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Georgian Orthodox church derails agreement between Georgia and Vatican


The Georgian Orthodox church is displeased with the agreement between Georgia and the Vatican that is being prepared for signatures, RIA Novosti reports. "We have often expressed our readiness to determine the legal status in Georgia of Catholics and believers of other confessions but for us it is completely unexpected and absolutely unacceptable for an agreement between Georgia and the Vatican, that was initiated by the official representation of the Holy See in Georgia, to be concluded," an official statement of the Georgian Orthodox church stated, which was distributed in the evening of 16 September.

"We do not understand why the text of the agreement being prepared is being kept secret from the Georgian Orthodox church," the statement notes. "The Vatican wants to deceive the leadership of Georgia with this initiative and to hasten the signing of the agreement which could happen on 18-20 September during the visit to Tbilisi by an official representative of the Vatican, the minister of foreign affairs of the Holy See, Archbishop Jean-Louis Toran," the church thinks.  "We hope that in order to avoid a confrontation the Vatican will refrain from such a serious step with the consent of the Georgian Orthodox church," the statement says. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 September 2003)


Georgia will not sign an intergovernmental agreement with the Vatican, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Kakha Sikharulidze, told reporters in Tbilisi on 19 September, reports. He said that State Minister Avtandil Dzhorbenadze called Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze by telephone, who is in Yalta for the CIS summit, and the president gave an order to refrain from signing the document.

Meanwhile in Tbilisi during these hours a massive demonstration of protest by students continued at the parliament building and the Georgian state chancellery.

State Minister A. Dzhorbenadze met with representatives of the students and told them about the president's decision, although the students still have not ceased their demonstration, demanding official written assurances from the government on this matter.

The intention to sign an intergovernmental agreement between Georgia and the Vatican was taken by the Georgian Orthodox church as the Vatican's attempt to spread the influence of the Roman Catholic church in Orthodox Georgia.

The agreement, comprising 15 points, proposes giving the Catholic church in Georgia rights equal to those of the Orthodox church.

Yesterday the secretary of state of the Holy See for relations of the Vatican with other states, Archbishop Jean Louis Toran, arrived in Tbilisi for signing the agreement. The signing was supposed to be held today in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the absence from Georgia of President Eduard Shevardnadze and Minister of Foreign Affairs Irakly Menagarishvili, who are in Yalta for the CIS summit.

As already reported, Catholicos Patriarch Iliia II of all-Georgia called a special press conference at which he declared the inexpediency of Georgia's signing an agreement with the Vatican, since "this could strain relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches." (tr. by PDS, posted 19 September 2003)

Associated Press, 20 September 2003

Georgian officials canceled plans to sign an agreement with the Vatican on Friday after thousands of Orthodox Christian faithful blocked traffic to protest what they feared could result in a Catholic takeover of their country.

Officials assured the protesters that the agreement would not harm the interests of the dominant Georgian Orthodox Church and would merely protect the religious freedom of the country's estimated 50,000 Catholics. Nevertheless, they yielded to protesters' demands, saying a national dialogue was needed.

The government revealed very little about the agreement until Friday when officials read some of the clauses to the protesters. It would obligate Georgia to guarantee freedom to perform Catholic rites, allow the opening of Catholic schools and permit all Catholics to study the history of their religion.

In former Soviet republics where Orthodox believers are in the majority, relations between the Christian faiths that split nearly 1,000 years ago are tense, with Orthodox leaders accusing the Catholic Church of poaching souls in Orthodox territory.

The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, arrived Thursday in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, for talks that were to include the signing, scheduled for Friday.

At about midday, some 200 university students blocked Rustaveli Avenue in front of the parliament building in the capital, Tbilisi. As more protesters joined in the afternoon, the crowd swelled to 2,000.

"We won't let them sign it,'' the crowd of mostly young people chanted. Some held handwritten signs hailing the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Some of the protesters said they feared the Roman Catholic Church could lure people away from Orthodoxy because it is far wealthier than the Georgian church.

"The Catholic Church has more money and naturally they will make donations and attract people financially to lure them to Catholicism,'' said Alexander Kuparadze, 19.

About an hour into the protest, State Minister Avtandil Dzhorbenadze addressed the crowd. He said President Eduard Shevardnadze, who was attending a summit in Ukraine, had ordered the signing to be canceled.

The Vatican declined to comment Friday. In Tbilisi, Bishop Giuseppe Pacotti, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Georgia, said: "I hope that a mutual understanding will be reached in the end.''  (posted 22 September 2003)


The Vatican on Saturday accused the Orthodox Church in Georgia of hurting ties and causing the pope suffering by convincing the Georgian government to refuse to sign a treaty with the Holy See. Ex-Soviet Georgia postponed signing the pact at the last minute on Friday when the Vatican's delegation was already in town, bowing to street protests and calls by the dominant Orthodox Church, fearful of losing influence over its flock. "The events will not fail to cause His Holiness John Paul great suffering," the Vatican's Foreign Minister Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said in a statement issued after his departure from Georgia.

"The Holy See's delegation feels seriously wounded by the treatment of the Georgian Orthodox Church," he added. The treaty, defining inter-state relations including treatment of minority Catholics in Georgia, was to have been signed on Saturday during Tauran's visit. After public protests in the Georgian capital following an appeal by the Orthodox Church leader, a senior official said the agreement could not be signed in the present climate.

"Mainly, it is the Catholic community of this country that will suffer as a result," Tauran said. A majority of Georgia's 4.2 billion people belong to the Orthodox Church which split with Rome in 1054. Senior leaders of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Russian Patriarchy, said they feared losing converts. "Signing the agreement will enable the Vatican to strengthen its influence in Georgia, build churches in indefinite numbers and found seminaries," Archibishop Zenon told Georgian television on Friday.

Pope John Paul has made rapprochement with the Orthodox Church a key part of his papacy and visited Georgia in 1999. He celebrated a mass in Tbilisi attended by thousands, but the Georgian Patriarch stayed away. The pope has succeeded in drawing closer to some Orthodox leaders, like those in Bulgaria and Greece, but ties with the most influential Church, in Russia, have remained icy and he has not been able to fulfil his dream of travelling there.   (posted 22 September 2003)

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Orthodox spokesman seeks defense of believers' feelings


At the Russian Orthodox church amazement was expressed over attempts of rights defenders to appeal the decision of the court that found the criminal investigation of a group of young people who ransacked the "Beware, Religion" exhibition in January in the Sakharov Museum to be illegal, "" reports citing Interfax.

"For Orthodox people, insulting sacred things and the faith is no less a crime than insulting a person, and our legal system should respect this view, it seems to me," an official representative of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, told the Interfax agency on 19 September.

Yesterday a group of famous rights defenders sent an appeal to the prosecutor general of RF to reopen the criminal case with respect to the ones who conducted a pogrom at the exhibition. Among the signers of the appeal were Liudmila Alekseeva, Elena Bonner, Svetlana Gannushkina, Sergei Kovalev, Yury Samodurov, Lev Ponomarev, and Gleb Yakunin.

The authors of the appeal note that "force may not be used for resolving religious disputes," and they compare the destruction of the exhibit to the destruction of the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the representative of the church compared the destruction of the exhibits in this exhibition not to the destruction of Buddha's statue in Afghanistan but to the destruction of the "Death to Kykes" sign. "If a person destroys such a sign," the agency's source said, "if he defaces a xenophobic slogan on a wall or seizes a fascist book from someone and tears it up, he is acting properly since he is putting an end to an insult against people.  But it is necessary to remember that for many of us faith is more important than earthly life and therefore offense to religious feelings and sacred objects is no less worse than insulting a person."

"Our rights defense movement," the representative of the church recalled, "has spoken out many times in support of prohibiting nationalistic and other misanthropic ideologies. At the same time for some reason it has never condemned the cowards who mock at what is most valuable to believing people, fearing to oppose those who might really retaliate: leaders of the criminal world, political radicals, leaders of terrorist organizations, and the like."

"It is simplest to insult the religious feelings of believers," Fr Chaplin said, "who as a rule do not retaliate, and even in the case of this exhibition restricted themselves to wrecking and defacing with paint the so-called 'exhibits.' "For our rights defenders," he continued, "it apparently is a crime for someone to arrange a dance on the grave of their mother or to insult people on the basis of national identity, age, or sex, or to subject to ridicule the names or symbols of those who are dear to these people, in particular, monuments to victims of political repression." After saying that "the rights defenders of Russia fight very severely for the symbols of their own convictions and for what is dear to them," the representative of the church expressed amazement that "the convictions of believing people turn out for the rights defenders to be convictions of some kind of a second class."

To prove his case V. Chaplin gave a specific situation. "Let's say that tomorrow across the street from the Sakharov museum some artists exhibited his portrait decorated with swastika and hung up a sign saying 'Gulag victims are enemies of the people,' and the police did not notice this for days. How would the employees of the museum react?" Interfax's source expressed the hope that "normal human feelings are still alive in them and that means that they will go and cast these 'exhibits' into the Yauza river."

The "Beware, religion" exhibition was held 16 to 18 January in one of the exhibit halls of the Sakharov museum. In it were presented exhibits that upset many believers, in particular, an icon of the Savior against a background of a Coca Cola ad with the inscription "This is my blood." Also represented was a figure of a saint with the face cut out where any who wished could put their head and make similar "creative discoveries." Famous figures of Russian culture sharply condemned the exhibition's organizers and six believers, as a sign of protest, spread paint on the walls and exhibits and broke museum glass. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 September 2003)

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Armenia needs conscientious objection law


Over the course of the past three years 150 persons have been convicted in Armenia for refusal of military service, the majority of whom are members of the unregistered Jehovah's Witnesses organization in the country. This was reported by the chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, Avetik Ishkanian, at a conference on the issues of introducing alternative service into the country, "" reports.

In the opinion of the rights defender, pacifist ideas are not very widespread in Armenia and thus one can hardly agree with military figures who claim that with the introduction of alternative service the majority of young people will evade their military duty. Ishkanian thinks that a law "On alternative service" should take into account not only the civil and political rights but also the social rights of "conscientious objectors." In addition, the adoption of a law "On alternative service" is one of Yerevan's obligations to the Council of Europe. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 September 2003)

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Rostov protestant organization examined

by Viktoria Steklova,, 11 September 2003

Many families lose their relatives because of religious sects, but some religious communities cannot be stopped as there is nothing illegal about what they do

The author of the story decided to go and see one of Russia's religious sects after she met a colleague with whom she studied at the university. That was Oleg Trifonov, the guy known for his passion for girls; each time other students met him Oleg was smoking cigarettes and constantly had a bottle of beer in his hands. That seemed strange but Oleg even managed to come slightly drunk to examinations. But suddenly the guy gave up the university studies when he was already a third-year student. When later Oleg dropped in at the university a couple of times, other students noticed that he had completely changed, it was an absolutely different guy. He no longer told funny stories, gave up smoking and drinking alcohol, he didn't even pay attention to girls. Other students of the faculty said he joined a sect.

Now, in half a year after that meeting Oleg makes no secrets about his activity. He says he falls into some trance to help cure alcohol and drug addicts. He even offered to drive the devil out of the author of the article. The girl was shocked to see how the guy changed within few months.

The journalist decided to attend a session of Christ's Church that was held in a rented room of the City House of Culture in Turgenev Street of in the city of Rostov-on-Don. That was not the only place where disciples of the above mentioned religious community gathered; these people gather almost every day in any suitable rooms. Sometimes special meetings are organized for separate groups consisting of children, students, girls or boys.

On the day when the journalist attended the session it was a Sunday sermon; half an hour before it started crowds of young and not really young people gathered near the House of Culture. The way how the people treated each other drew the journalist's attention immediately: the people were extremely well-disposed toward each other, they hugged and used any opportunity to touch the one with whom they talked at any particular moment.

That seemed strange but the principles immediately understood that the journalist was a newcomer; she was immediately introduced to a girl named Zhenya and a woman Ljuba who worked as an ambulance doctor. "Both women stayed close to the journalist all day long: they were constantly asking about university studies, about the place where I live, about my interests and attitude to religion. Even though the women insisted I should give them my telephone number I kept silent. We agreed that we would meet the next day. The girl, Zhenya, confusedly told about her previous bad life: she drank alcohol, used drugs and stole; but her life considerably improved when she joined the church."

As it turned out, a man named Vadim Gonyayev was the charismatic leader of the community in Rostov-on-Don. The man looked the age of 30-35; a tall, handsome, charming and wonderfully dressed young man looked like a prince from girls' childish dreams.

Vadim preached at that very meeting which the journalist attended; he did it in a wonderful manner. It was an interesting story with vivid and believable examples; the man was a perfect speaker. Vadim analyzed in detail a paragraph from some testament. It is highly likely that newcomers get particularly charmed with community leaders citing of the Holy Scriptures. But very often community leaders interpret the texts in their own manner, rather primitively by the way. Vadim managed to catch the attention of the packed hall; the people encourage the leader "Go, Vadim!", "Well done!"

The journalist tells: "I failed to become a conscientious parishioner, I was yawning all the speech long. It was only Ljuba's intent glance that made my try to look concentrated. The woman gave me a book of the Testament so that I could follow the text or the scripts of church songs. In breaks between sermons read by other members of the community the principles jumped up, snapped their fingers (it was not allowed to cross oneself there) and sang religious songs that sounded very much like jazz passages."

There was a separate room next door where little children of the parishioners stayed. The journalist wasn't allowed there as she wasn't a child or a parent. But she was extremely surprised that the community took care of all ages of the parish.

It is said that the community which session the journalist attended was not the worst place where citizens of Rostov-on-Don could find themselves. The parishioners of the sect don't make sacrifices to the Satan or indulge in group sex. On the contrary, principles of Christ's Church are not allowed to have sex before marriage; people from the sect spend their free time only with parishioners and marry only people from the community. Members of the community are mostly newcomers of the city and lonely people tired of their problems. These people get touched with the ostensible sympathy of other parishioners and the kind atmosphere in the community. But it turns out later that these people cannot leave the sect easily.

If you still ask yourself why missionaries are working so hard to set up new communities all about the country, here is the answer to the question. Each principle of the church pays 10-15 per cent of the monthly income into the church budget. What is more, it is well known that principles made even bigger contributions.

Christ's Church was founded by Pastor Kip McKean (Massachusetts, USA) in 1979; then the teaching spread further. In the mid-1990s the international Churches of Christ had 118 thousand of parishioners in 89 countries of the world. Today Christ's Church is considered to be one of the most closed and most dangerous destructive religious organizations abroad. Because of its radicalism the Church is officially prohibited to work at the universities of the USA and Great Britain.

The teaching of Christ's Church is remarkable for its extremely primitive (which in its turn means easy to understand) interpretation of Christianity; at that rather aggressive methods of influence upon the personality are used to suppress the critical sensations and the power of apprehension of people.

The cult is based upon the pyramid principle: each mentor has several pupils whose lives he scrupulously controls. The people employ different methods of pressure: they are very obtrusive, try to deprive other community member of their spare time and sleep; they organize inadequate nutrition, make the adepts feel guilty and what is more dangerous the mentors establish absolute control over the spare time of the adepts.

Those who abandon the religious community are considered to be dead. Those who stay in the community even try not to mention those who leave the community.

As a result of staying in Christ's Church the spiritual and intellectual outlook becomes reduced; people get aggressive each time it comes to faith problems; they break up the relations with friends and relatives, they experience abnormal psyche changes.

After attending the community the journalist decided to attain a commentary from the chief expert of the Rostov Committee for Inter-nation relations, Religion and the Cossacks Vladimir Popov.

"Relatives of young people who got involved into the religious group you speak about have appealed to us several times already. A boy from the Grekov College told us that two girls from his course attended the sermons of the church within a month; then the girls fell into a grave depression but couldn't stop attending the sessions. A woman who brought up her son alone told us that as soon as her son entered into the community he immediately decided to give them his own computer; the boy had no objections.

Citizens of Rostov-on-Don who suffered as a result of the Church's activity say that other members of the community take thorough care about relatives who fell under the influence of the Church. They meet up to three times a week and sometimes oftener. What is more, community leaders establish control over the conscience of adepts; the relations in the Church are based upon a destructive principle (it is ordered that adepts must break any sort of relations with those who don't belong to the community).

Many of the Church adepts give up drinking alcohol, smoking and other bad habits. At the same time they get plunged into the activity of the religious community and cannot live without it any longer. They bring all the money and precious things to the community; they abandon their families, little children and aged parents, they leave for other places to do their missionary activity.

There is no reason to close the church as no official violations have been discovered in its activity. It could have been possible to close the church on the basis of numerous petitions of relatives; but as a rule relatives don't want to give publicity to their problems.

Not so long ago parents of one girl who entered into the community even appealed to the administration of the presidential envoy to the south federal district. The parents say that the girl is now focused on the Church interests only; she performs badly at school, broke up with her boyfriend who disliked her new interests. Now the girl communicates with a guy from the community, her "brother", and they are supposed to marry later. The parents even appealed to the Regional Prosecutor's Office. Unfortunately, the parents have failed to achieve any success."

About 85 religious organizations are working on the Russian territory.
(posted 12 September 2003)

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Voronezh protestants seek explanation of restrictions


Speaking at a press conference in Voronezh on 10 September that was organized by local Pentecostals and devoted to the break-up by police of an anti-drug event of the Christians of Evangelical Faith in the city of Liski on 29 August, an employee of the local administration, Alexander Zaitsev, a consultant for the Department of Strategic Planning, told the audience of adherents of various confessions that "on the part of the governor and the administration of the province there is not and there will not be any discrimination against non-Orthodox believers," a "" correspondent reports.

In addition to Christians of Evangelical Faith, leaders of local congregations of Seventh-day Adventists, Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Jews, Lutherans, and Methodists attended the press conference.  Believers of various confessions who took the floor pointed out incidents of discrimination against non-Orthodox believers by representatives of the government in Voronezh province. Such an attitude is expressed in both direct and indirect refusals to allot land parcels for constructing houses of worship, difficulties in renting premises for mass religious events (the management of cultural and entertainment institutions explain their cancellation of contracts or oral agreements by saying that the diocese, or an individual priest of RPTsMP or officials are displeased with non-Orthodox public events), delays in reviewing petitions by congregations for return to them of their historic properties, insulting expressions by government workers and news media against various religious movements, and manifestations by persons of the government of preference for RPTsMP over other confessions and jurisdictions.

In their statements believers posed the question: what was the Liski incident-a spontaneous event or the result of intentional discriminatory policy?

According to Zaitsev, all activity of the administration of Voronezh province is "directed to observance of the law" and promotion of peaceful dialogue. Along with this the employee of the provincial administration explained to the believers that the authority of the provincial administration to exert influence upon local authorities is substantially restricted by Russian legislation. "The provincial administration does not have the authority and leverage of the Central Committee of the communist party of the Soviet Union or provincial committees." Local autonomy is not within the system of the agencies of governmental authority; it is independent and thus the provincial authority cannot interfere with its activity. Zaitsev indicated that "the provincial administration does not surrender its responsibility," and "it is open to cooperation," but at the same time he noted that he himself "does not share the opinion that it can give orders to everyone." As an example, the provincial administration employee pointed to the recent events.

Metropolitan Mefody Nemtsov sent an official letter to Governor Vladimir Kulakov. The diocese requested a resolution of the matter of removing a citizen of Voronezh who was living on the grounds of a convent. "How he got there is unclear," Zaitsev noted, "but a fact remains a fact." The provincial administration, in its turn, sent the metropolitan's letters to Voronezh Mayor Alexander Kovalev. No answer came from the mayor, the Voronezh provincial administration employee declared.

The Department of Strategic Planning of the administration of Voronezh province deals with matters of cooperation with political, public, and religious organizations and news media. Originally it had been planned that the vice chairman of the department, Sergei Zarutsky, would be present at the press conference. (tr. by PDS, posted 12 September 2003)

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Threat against gay couple denied


The story about the homosexuals who were married in Nizhny Novgorod has received a sequel, "" reports. The Nizhegorod diocese of RPTsMP has ordered that citizens not be married without presenting evidence of the registration of the marriage, And not even his son Kirill knows anything about the fate of Father Vladimir

According to some information, the priest Vladimir Enert was secretly taken away from the Makary convent to which he had been sent after the story became public. According to other information, he is still there, but the church is concealing him. Neighbors told how all night some things were carried out of his apartment and on the morning of 2 September he himself left. Komsomolskaia pravda was told by nuns that "in the evening of 3 September a 'Volga' drove up to the walls of the Makary convent and took the padre off in an unknown direction."

In the Nizhny Novgorod diocese Moskovskii komsomolets was told that Fr Vladimir "belongs to the category of 'migratory priests.'" He has served in at least four dioceses and everywhere he has left a bad memory of himself. Incidentally, the threats of the priest's son Kirill against the gays, about which one newspaper has written, have turned out to be a fantasy. A local tabloid reported that he supposedly said to them: "If something happens to my father, I also will commit a sin; I will kill these scum."

The gay family went to the department of internal affairs, along with correspondents of the program "Namedni," where Denis wrote a statement about the threats. Now the young family intends to file suit against the publication "for incitement of physical elimination (murder)." Compensation for the moral damage to the young marrieds is valued at five million rubles.

As "Federal Post" reports, on 8 September the gay couple was supposed to participate in the taping of a "Great Laundry" program on the topic "Parasites in our life." According to Denis, the parasite in this case is the bad information given to society about the life of homosexuals. However at the last minute the director of the program had second thoughts. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 September 2003)

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