishops of Lithuania assured Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz of their prayerful unity and solidarity with Catholics of Russia. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 May 2002)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Russian neopaganism displays much diversity

by Viktor Shnirelman
Vremia novostei, 21 May 2002

Russian neopaganism of the nationalistic stripe has a unique answer to the fall of USSR that is perceived by many as a national humiliation. There followed the growth of xenophobia together with anxiety over Russian independence. This was so severe that even Orthodoxy did not seem sufficiently Russian. Many neopagans argued passionately that an alien Christianity mercilessly destroyed a "great Russian civilization." They consider themselves to be adherents of the indigenous prechristian Slavic, Russian, or "Slavic-Aryan" paganism. And they are convinced that only their national gods will bring success and happiness. But differences are beginning to emerge. Some do not see anything disgraceful in the name "neopaganism." For others it seems offensive and they prefer to call themselves simply pagans. The prefix "neo" cuts to the quick those who "have revived the native tradition." Members of the Moscow Slavic Pagan Society call their religion "Slavianstvo," affirming that the term "Slavic" refers to "glorifying the gods." The Petersburg neopagans of the "Union of the Vedas" have taken a liking to the term "Vedism." They represent their faith as scientific knowledge ("vedenie") and generally reject the concept of religious faith.

Among Russian neopagans there is not even agreement on political matters. One of their leaders, A.A. Dobrovolsky (Dobroslav), understands Slavic Russian paganism to be "harmony with nature, national self-affirmation, and a just social order," which in his words is identical with "Russian national socialism" (i.e. nazism). Dobroslav and his supporters represent the socialist wing of the neopagan movement. They are in contrast with the advocates of a market orientation headed by V. Korchagin. The former wage war on Christianity but maintain a nostalgia for communism and USSR; the latter are simultaneously disgusted by both Christianity and communism.

The differences in political positions does not prevent their sharing chauvinistic convictions seasoned with antisemitism and racism. It is antisemitism that drives them to see in Christianity a pernicious ideology that supposedly was specially created by Jews for enslaving other peoples. Some are prepared to place on the Russian Orthodox church the responsibility for all the troubles that have piled on the shoulders of the nation. Korchagin tries to prove with all his might that the Russian nation's path to salvation lies "through a return to the religion of our ancestors, the faith of the Slavic Rus people, and through the expulsion of Jews from Russia."

Of course, not all neopagans occupy such an unreconcilable position. Some are prepared to be at peace, if not with Jews, at least with Russian Orthodoxy. They see in it a natural development of the Russian pagan tradition. In their thinking, Russian monks turn out to be the successors of pagan wizards who supposedly preserved "pagan manuscripts" for centuries. Thus they sometimes call their societies "Orthodox."

The diversity of approaches is shown in those version of Russian neopaganism that its activists freely produce. Besides eastern Slavic traditions they adopt fragments of religious beliefs and systems from the most diverse sources; in an amazing way the Indo-Aryan god Agni is transformed into the "Russian god Ogni," the ancient Indo-Iranian aristocratic title "arii/arya" becomes the name of the "Slavic progenitor Orii," and German runes are declared to the "Slavic-Aryan" magical symbols. It should be said that some writers even make Christ out to be "Slavic-Rus" (and after him Zoroaster, Muhammed, Buddha, Moses, and many other prophets). In this context the idea of the close kinship of Slavs with Indo-Aryans is popular. "India today is the last reserve of the vital forces of the whole Aryan race."  The occultic heritage of the founder of theosophy, Elena Blavatskaia, and the Rerikh families is widely used, enriched by the images of Slavic pagan gods. One meets even more exotic varieties that try to synthesize the ancient Slavic, Hindu, and German heritages. This is characteristic of the Aryan pagan society "Satya-Veda" that was founded in February 1998 and has chosen as its patron the god Veles.

In the thinking of other Russian neopagans, by contrast, a monolithic system has emerged and many of them dream of a solar religion. It is no accident that they thus are adherents of a solar symbol which for them is represented in the swastika (to be sure, they often represent it in the form of an eight-rayed Kolovrat). They see in the swastika a native Slavic symbol of the sun and of life. In all of this one hears echoes of Germany neopaganism of the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, which in its time fed the nazi ideology. It is not surprising with such inspiration that the nazi idea of the "Jewish-Aryan spiritual antagonism" is maintained. But in order to attain unity it is not enough just to hate a common enemy. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 May 2002)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Radicals' Moscow protest rained out

by Kirill Vasilenko
Vremia novostei, 21 May 2002

Yesterday participants in a protest demonstration at the walls of Saint Daniel's monastery demanded that priests not be permitted into state schools. In general, the organizers of this event from the Transnational Radical Party figured on gathering a whole demonstration at the gates of the church, but the public was indifferent to their summons. Besides the weather was cold. In the end, secular education was protected from the "encroachment" on the part of RPTs by a few activists with anticlerical pickets and flags in their hands.

As explained by the party leader Nikolai Khramov, the statement by the radicals was associated with the session of the Coordinating Council of Cooperation between the Ministry of Education and the Moscow patriarchate that was held a few days ago. We recall that at the end of last week Patriarch Alexis II again called for returning the church into the schools. "Naturally, our protest is not directed against Orthodoxy as a religion or Orthodox believers as citizens with equal rights," Mr. Khramov declared. "Nobody has infringed upon the right of the church to teach children the fundamentals of Orthodox culture and Orthodox ethics. The federal law 'On Education' provides full opportunity for this. RPTs, like any other church, has the right to open both Sunday and private general education schools. But in the state schools, maintained at the expense of all taxpayers, there should be no place for priests nor for any kind of religious education whatever."

However, the posters with phrases "No place for priests in state schools," "Russia is a secular republic, not an Orthodox monarchy," and "RPTs Short Course? Please, we've already had it," remained entirely ignored. At the start, the director of the monastery came out to see the protesters and the picketers argued with him about the existence of God. Then police officers appeared, reminding those who had gathered that it is forbidden to conduct demonstrations with slogans that are offensive to believers near churches. They were not about to argue with people in uniform. And they rolled up their posters with a certain amount of relief since even radicals are not disposed to lengthy protest in cold wind and rain. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 May 2002)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Pope to mark day of "apostles to the Slavs"

by Evgeny Komarov
Novye izvestiia, 21 May 2002

Tomorrow begins the visit of Pope John Paul II to Azerbaijan. Despite the country's not being Christian, a former member of the Politburo of the communist party, Heydar Aliyev, like Cuba's Fidel Castro, deemed it necessary to receive to his homeland the head of the Catholic church. The visit will begin with a traditional greeting ceremony at the Baku international airport and the pontiff will visit the monument to those who perished for the independence of the republic and visit the Azerbaijani president. Then he will meet with representatives of various religions, politicians, and cultural leaders. The next day the pope will serve mass at the Baku Sports Palace.

Azerbaijan will become the fourth Islamic country to receive the leader of Catholics (earlier the pope was in Syria, Turkey, and Kazakhstan) and the eighth republic of the former USSR visited by the pope (after Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Armenia).

As is known, the pope's visit to Russia has been opposed by the head of the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs), Patriarch Alexis II, who accuses the Catholic church of proselytism (converting believers): you see, the number of Catholics in Russia is exceedingly small and the activity of the Vatican is directed at the potential flock of RPTs. In this regard it is curious that the Catholic community of Azerbaijan numbers only 150 persons, and from Baku the Roman pope will make his way to . . . Bulgaria. There he will take part in the celebration of the Day of Cyril and Methodius (24 May), and meet with Orthodox Patriarch Maxim, who in contrast with his Russian colleague seen nothing bad in this. Statistical surveys conducted in Orthodox Bulgaria have shown that 47% of the population thinks the upcoming visit of the pope will serve the good of the country. That the visit is planned for the Day of Slavic Letters and Bulgarian Culture the majority does not consider to be a threat to the Orthodox identity of the country. Every third respondent is sure that after the conclusion of the pontiff's visit the influence of the Orthodox church in Bulgaria will grow. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 May 2002)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

If material is quoted, please give credit to the publication from which it came.
It is not necessary to credit this Web page. If material is transmitted electronically, please include reference to the URL,