Monitoring news media reports about religion in Russia and other countries of CIS
Copyrighted material. For private use only.
If you quote material, please credit the publication from which it came. It is not necessary to credit this Web page for any print use of the material. If any electronic reproduction is made, please acknowledge the URL:
Archive of News Items

Putin cool to Orthodox church because of problems of pope's visit?

President emphasizes his distance from the church, but remains Orthodox
by Daniil Shchipkov
Nezavisimaia gazeta,, 31 July 2003

Today Vladimir Putin arrives in Nizhegorod province to take part in ceremonies devoted to the centennial of the canonization of St. Serafim of Sarov. It is expected that the president will attend a holiday prayer service on the square in front of the bell tower of the Sarov monastery after the liturgy that will be conducted by the head of the Russian Orthodox church, Alexis II.  As sources in the Kremlin told NG, he will meet the people and clergy there. Honored guests at the festival include delegates from all local Orthodox churches and the first hierarch of the Serbian, Greek, and Polish churches, as well as the Orthodox Church in America. The arrival of the head of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is expected. According to information from these same sources, the president wants to discuss a number of international problems with them.

The personal gift of the president to the church on the occasion of the holiday is a large bell that he presented to the church in Sarov, which was restored in a short period of time and consecrated yesterday by the head of RPTs. After the prayer service, a procession of many thousands will go from Sarov to Diveevo, which is supposed to make 19.5 kilometers in a day. In order to emphasize his distance from what is going on Vladimir Putin will not participate in the procession of the cross or in additional church events but will go to the Russian federal nuclear center located in Sarov, where he will meet nuclear scholars.

The fact that Vladimit Putin attended the Sarov celebrations is a great political success for RPTs. And on whom if not the president and governmental authorities can the church in Russia place its stake? At the same time the president has rather clearly indicated that he is nothing more than a guest at this holiday and not its initiator. However it is extremely doubtful that henceforth all political initiatives of RPTs will be supported by the authorities.

At the time of the recent visit of Silvio Berlusconi to Moscow the Italian prime minister declared that he hopes for an upcoming meeting of Putin with the Roman pope during his visit to Italy. But so far Putin's reaction to Berlusconi's words remains unknown. The president has no impediments for this visit, especially since he already has met once with John Paul II in June 2000. Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev met with the pontiff in their time. However these meetings always were complicated for the presidents since the Holy See has invariably insisted on a pastoral visit by the Roman pope to Moscow. At the same time RPTs always has remained an opponent of this visit until Orthodox-Catholic conflicts in Russia and Ukraine are corrected.

As a head of state, the Vatican, John Paul II cam make a state, not a pastoral, visit to Moscow upon the invitation of the president. The pontiff has often tried "to get around" the Moscow patriarchate and come to Moscow without an invitation from Patriarch Alexis II. The Holy See has worked for this through various politicians, both Russia and foreign, for example, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Mikhail Kasianov, on whom pressure was placed through Berlusconi during the recent visit of the Russian premier to Italy.

Whether Berlusconi, for whom good relations with both Moscow and the Holy See are extremely important, will achieve success this time remains in question. Knowing the position of the Moscow patriarchate, the president clearly does not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of the two churches.

Commenting on the statement by Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, a representative of the Moscow patriarch told NG that the state views the position of the Russian Orthodox church with respect, which at the present time does not see a possibility for a meeting of the heads of the two churches in Moscow. Vice Chairman Vsevolod Chaplin of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate thinks that "the solution of the problem of the pope's visit to Russia does not depend on RPTS but on the Vatican. After a whole series of expansionist actions the Holy See certainly must make substantial concessions in its policy with respect to countries of the former Soviet Union. And if Berlusconi is trying to make his own contribution to improvement of relations between the two churches, then his better contribution would be to persuade the Vatican to make these concessions." (tr. by PDS, posted 3 August 2003)

by Vladimir Isachenkov
Associated Press, 29 July 2003

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are striving to ease tensions between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church.

He suggested Putin could meet with Pope John Paul II when the Russian leader visits Italy in November. Although it would not be their first meeting, it would be a symbolically significant gesture.

John Paul has made healing the 1,000-year-old schism with the Orthodox Church a key effort of his papacy, visiting several mostly Orthodox nations and expressing regret for the wrongs committed by the Catholic Church against Orthodox Christians.

The pope also has often expressed a desire to visit Russia, but hasn't come because of objections from the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox leaders resent what they see as Catholic attempts to poach converts in Russia.

"Both of us are trying to do all we can so that relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican move forward toward cooperation and mutual understanding," Berlusconi said.

He added that he hoped Putin would be able to meet with the pope this fall when the Russian president goes to Rome for a meeting with European Union leaders.

Putin did not comment on the prospect of visiting the pope, whom he met with in June 2000 at the Vatican. Vatican officials were not immediately available for comment.

A Russian Orthodox spokesman declined to comment on a possible pope-Putin meeting, saying it didn't concern his church.

Berlusconi and Putin also discussed bilateral relations as well as Russia's ties with the EU, of which Italy is the current chairman.

Berlusconi said that at the most recent EU summit, "the EU stressed the importance of giving a new impulse to development of trade and economic relations with Russia."

He repeated his statement during a February visit to Moscow that Russia could eventually become part of a "Big Europe," along with Israel and Turkey.

Putin said he and Berlusconi discussed the possibility of simplifying visa rules for youths and some other categories of people to broaden travel between Russia and the EU.

Russia also is looking for EU support for its aspirations to join the World Trade Organization, an ambition Berlusconi strongly supported Tuesday.

"We hope that the high level of trust and cooperation in Russian-Italian relations will become characteristic of Russia-EU relations as well," Putin said.

Putin and Berlusconi have built a friendly relationship. They meet frequently on the sidelines of international forums, and Berlusconi has regularly visited Russia. Putin's two teenage daughters spent part of last summer at the Italian leader's estate on the island of Sardinia. (posted 4 August 2003)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

State-church cooperation no threat to freedom

by Igor Simonov
Birzha (Nizhny Novgorod), 28 July 2003

The centennial of the enrollment of Serafim of Sarov in the list of saints is the chief public religious event of 2003 not only in Nizhny Novgorod province but also in all of Russia. In a few days Diveevo will be filled with tens of thousands of pilgrims, and participants in days-long processions of the cross from Kursk, Krasnodar territory, Ekaterinburg, and Nizhny Novgorod will arrive. A visit by the patriarch and president of the Russian federation is expected. It is difficult not to draw parallels with events in 1903, when Nizhny Novgorod territory also was visited by the head of state in connection with Serafim of Sarov.

Information: Serafim of Sarov, whose secular name was Prokhor Moshnin (1759-1833) is one of the most revered saints in Russian Orthodoxy. He was born in Kursk and at nineteen years of age he walked to the Sarov hermitage where, after being tonsured a monk, he spent more than a half century in feats of prayer and asceticism. He stressed especially the need for "coveting a peaceful spirit" and love for people. He was renown for his numerous prophecies, healings of people, and miracles. He was canonized on 19 July 1903. The relics of the saint, which were confiscated from the church during the bolshevik campaign of exposure of relics in 1918, were returned to the church in 1991 and placed in the Saint Serafim Holy Trinity Diveevo monastery.

History:  Everything about the canonization that was held a century ago was unusual. First, at that time the Russian Orthodox church, in contrast to the present time, canonized new saints extremely rarely. In the 200 years preceding 1903 only three canonizations had been conducted. Also extraordinary for that time was the saint who was canonized: not a representative of the secular or clerical elite but a simple hieromonk, a "saint in peasant's sandals," who personified the traditional popular type of spiritual counsellor, a simple and sage elder. The event acquired a political character because the royal family was the initiator of the canonization and the new saint was "positioned" as the protector of the Romanov house.

The enrollment of the Sarov elder in the canon of saints was stormy. Democrats of the time said repeatedly that the canonization had a single goal, strengthening the tsarist regime. The famous publicist Vladimir Giliarovsky defined his time by writing a widely circulated angry epigram in the style of the Union of Militant Godless that was created twenty years after the event:  "In order to strengthen the long-standing foundation they decided to search for undecomposed fibers" (this referred to the saint's relics). Oppositionist reporters described cases of fabrication of "miracles" with falsified healings which were arranged during the canonization celebrations. Much was said about the problem of the preservation of the relics of the saint (the remains, contrary to expectations, turned out not to be undecomposed) and about the conflict between the Orthodox and Old Believers that emerged at one of the steps in planning the canonization. Bolsheviks in Nizhny Novgorod and Tambov ardently distributed antitsarist and antichurch leaflets. One of the Socialist Revolutionary terrorist groups planned an assassination attempt on Nicholas II, but "competent organs" worked undercover and the conspirators wound up behind bars before the start of the visit of the sovereign to Nizhegorod province.

The canonization of 1903 became a truly national affair. An enormous number of pilgrims arrived at Sarov and Diveevo and St. Serafim became one of the most revered of Russian saints. After the October revolution the remains of the saint were placed in the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, but pilgrimages to sites associated with Serafim of Sarov continued illegally throughout the entirely of the "scientific atheism" period of the history of our country. In soviet times the Sarov elder began to be imagined by Orthodox believers as the heavenly protector of Russia and Russian statehood. During the tragic years of our history believers recalled the saint's prophecy:  "The Lord will have mercy on Russia and lead it along the path of suffering to great glory."

After the revival of the Saint Serafim Holy Trinity Diveevo monastery at the beginning of the 1990s it quickly became one of the most frequently visited pilgrimage centers of the country. Pilgrims arrived from all countries of the former USSR and guests from the far abroad were not rare. This had positive economic consequences for the people of Diveevo; a substantial portion of the population was employed in services for pilgrims. The cost of living in Diveevo is substantially higher than in other small district capitals of the province. Houses have been bought in Diveevo without publicity by several nationally famous entertainment stars in order to be nearer to the holy places.

In time pilgrimage to Diveevo acquired a political tinge. Rallies of the Russian National Unity organization have often been arranged there, upsetting believers with the shape of their symbol, a stylized swastika. Diveevo also is a center of attraction for various groups of monarchist orientation.

Symphony of powers: One characteristic of the planning for the August celebrations is the close cooperation of church and secular powers (in Byzantium such a union of church and state was called "symphony"). In February Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov signed an order of the government of Russia for the creation of the Organizational Committee for Cooperation in Conducting Publicly Significant Cultural and Educational Events, in connection with the celebration by the Russian Orthodox church of the centennial of the canonization of St. Serafim of Sarov. The committee was headed by the presidential envoy for the Volga federal district, Sergei Kirienko, and Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk. However intensive preparation for the celebrations and massive repair and restoration work and urban construction in Sarov and Diveevo were begun much earlier.

The presidential envoy in the Volga district freqently emphasized that the restoration of churches in Sarov and Diveevo was done exclusively with resources from sponsors and budgetary funds were used only in connection with reconstruction of civic buildings and landscaping grounds adjacent to them. Among the leading sponsors were Rosenergoat, Sarovbiznesbank, Mezhprombank, and the "Bazovyi element" company. However the preparation of the anniversary of the canonization could hardly have been undertaken so intensively without the organized help for the church by governmental offices. During the preparation for the celebrations the progress of work in Sarov and Diveevo was frequently inspected by the presidential envoy for the Volga district, the governor of the province, and other regional administrators.

Law and Life: In connection with the participation by the president in the canonization celebration and with the fact that all the preparation for it was conducted under governmental aegis, the question often arises as to the extent that this is in conformity with the constitution. Actually, according to article 14, the Russian federation is a secular state, and religious organizations are separated from it. According to the constitution, the government may not show special attention to one or another confession. But it is obvious that in the case of the centennial of the canonization of Serafim of Sarov we are talking about a different approach to the problem. However, giving a governmental tinge to Orthodox events is not rare either in Russia or in the Volga federal district.  One can recall, for example, the ceremonies associated with the canonization of Fedor Ushakov that were held in the Sanaksarsk monastery (Mordova) in August 2001. The chief of the Russian navy, Admiral Kuroedov and admirals of the Russian navy who carried the casket with the remains of the naval commander who never lost a single battle and the sailors who were standing as an honor guard at the side of the casket surely were not there in the monastery in the capacity of private individuals. The organizational and technical aspects of the first congress of Orthodox youth of the Volga federal district, that was held last year in Saransk, also were provided by government offices.

The Russian federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" proclaims the full equality of all Russian confessions on the American principle of the levelling of all religious associations and the removal of the government from them. However in practice a different model of relations between religious organizations and the state is applied, the so-called "west European" model, where priority relations are established with those religious organizations that have made a special contribution to the history and culture of the country, associated with the national self-identity of citizens.

Some rights defenders do not tire of repeating that the participation of the president and other government figures in Orthodox and Muslim events and the reluctance to have similar contacts with, for example, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, or adherents of Krishnaism are violations of the spirit of the Russian laws on freedom of religious confession. There also are publicists who express concern that RPTs is again being given its prerevolutionary status of a state church and that freedom of conscience in Russia is under threat and that there are reasons for citizens who are not Orthodox or Muslim to be upset.

But the special relations of governmental offices with RPTs have developed not on command from above but in a covert way from below in the provinces. Consequently, we are talking about the social realities of Russia and the requirements of life. The alarm of the rights defenders is baseless. For example, in Great Britain and Greece there are state churches, and in Italy the state also has an officially defined special relationship with the Roman Catholic church. However, these countries certainly do not have the reputation of states where there is no religious freedom. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 August 2003)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

New translations of scripture in Russia


In July the Institute of Bible Translation issued "Stories about Jesus," the Gospel according to St. John, in the Buriat language and the Gospel according to St. Luke in Tsakhur, "Blagovest-info" reports. These editions were published as part of the program of translation of the Bible into languages of non-Slavic peoples. Along with the publication of books in rare languages of Russia, the Institute of Bible Translation issued audiocassettes with the text of these books. "We saw that the people have forgotten their literary language, although they use their mother tongue in speaking, and therefore it was decided to issue the audiocassettes," reported Sergei Chernoivanov, the coordinator of programs and employee of the Department for Distribution and Information Development of the insttitute.

In addition to the translation of the Bible into languages of non-Slavic peoples of Russia, one of the most important directions of the work of the institute is the project for publishing the "Bible for Children," which is called "Restore Hope." This project which aims to distribute the "Children's Bible" among indigent children has been going on for three years. In the course of carrying out this project several thousand children throughout all of Russia have received the gift of a colorful "Children's Bible." Along with the Institute of Bible Translation, around thirty state and public organizations have participated in the project, including the Russian Orthodox church, protestant churches, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, and others. A revised and corrected edition of the "Children's Bible" with the title "Bible for Children" contains adaptations of Bible stories, each of which is accompanied by a bright, color illustration. The newly edited text of stories has been received with interest not only by children but also by adults, because of the accessibility of the contents and considerable conformity to the text of sacred scripture.

The text of the book received the approval of the patriarchal synodal Bible Commission and the blessing of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, who wrote the preface for this edition. According to Sergei Chernoivanov, the latest edition of the "Children's Bible" was produced with the participation of Russian sponsors, including churches and private individuals. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 August 2003)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Putin reserved in relations with church

Sluzhba kommunikatsii OVTsSMP/, 31 July 2003

Your Holiness, esteemed guests, dear friends!

With all my heart I greet you on this great holiday for the whole Orthodox world, the 100th anniversary of the canonization of St. Serafim of Sarov.

Russia knows much of clear feats of service to God and service to its people and to the Fatherland. The life of Serafim of Sarov was one of the clearest examples of such a feat.

Today's holiday has been possible thanks to the rebirth of spiritual and religious freedom in the country. In Russia, we value highly the contribution of all confessions of our country in the work of strengthening Russian statehood, in strengthening harmony among the peoples of multinational Russia, and in the work of strengthening the moral foundations of our life.

Today is a holiday not only of Orthodox Russians but also of the entire Orthodox world. I wish you happiness, peace, and prosperity. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 August 2003)


Vladimir Putin did not stand in Nicholas II's place, 1 August 2003

The Sarov ceremonies came off rather solemnly and notably for society. Thus it is possible to speak of their success. But the goal for which they were designed--as a holiday of the "rebirth of symphony" between church and state--was not achieved. Rather quite the contrary; it turned out to be a holiday of equidistance.

Such an outcome was by no means preordained. It is obvious that initially the ceremonies in Sarov were intended to be somewhat more. Otherwise what was the point of such extensive preparations for a significant, but still an innerchurch, date, the centennial of the canonization of St. Serafim? From the very beginning the commemorative character of the ceremonies was evident, tied to the strikingly close unity of the state and church in the period of the rule of the Holy Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich, who personally made an enormous contribution to the planning of the canonizing of the saintly elder. Planning for these ceremonies began at the highest (presidential and patriarchal) level a full year before the event, and it was discussed several times at meetings of the head of state and primate of the church.

Obviously, Patriarch Alexis II was prepared for something more than what actually transpired. Usually keenly aware of the mood of the Kremlin, this time he made a programmed political statement: "100 years ago Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich prayed here with a multitude of people. By the providence of God, 100 years later Sarov receives here the president of Russia, Valdimir Vladimirovich Putin . . . . This ceremony is a symbol of the unity of church, people, and state." But evidently disappointment awaited everybody, from reporters to the patriarch himself.

Putin did not make any welcoming gestures and statements and he clearly turned away from unity. He kissed the relics and visited the restored cell of St. Serafim and noted that he had such hand-sewn mats in childhood, but speaking at the ceremony of blessing the procession of the cross he made a statement which had to dampen the spirit of all who had even the least Orthodox enthusiasm. Here is the full text of the speech which undoubtedly will enter the annals for its laconic nature (especially when compared with the volume of text produced by Putin in his recent "ad lib" public statements): [see above]

Even Yeltsin in such situations was more lavish with Orthodox rhetoric and shied away entirely from liberal and secular slogans. "All confessions," "rebirth of freedom,"--these are clearly not what was expected and desired from Putin in Sarov. And Putin understood this well. Thus the distancing seemed firm and completely intentional. This became especially obvious when, several hours later, at a meeting with nuclear scientists, the president recovered his speaking gift; he said a great deal, in detail, and he made a whole series of important political declarations with respect to Russia's nuclear forces and defense policy.

One can only guess why Putin so unexpectedly changed the "format" of the ceremonies and turned what a year ago had been planned as a holiday of symphony into a ceremony of equidistance. Are we talking about a revolution in state policy? Or is it RPTsMP that has recently somehow brought on the displeasure of the head of state? Somebody might recall the idea that once developed about RPTsMP being a "collective oligarch," and suggest that such conduct by Putin is an extension of his anti-oligarch campaign even to the church. Possibly somebody would see in this the machinations of one of the many "lobbies" around the president.

But for believing governmental officials there is no doubt disappointment and surely an unpleasant surprise for church people and bureaucrats; after all nobody was prepared for such a "change of course." All the bureaucrats ranking below the president do not talk at all about "equidistance" but maximum "sympathy."  And suddenly, such a turnabout on the spot!

Putin clearly refused to stand in Nicholas II's place. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 August 2003)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Official response to Georgian  critics of patriarchal Orthodox church


"Only a person with a very strong imagination and very strong hatred for our church could see 'the hand of Moscow' in the departure of the Georgian Orthodox church from international Christian organizations," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the vice chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, said in commenting on recent statements by a priest of the Georgian Orthodox church (GPTs), Vasily Kobakhidze, "Blagovest-info" reports.

Several days ago at a press conference in Tbilisi Fr Vasily Kobakhidze declared that the departure of GPTs from the World Council of Churches [WCC] and the Conference of European Churches [KEK] was the result of "pressure by higher forces ruling from Russia, which by threats and schism forced Patriarch Iliya II and the Holy Synod to make such a decision." Earlier Fr Vasily had been at the assembly of the KEK in Trondheim, Norway, where he set forth this same position.

"Everybody who is more or less acquainted with the real situation knows that the decision about departure from WCC and KEK was made by the Georgian church completely independently," Fr Vsevolod Chaplin stated in an interview with "Blagovest-info." "Our church always has respected that decision and will always respect any steps by the Georgian church with respect to the ecumenical movement."

Regarding Archpriest Vasily Kobakhidze's participation in the KEK assembly, the vice chairman of OVTsS, who also was at Tronheim, noted that at this forum a "strange situation" arose: an attempt was made to represent GPTs "as somehow participating" in the work of the assembly. In addition, Fr Vasily also tried to get a seat on administrative bodies of KEK. Reacting to Fr Kobakhidze's action, the delegation from RPTs called the assembly "to be guided not by the opinion of a private person but by the decision of the hierarchy," Fr Vsevolod Chaplin stated further; in his opinion Fr Vasily Kobakhidze tried to represent the current situation in the Georgian church as some kind of "collective, unconscious process which soon could be turned into a different direction."

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin also expressed extreme surprise that the statements that go completely counter to the official position of GPTs were made in Trondheim by a person who was presented to the KEK assembly as an official delegate of the Union of Baptists of Georgia, which is the capacity in which the Orthodox priest Vasily Kobakhidze arrived at the international Christian forum. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 August 2003)


On 30 July the Georgian patriarchate issued a statement about the reasons for its departure from the Conference of European Churches, "Blagovest-info" reports. In 1996 the Georgian Orthodox church (GPTs) withdrew from another large ecumenical organization, the World Council of Churches.

The extraordinary declaration of the Georgian patriarchate noted that CEC "unfortunately did not justify expectations and did not prepare the ground for true Christianity unity; in addition, it has gradually lost the original character of a forum and now has taken on an ecclesiastical character." (tr. by PDS, posted 1 August 2003)

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,