RUSSIA RELIGION NEWS

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Protestants in Siberia

GOD'S AMBASSADORS PROMISE POWER
by Tatiana Trufanova
Altaiskaia pravda, 10 July 2002

On the day before Orthodox Pascha a musical ensemble was performing at a market on Severo-Zapadnaia street. Two men were playing guitars and women were singing along with them. The songs were pretty and the performers' eyes were expressive.

One woman gave me a leaflet about the size of a calendar with the title "Extraordinary Love." On each page were pictures with texts from the Bible. But for some reason the angels who were depicted and God himself seemed threatening. The inscriptions expressed a single thought:  "God created you. You have sinned, but he does not want for you to go to hell. He loves you and will save you from torments. You will share power on earth and in heaven with him. Others will submit to you."

Apparently the target of "Extraordinary Love" is supposed to be a humiliated person, "compressed" by misfortunes to the size of a fist. The "fist" wants to open itself quickly and get revenge on all its enemies, hoping that God himself will become his helper.

The leaflet ends with the name of the place where "help" is always available. This is the Christian Evangelical church located in Novosibirsk. This sect has also sent its emissaries to Barnaul. For comment I turned to the priest of the St. Nicholas church, Dimitry Grebennikov.

"Unfortunately, a multitude of sects has appeared in our Altai, like Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Pentecostals, and now also the Evangelicals. Overall history has recorded around 2,000 different forms of teaching about Jesus Christ. As a rule they are salesmen, civility itself, politeness, and well wishing. Usually they seek out young people who are undergoing some kind of life crisis and they 'enfold' their inadequacies with love and attention, endowing them with compliments. Afterward the sectarians persuade a person with the idea of being chosen by God, as if only he is enlightened and can save the deluded world. Who doesn't find it pleasant to feel himself needed and born for a special mission? But in reality the promoters never will say what their sect is like and they do not tell about all the requirements that will later be imposed on the member of the group."

"Where do sects come from?"

"There is only one church created by the Chief Shepherd and established by the apostles.  'I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church' the apostle Paul says to us, and the holy gospel warns: 'Beware that you are not deceived, because many will come in my name, saying I am he; do not follow them.' The Christian church from the very start was divided into two halves, eastern and western, and they had complete unity between them. But as a result of innovations and numerous reforms the breaking apart of the once unified church continued and as a result sects appeared. Their method of studying the Bible is built on arbitrary connections and explanations of separate fragments and not on the entirety of its presentation. Behind such groups there are enormous financial pyramids and power structures."

"And which sects are most dangerous?"

"One must be especially cautious of totalitarian sects. Their basic unifying trait is that they do not leave anything alone, neither the life of their members nor the life of other people. In the sects violence is a customary and ordinary phenomenon. They pay extraordinary attention to collecting more and more money. Characteristic traits of totalitarian sects include uninterrupted imposition of intolerance toward those who think differently and the expectation of the imminent end of the world, which they periodically predict; transformation of the converted person into a loyal, obedient, servile individual; a multitude of layers of information, for the enlightened and the more enlightened, and so on to infinity. On the whole they can cause harm to national spirituality and state interests.  As regards the Evangelicals, they are only beginning their work in Barnaul. They also embellish their teaching about salvation with intentional exaggeration of the sins of the past life of a person and the 'bombard' them with love and tempt them with power."

Concluding his conversation Fr Dimitry advised residents of Altai territory to be vigilent and to display caution if you are stopped on the street by ministers of a regular sect. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 August 2002)

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Potential problems of church's becoming landowner

FEDERATION COUNCIL PROPOSES RESTITUTION. CHURCH WANTS TO PARTICIPATE IN OFFICIAL REDISTRIBUTION OF LAND
by Daniil Shchipkov
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 31 July 2002

At yesterday’s meeting between Patriarch Alexis II and the first vice chairman of the Federation Council, Valery Goregliad, and the head of the council’s Committee on Agriculture and Food Policy, Ivan Starikov, the question of the return to the Russian Orthodox church of agricultural land that belonged to it before the revolution was discussed. It is quite obvious that the conversation about the restitution of church land was revived in connection with the recent adoption of the law about turnover of agricultural lands and the land code. Formally the initiator of the meeting that was held was the head of the agricultural committee of the upper chamber of parliament, Ivan Starikov, but the most interested person in the resumption of negotiations on restitution, of course, is RPTs. The transfer of lands is considered by government workers of high rank as simply a form of material aid to the church on the part of the state. "I do not think that the church will be the most effective proprietor on the land," Goregliad declared. But at the same time, in his opinion, the state must give material aid to religious organizations since the problem has arisen of the penetration into our country by confessions that are more wealthy than RPTs.

Talk about the return of the lands belonging to the church began two years back. At that time the bishops’ council issued an appeal to the president which said that the return of church property was not proceeding at the required rate.  The appeal in effect put forward the demand for full restitution of properties seized by the bolsheviks, including monastery estates. However the first "land" demands of the bishops’ council were ambiguous and vague, so the patriarch has often made the church’s position more precise, declaring that it is not talking about a full restitution but only a partial one. But the government did not accept RPTs’ requests and limited itself to a document providing for transfer to the church only of property of religious significance, which does not include land.

Today the question of restitution has again become acute. Having recognized that an official redistribution of land is under way and that the time has finally come for returning what has been taken away, the church is completely unambiguous in its claims: it requests that everything be returned. The hierarchy of RPTs certainly understands that such a possibility may never again present itself. However several questions have arisen.

First, what does the church need land for and what will it do with such a quantity of agricultural lands? Ivan Starikov has begun talking about complete restitution, and that is three million hectares, which RPTs clearly does not have the resources to work. Second, what kind of "land" activity by the church will be juridically consistent with the status of a noncommercial and nonprofit organization and how will the income from lands not covered by the recently adopted amendments to the tax code be taxed? And finally, if land were to be given to the church, why would it not also be given at no cost to the direct heirs of those who lost it in the process of nationalization?

It is quite obvious that the church is seeking financial independence and self-sufficiency. It is also obvious that it will not be able to work all the land, but it will be able to participate in operations associated with the land; it will be able to lease it, to sell it, to mortgage it, etc. That would become an easy and fast way to obtain capital. One can suggest with considerable assurance that there soon will appear a category of people who, taking advantage of the situation, will become "Orthodox" and pour into the church’s structures and begin appropriating, dividing, and selling this church land. Besides this, RPTs inevitably will enter into enormous financial arrangements as a result of which there may arise conflicts with business structures and the criminal world that the church will be forced to resolve by again taking refuge in the help and protection of the state.

There is no doubt that an individual monastery engaged in agriculture should not be refused the right to own lands legally. But, judging by all, the extent of such ownership should be limited by good sense and by the church’s possibilities of using agricultural lands for their intended purposes, but there should not be any privileges as to the taxation of income from the land. Thus the church will be able to achieve financial self-sufficiency and the land will be used beneficially.

The initiative of the Federation Council, it seems, has met with the church’s approval. However the land can hardly be expected to be transferred all at once and right away. Most likely it will happen in the provinces where it is actually being used. A number of governors, in particular the head of Saratov province, Dmitry Aiatskov, and Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, have already spoken in favor of the transfer of lands in their regions to the church. (tr. by PDS, posted 31 July 2002)

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Patriarch and president converse

ALEXIS II AWAITS SUPPORT FROM KREMLIN.
Moscow patriarchate seeks return of church property in Estonia
by Oleg Nedumov
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 26 July 2002

The other day Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin with Patriarch Alexis II. The president and the head of RPTs discussed the situation of the Estonian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate (EPTsMP), which finally received registration in May of this year. We recall that before that time official legal status in Estonia was held only by those Orthodox parishes that had transferred to the jurisdiction of the Constantinople patriarchate. They were registered under the name Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAPTs). For a long time the authorities of the republic refused to register the Estonian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, fearing that after receiving official legal status EPTsMP would be able through the courts to secure its right to church property which includes not only churches and monasteries but also landed property.

After EPTsMP was registered the property question moved to the forefront. Until now juridically EAPTs was considered the owner of all property of the former united Estonian church. Now EPTsMP has the right to claim the property that was used by societies under its jurisdiction. The ownership of a portion of church property remains in question. The Moscow and Constantinople patriarchates have conducted negotiations on this matter. EPTsMP has already presented its version of an agreement for division of church property, while the Constantinople patriarchate gave notice that it would not give an answer so quickly.

In all likelihood, Patriarch Alexis II tried to enlist the Kremlin’s support in the resolution of this problem. The Estonian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate managed to gain registration in large part thanks to the lobbying efforts on the part of the Russian leadership. Obviously, the Kremlin will not refuse to help the church also in the resolution of the question on return of its property.

It cannot be ruled out that the patriarch and president also touched on the topic of the conflict between the Moscow patriarchate and Vatican during their conversation. Last week the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church issued new sharp declarations against Catholics. RPTs has protested against the creation in Ukraine of two new Catholic dioceses, the Odessa-Simferopol and Kharkov-Zaporozhe. The leadership of the Russian church considers the actions of the Catholics as open proselytism—missionary expansion on the canonical territory of RPTs.

This time the Vatican will find it much more difficult to respond to the accusations on the part of RPTs. In the case of the creation of dioceses on Russian territory everything was must simpler. The issue then was simply the elevation of the status of already existing church structures, apostolic administrations which were simply renamed dioceses. But the new dioceses on Ukrainian territory appeared, so to speak, in a vacuum (the parishes constituting them were previously under the jurisdiction of the Kamenets-Podolie diocese), and it will not be easy for the Vatican to prove the necessity of their creation. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 July 2002)

ALEXANDER CHUEV ANALYSES RELATIONSHIP OF PATRIARCH AND PRESIDENT
Mir religii, 26 July 2002

"V. Putin takes the interests of the Russian Orthodox church into account in his activity to the degree that it does not contradict general governmental tasks and goals, but this does not mean that RPTs today dictates to the president what to do and what not to do." That is the opinion expressed to "Echo of Moscow" radio by the vice chairman of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religius Organizations, the leader of the Russian Christian Democratic party, Alexander Chuev, regarding an article in the German "Die Welt" newspaper.

He termed "unreliable" information of the German newspaper to the effect that Patriarch Alexis II has exerted pressure on President Putin in his dialogue with the Vatican. "The newspaper exaggerated;" what it reported "has nothing to do with reality," Chuev thinks. Besides, according to the deputy, the patriarch never has used the form of an ultimatum in any of his statements and the president "is not the kind of person who would respond to an ultimatum." "The president and patriarch have normal personal relations, but they do not have anything in common with the possibility of ordering the president," the deputy noted.

He suggested that "possibly the president is maintaining a pause in order to smooth out the difficulties" between RPTs and the Vatican. "On the part of both RPTS and the Vatican it is necessary to seek dialogue," Chuev thinks. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 July 2002)

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Christian Democratic party fights for recognition

RKhDP DISAGREES WITH MINISTRY OF JUSTICE.
After being refused registration the party filed suit in Constitutional Court
by Ivan Rodin
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 26 July 2002

On 28 October the Russian Christian Democratic party (RKhDP) will argue in a court of the first instance with the Ministry of Justice, which refused to register it in accordance with a new law on political parties. This became known yesterday after preliminary judicial consultations between plaintiff and defendant. The chairman of RKhDP, Deputy Alexander Chuev of the "Unity" fraction, also reported that on 23 July members of the Christian Democratic party filed suit in the Constitutional Court over the unconstitutionality of several provisions of the legislation on parties.

RKhDP was refused registration on the basis of one of the points of article nine of the law on parties which indicates that they cannot be formed on the basis, inter alia, of adherence to some religion. It is the unconstitutionality of this provision of the law that the Christian Democrats ask the court to confirm. They declared that they are doing this not only for themselves but for believers of all confessions who are made second class citizens in comparison with atheists because they cannot by united in a party. Chuev reported that four expert conclusions from leading judicial institutions were presented to the Ministry of Justice, which established that RKhDP is not a religious party but a secular organization with a specific Christian Democratic ideology. Workers of the Ministry of Justice, apparently, do not know that such parties number fifty-eight in the world and there even exists a Christian Democratic international.

One participant in yesterday’s press conference, RKhDP attorney Konstantin Markov, called special attention to the fact that the use of article nine of the law of political parties against Christian Democrats seems extremely dubious since in the very same legislative document there also is article 20 that contains an exhaustive list of the reasons for refusal. However the Ministry of Justice, in its documents, has created a completely different reason for prohibiting registration. Calling the administrative decision "illegal," RKhDP leader Alexander Chuev declared that the party could even change its name, although it would do this only in the event that it cannot prove its correctness in court. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 July 2002)

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Victim of sign terrorism gets presidential award

EXTREMISM IN RUSSIA WILL NOT ENDURE
by Elena Starovoitova
Vremia MN, 26 July 2002

Vladimir Putin met in his office in the Kremlin with Tatiana Sapunova. Several months ago she received severe wounds after she tried to tear out of the ground on Kiev highway a sign with an antisemitic inscription. We recall that the prosecutor’s office of the Moscow suburb of Vidnoe opened a criminal case dealing with the explosion based on part 2 of article 111 of the criminal code of the Russian federation (intentional causing of severe harm to health motivated by national, racial, or religious hate). Russian federation Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov took the case under his personal supervision.

And now even the Russian president himself has decided to participate in the fate of the young woman. He decided to report personally that the day before he signed a decree to award her the medal of Courage, "for dedication displayed in the fulfilment of civic duty." Putin assessed the Muscovite’s action "not simply as courageous but as a moral deed that is very important for the country." "For such a multinational and multiconfessional country as Russia, the development of extremism is simply ruinous. If we permit the germs of chauvinism --either national or religious intolerance— to develop then we will destroy the country," the president emphasized.

Tatiana’s vision, for which the physicians were fearful, has returned. The burns have almost healed already. What happened is recalled like a bad dream. But even now Tatiana does not think that she did something heroic.  Vladimir Putin, on the contrary, is sure that Tatiana’s deed was important for all citizens of Russia.  (tr. by PDS, posted 26 July 2002)

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Patriarchate interested in regaining land

GOD’S LAW ABOUT LAND
by Mikhail Rostovsky
Moskovskii komsomolets, 25 July 2002

Ivan Starikov: "The church will be offered the chance to restore its reputation."

The summer political quiet ruling in Moscow was interrupted the other day by a sensational initiative. The chairman of the agriculture and food committee of the Federative Council, Ivan Starikov, proposed returning to the church lands taken from it after 1917. The authors of the new draft law managed to avoid one of the potentially extremely dangerous traps. Nobody will be able to accuse them of discrimination against other religions. It is proposed to return lands not only to the Moscow patriarchate but also, let’s say, to Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists. Nevertheless Starikov’s initiative surely will become one of the most controversial political projects of the year.

Yesterday Ivan Starikov himself gave a short interview to "MK" on this topic.

--Ivan Valentinovich, many observers have already expressed a caution that your initiative could bring about a new redistribution of land in Russia and social upheavals.

--Those who talk that way simply display their complete ignorance of the topic of dispute. The total amount of agricultural land in Russia is 406 million hectares. Before the revolution only 3 million hectares belonged to the church. It turns out that we are talking about a relatively small amount of land. It is less than one percent. Of course, many lands previously belonging to the church now have other owners. Many of these owners surely will not want to part with them. But nobody is proposing seizing their land from them. We are talking about giving the church other lands in the same amount from the fund for redistribution belonging to the state. And this amounts to no more nor less than 40 million hectares.

--But why is it suggested to return land only to the church and not to other former land owners? Is this really just?

--We live in the real world. So let’s look at things realistically. Full restitution of land in Russia is absolutely impossible. This is a sure way to civil war. Besides, privatization of agricultural land in Russia happened more than ten years ago. It is impossible to turn back events. Ex post facto laws have no effect.

Regarding your question about justice. Our approach is not something new. An enormous quantity of buildings formerly belonging to it already have been returned to the church long ago. Nobody has returned the family mansions to some count. Nobody in public has said that this is unjust.

--It is no secret that the reputation of the Orthodox church suffered seriously from its participation, for example, in the tobacco and alcohol business. Where are the guarantees that something like this will not happen this time?

--I completely agree with your assessment. Indeed, the church’s reputation was seriously soiled. And for me, as a believing person, this was painful and shameful. But I am absolutely convinced that in the case of the land nothing like this will happen. Moreover, here the church is being offered the chance to restore its reputation. I want to stress again that we are talking about the return specifically of agricultural land. According to law, it is forbiddien to use this for any other purposes. So, for example, building cottages will not happen. It will be forbidden to sell the land. You can only grow something on it.

--Well, finally, the last argument that is advanced against your law. The church in Russia is separated from the state. You are actually proposing that the church be given a grandiose present from the state budget.

--First, we are not at all talking about a present but about the restoration of historic justice. Second, taxpayers will not suffer in any way. The fund for redistribution consists of what is actually no man’s land. After all, the state is an extremely bad, ineffective land owner. Third, I am absolutely convinced that all of society will gain from a sharp increase in the church’s land holdings. We will insist that, in the main, ecologically pure produce be grown on these lands. If we are able to achieve this, the effect for the country will be colossal. At least the health of the nation will improve. We are talking about moving our country to a market which potentially will be worth many billions of dollars.

P.S.  We requested commentary on Starikov’s initiative from a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church, Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk, the chancellor of the Moscow patriarchate. "RPTs has not demanded the return of all lands, without exception, that formerly belonged to the church. Homes and settlements were long ago built on these lands. You cannot destroy them. In the first place we want the return of those agricultural lands that earlier belonged to monasteries. We will not forget that the monasteries in Rus always were not just centers of spiritual culture but also agriculture of a high quality. Indeed even today these lands that have already been returned, for example, to the Saint Sergius Holy Trinity lavra or the monastery of the Presentation in Riazan province, are producing harvest like there never were in soviet collective farms. A gradual process of the transfer of monastery lands is necessary today." (tr. by PDS, posted 25 July 2002)

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Deputy persists in pursuit of new law for traditional religions

LAW ON RELATIONS OF STATE AND RELIGIOUS CONFESSIONS WILL BE DEVELOPED IN FALL
Mir religii, 25 July 2002

A law regulating the relations of the state and religious confessions that are traditional for Russia should be presented for parliament’s review by the president. This was stated on air on "Echo of Moscow" radio by the vice chairman of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Alexander Chuev. In his opinion, this will guarantee success in the review of the draft law in the State Duma and Federative Council.

As Chuev noted, "there is an idea to create a law that would speak about a social partnership between the state and confessions that are traditional for Russia," although "realistically the law will not be adopted." A draft has been sent for improvement to the administration of the president and the presidential plenipotentiary in the central federal district, G. Poltavchenko. The deputy expressed the hope that in the fall editing of the law will proceed more actively.

A. Chuev spoke in favor of creation in the future of an office for affairs of cults. However today "the public is opposed for now," he noted. Nevertheless, "this can and must be done along the line of cooperation with the ministries." In Chuev’s view "our state will not thereby become less secular." (tr. by PDS, posted 25 July 2002)

RUSSIA READY FOR PRAYER BREAKFASTS BUT NOT OATHS ON BIBLE
Mir religii, 25 July 2002

The vice chairman of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Alexander Chuev, plans to work on introducing to Russia prayer breakfasts with the participation of high officials of the government. The deputy stated this in his interview on air with "Echo of Moscow" radio.

Chuev told how, for example, in Germany and USA every year such events are conducted. According to Chuev, "this certainly must not be an event that is markedly confessional. It can be a purely spiritual event at a common table that would present the idea that politics should be spiritual and moral." "There should be values that are common for all people. In the first place, we talk about moral principles," the deputy said. "Religion in politics and social life is not a service, not a doctrine, not prayer, but a common set of principles of life and relations with people," he added.

As regards the introduction of oaths on the Bible at the inauguration of the president, this, in Chuev’s opinion, "the country is not yet ready for." "The Bible is recognized by many confessions, but for now it cannot be necessary" to introduce oaths on the Bible in the process of inauguration. In his opinion, "maybe in the future, if there will be a high level of dialogue among confessions so that such an act will be understood and accepted by all." (tr. by PDS, posted 25 July 2002)

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Odessa metropolitan says Vatican attacking Orthodoxy

ODESSA DIOCESE OF UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ISSUES PROTEST AGAINST CREATION OF CATHOLIC EPISCOPAL SEE IN ODESSA
Novaia Kamchatskaia pravda, 25 July 2002

The press service of the Odessa diocese of UPTsMP distributed a statement of Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa and Ismailsk in connection with actions of Catholics. "As was to be expected, after the visit by the head of the Roman Catholic church to Ukraine, the expansion of Catholics and Greek Catholics in our state took on an unprecedented scale," Metropolitan Agafangel’s statement says. "In cities where there never had been any substantial Catholic presence, episcopal sees are being founded," Metropolitan Agafangel stresses. "Kiev, the baptismal font of the Russian people, already has become the capital of the Greek Catholic church. In Odessa, the southern capital of Orthodox Ukraine, for the first time in history a Catholic bishop has been appointed."

The new Catholic diocese comprises Odessa province, Crimea, and Nikolaevsk and Kherson provinces. But even by Vatican’s calculations, on the territory of the newly formed Catholic diocese there are only around 3,000 Catholics, which amounts to only 0.04 percent of the population of the region. "We consider these steps by the Vatican as an attack upon Orthodoxy," the metropolitan of Odessa and Ismailsk declares.

At the press service of the Odessa diocese of UPTsMP it was stressed that in the near future the creation of yet another Catholic diocese in Ukraine—Kharkov-Zaporozhe—is planned. (tr. by PDS, posted 25 July 2002)

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Orthodox scholar: no dialogue between patriarchate and Vatican soon

[Ed. note:  An "open letter" from Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz to Metropolitan Kirill was posted on the Catholic.ru website earlier this month. Follow link to English translation.]

PATRIARCHATE'S ACCUSATIONS A SMOKE SCREEN, SAYS ORTHODOX THEOLOGIAN
Western Catholicism Seen as More Attractive in Russia, He Believes
Zenit, 16 July 2002

The Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate's accusations of proselytism are really an excuse to "impede the Catholic Church from spreading" in Russia, a French Orthodox theologian says.

Olivier Clement said that there might have been cases of excessive zeal in evangelization, especially in Polish Catholic circles. But he contended that the real reason for the Orthodox reaction is that "at present Russia is withdrawing into herself, despite the fact she is recovering in the economic realm and from the psychological point of view."

"Meanwhile, Putin is trying to reinforce his popular base," Clement said in an interview published by the Religious Information Service. "This is why he considers the support of the Orthodox Church fundamental, with a nostalgia for the former Russia, when church and state were identified with each other."

The theologian believes that the Holy See's elevation of the four apostolic administrations in Russia into dioceses earlier this year constitutes an obstacle for dialogue with the Orthodox.

"One must keep in mind that there is a very close relation between the idea of nation and the role of the Church in Russia," Clement explained. "Historically, the Orthodox Church is very linked to the life of the nation. This is why the creation of the Catholic dioceses in Russian territory is seen by Moscow's patriarch as Western aggression."

To overcome the present situation, one must wait for "another generation among Russian Christian intellectuals and a renewal of the episcopate, which has already started," the Frenchman said.

"There are people and groups who are open, but the phenomenon continues to be quite marginal. For the time being emphasis must be placed above all on the ecumenism of friendship," he continued.

He added: "I do not see possibilities in the short term for a dialogue at the official level between Catholics and Orthodox in Russia."

Clement further observed: "Catholicism has not experienced totalitarian oppression as Russian Orthodoxy has, which produces in it, at the same time, a feeling of inferiority and superiority."

"Western Catholicism is perceived as more intelligent, more educated, more seductive and, because of this, more likely to attract many more people, especially intellectuals, if allowed to affirm itself in Russia. The Orthodox Church wants to avoid this happening," he concluded.

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Catholics accept Orthodox "expansion"

OUR ANSWER TO THE VATICAN
by Evgeny Komarov
Novye izvestiia, 23 July 2002

Three months did not pass since the Vatican transformed its apostolic administrations in Russia into dioceses (in essence, a simple change of names) when the synod of the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs) prepared for the Roman pope its asymmetrical response. On the eve of the day of commemoration of St. Sergius of Radonezh (traditionally on this day RPTs conducts a session of the synod that is quite productive in number of decisions) it was decided "to receive into the bosom of RPTs" newly formed Orthodox parishes in a number of Catholic countries. They began directly with Rome. Now there is the church of St. Catherine there. Also created are new parishes in Venice and Barcelona, and the Cyril and Methodius parish in Hamburg was taken under RPTs’ wing. A parish in Dublin, Ireland, was given the status of "patriarchal annex," and new, more active priests were assigned to Norway and Italy. Not only Italy and Spain suffered from RPTs "expansion," but also such "traditionally Orthodox" countries as Vietnam (Kazan church) and China (the Chinese autonomous Orthodox church was placed under the archbishop of Almaty). All of this was included in the report to the synod’s session by "minister of foreign affairs" of RPTs, Metropolitan Kirill, who is known to the public at large for his role in the scandals of the duty-free import into Russia of cigarettes and alcoholic beverages.

In the soviet period, structures of RPTs abroad were actively exploited by resident KGB agents for work with Russian emigrants. In our days the situation possibly has changed, but the shadow of the past remains. Thus, in the opinion of religion scholars, the practical significance of the opening of new parishes of RPTs in Catholic cities will be practically zero (in every population center in any country one can always find at least ten Krishnaites, Catholics, Orthodox, and simply eccentrics). At the same time the general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Fr Igor Kovalevsky, in a comment for "Novye izvestiia," said that the Catholic church does not in the least consider the opening of RPTs parishes as some kind of "counter thrust." Moreover, "the Vatican welcomes the activity of RPTs abroad in the pastoral nurture of its believers and RPTs has never had a problem with the Vatican because of this. If RPTs thinks it necessary, it can open both parishes and dioceses in Catholic countries. We do not see any kind of threat or competition in this." At the same time Fr Igor noted that Catholics hope from a mutual peace loving attitude on the part of RPTs in Russia.

However RPTs continues the course of confrontation with western Christendom and as before opposes any activity of other churches in regions that it considers "the territory of its own pastoral responsibility." Even the opening on 13 July by the Vatican of two new dioceses in Ukraine, which is much more Catholic than Russia, evoked a special declaration from RPTs, which, as usual, "decisively condemns the actions of the Catholic side, calling it to right thinking and reason. And it asks Orthodox Christians: be faithful to mother church as never before." In a word, it is just about like Stalin put it in 1937: as we get closer to the kingdom of God, the class struggle intensifies. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 July 2002)

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Patriarch not interfering with Putin’s relations with Vatican

REPRESENTATIVES OF ORTHODOX AND CATHOLIC CHURCHES SPEAK ON "ECHO OF MOSCOW"
Mir religii, 24 July 2002

Radio station "Echo of Moscow" aired statements from a representative of the Department of External Church Relations (OVTsS) of the Moscow patriarchate responsible for relations with the Romans Catholic church, Fr Alexander Abramov, and the general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Fr Igor Kovalevsky. The representatives of both churches were expressing their opinion with regard to an article in the German newspaper Die Welt.

"It is not possible to speak of any kind of pressure on the leadership of Russia on the part of the primate of the Russian Orthodox church," Alexander Abramov declared. The German newspaper Die Welt suggests, citing associates of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Moscow Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, that Patriarch Alexis is exerting pressure on President V. Putin in his dialogue with the Vatican.

In this case, the priest noted, "there is either inadequate understanding or complete misunderstanding of the complex type of relations between the state and the church." In general, he added, "western news media quite often interpret what is happening on the territory of Russia in terms of opposition and competition between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches." In reality, the priest stressed, the position of RPTs is that "opposition must be excluded from the relations between the two churches and it is because of this that the Orthodox church has spoken against what it understands as proselytism on the territory of the pastoral responsibility of the church." "As regards relations between the Russian Orthodox church and the Vatican and the role of the state in this process, we have often declared that the Orthodox church values highly the position of the government in relations with the Vatican and it is thankful that in developing the political course of Russia, the point of view of Orthodox citizens is taken into account," A. Abramov noted.

"We have no basis for thinking" that the Russian Orthodox church is exerting pressure on the president of Russia in his contacts with the Vatican, the representative of the Catholic side, Igor Kovalevsky, declared in his turn. "We also have no basis for thinking that the expulsion from the country of one of the Catholic bishops is connected with actions of the Moscow patriarchate," he stressed.

Several weeks ago John Paul II asked V. Putin to explain why one of the Catholic bishops was not permitted to return to Russia. So far the Vatican has not received an answer to its question. As Die Welt writes, Roman Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz suggested that Patriarch Alexis II exerted pressure on the president. "We respect the right of the government to establish the procedures of entry and exit of foreign citizens, but a bishop is a significant figure for us, and we would like to know the motivation for his expulsion from Russia, since the absence of an explanation of the reasons leads to the creation of rumors," I. Kovalevsky noted. As regards the question of proselytism, Kovalevsky confirmed that the Roman Catholic church and RPTs put the problem differently, "but the first step toward dialogue has already been taken." "Our relations continue to improve despite the news media’s not quite accurate representation of the letter of Metropolitan Kirill relative to proselytism. We have received this letter with joy. We waited a long time for a specific document from the Russian Orthodox church," he stressed.  (tr. by PDS, posted 24 July 2002)

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