"Protestantism and protestants in Russia, past, present, and future" was the theme of an academic theological conference held on 5-6 May. The chief organizer of the event was the church of Christian Seventh-day Adventists. The location was the theological academy of Adventists which has been operating for fifteen years in the village of Zaoksky in Tula province, 120 kilometers south of the capital.
Adventists are a religious movement that arose in the midst of American Baptists in the middle of the nineteenth century which is distinguished by its faith in the second coming of Christ for which the original prophets of Adventism, W. Miller (1782-1849) and Helen White (1827-1915) even gave a specific date.
The distinctiveness of the doctrines of Adventism, in comparison with other Christian churches including the protestant denominations that are close to it, includes, first, that Adventists recognize the collection of the prophecies of Mrs. White as a source of their faith along with the Bible, they respect as the "holy day" not Sunday but Saturday (as written in the Old Testament), and they do not recognize the immortality of the soul in the traditional Christian understanding, positing that the soul also dies after death and will be resurrected along with the body at the moment of the anticipated second coming of Christ.
In their earthly life it is characteristic of Adventists to occupy an active social position, adhering to a healthy life style and to vegetarianism based on the notion that the body is a vessel of God. The writer of these lines was able to be convinced of this by personal experience: at the time of the conference its participants ate in the dining room of the academic exclusively vegetarian meals. Even the meat in the rice pilaf was made from soybeans and the tea was made from grass. But generally the food was tasty and healthy and . . . inexpensive.
In principle Adventists can be categorized as one of the neo-Christian churches, like the Mormons, Pentecostals, "Church of Christ" and so forth. It just turned out that its proclamation began in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was not common to divide confessions into traditional and nontraditional, and thus Adventists, who survived the difficult soviet era, now are generally placed alongside the traditional Russian confessions.
Perestroika gave Adventists the opportunity to realize the potential of their activity, expressed tangibly in the development of the Adventist Medical Center in Moscow (a clinic that is up to world class standards, but expensive for the ordinary citizen) and the creation of an educational center in the village of Zaoksky. It includes an Adventist ecclesiastical academy and the Christian Humanities Institute, which accepts students irrespective of their religious affiliation, and an agricultural center with greenhouses, where vegetables are grown following the method of the American Adventist professor, Dr. Mittlaider. To be sure, to the Portal-credo.ru reporter's question about what was superior in the method and the quality of the produce cultivated by it the greenhouse workers responded that generally they are good and inexpensive, but it is difficult to grow tomatoes.
We have made this long digression on the second coming, the seminary, and vegetables in order to illustrate the idea that the conference, whose announced topic was the problem of Russian protestantism as a whole, because of these distinctives and a certain distance from other even close protestant confessions turned out to have clearly expressed "Adventist" fingerprints.
Official presentations of greetings were made only by official representatives of the Adventists and Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), who like the Adventists occupy a specific place among protestants. One could not hear at the conference loud voices of Lutherans, reformed Christians (Calvinists), Baptists, Evangelical Christians, Methodists, and other protestant denominations that are today scattered about Russia, although, according to the organizers, their representatives were present in the room.
They did not even achieve a full and comprehensive dialogue of "protestant theologians and secular scholars of religion," because it was the latter that constituted the absolute majority of presenters. Apparently the organizers decided to use the personnel resources assembled in the process of the activity of the International Association of Religious Freedom, whose activity in our country has been developed by the church of Christian Seventh-day Adventists themselves.
Despite such, let's say, flaws, on the whole the conference made a very positive impression, primarily because of the extremely high level of the materials presented. The writer of these lines, a historian by training, was very interested in the papers devoted to the Russian predecessors of protestantism, the medieval heretics of Pskov and Novgorod called Strigolniks and Judaizers (14th and 15th centuries) which were presented, respectively, by the Petersburg historian Igor Ragozny and associate of the Zaoksky academy, Oleg Zhigankovy.
The heresy of the Strigolniks arose in Pskov among artisans and the lower clergy as a reaction against the corrupt excesses of the clergy of Great Novgorod in the appointment of clergy in Pskov, which was under their jurisdiction. The Strigolniks actually followed a course of thought like "if the bishops are being bribed, why do we need them," and an emphasis on a strict Old Testament monotheism similar to early European protestants.
As regards the heresy of the Judaizers, which appeared at the end of the fifteenth century, first in Novgorod and then in Moscow, its adherents were representatives of the religious and political Muscovite elite of the time, including Elena, the first wife of Ivan III. As it turned out, they did not "Judaize" at all. According to the new research of Oleg Zhigankov, a certain "Hebrew Zakharias Skhar," to whom the spread of this heresy in Rus is traditionally ascribed, was not a Jew but a Catholic native of Genoa of the Guise family. His mother was Georgian, or Iverian, who was transformed into a "Hebrew" by the efforts of the contemporary church polemicists like Joseph of Volotsk and Bishop of Novgorod Gennady.
Also, in the opinion of the scholar, the contemporary church figures consciously confused the identity of the "Taman prince" Skhar and a certain Novgorodian Zakharias, who actually was the one who disseminated the "Judaizing" views.
Also of interest were the historical papers of the president of the Russian Society for the Study of Religion, Mikhail Odintsov, on the history of the Salvation Army in Russia, and Professor Mikhail Krapivin (St. Petersburg) on the relations of the soviet authorities and non-Orthodox Christian associations ("sectarians") in the first decade of the existence of USSR.
The Salvation Army received support for its activity in 1908 from Prime Minister Stolypin. However this was opposed in all possible ways by the police, Holy Synod, and the chief procurator of the synod, guided by the traditional principle of the Russian political establishment, "one cannot be too careful." In September 1911, right on the eve of the discussion of this question in the State Council, Stolypin was killed and the question of the Salvation Army was shelved, and this organization was active in presoviet Russia only for the brief time from February to October 1917.
Professor Krapivin, using archival data, showed that the soviet government in the period 1917-1924 actively courted the protestants, trying, first, to be friends with them as opposed to the hostile and "reactionary" Russian Orthodox church, and second, to use the economic potential and agriculture of the "sectarians." In these years many representatives of protestant denominations were exempted from the military obligation and their economic associations were granted privileges. Such a situation continued approximately until 1924, when it became obvious that the state's militant materialistic worldview and the active antimilitarism and advocacy of nonviolence of the "sectarians" become more overtly contradictory to one another. But even to the beginning of the 1930s, the president of the Russian Central Executive Committee, M.I. Kalinin, and the former chief of staff of the Council of People's Commissars, V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, who for some reason sympathized with the "sectarians" to a certain degree, lobbied for their interests at the highest soviet levels.
We have gone into details about the "historical" papers because they frankly illustrate specifics of two basic theses that ran like a red thread through all of the contents of the conference. First, the necessity to show that contemporary protestantism (and Adventists, in the first place) in Russia is not a foreign import but practically indigenous to Russia. Incidentally, the idea of a link between the medieval Strigolniks and the "Judaizers" who honored Saturday has been present in the works of many contemporary Adventist theologians in Russia.
The second thesis, to which is given not only theoretical but also real practice significance, is that protestants have traditionally found themselves in Russia in a kind of nationalistic Orthodox (or soviet) environment that openly expresses a xenophobic attitude toward the "foreign faiths."
So much for the past of Russian protestantism. The present was presented in figures given in a paper by a researcher from the department of religious studies of the Russian Academy of State Service, Remir Lopatkin. Today there are 4435 registered protestant societies in RF, or 21% of all registered religious organizations, and if the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are added the proportion might be 25%. This is second place after Orthodoxy of all jurisdictions whose religious organizations constitute 58% of the total. (In 1992 the protestants were considered to have only 510 organizations.) To be sure, the number of adherents of protestantism barely exceeds 1.5% of the population of the country. The investigator explained such a state of affairs by reference to the high level of social activism of protestants, which requires full-fledged, developed organizations.
At the same time, many spoke of the future with unconcealed anxiety and caution. As Professor A. Nurullaev from the state service academy pointed out in his address, protestantism has a future that is not cloudless, but is rich. In the respected professor's opinion, this will come about because protestants, first, are able to accommodate to any changing circumstances, and second, "are governed by liberal values."
One cannot agree with that latter claim because real liberalism, with its absolutizing of the freedom of the individual, is by definition alien to Christianity as a whole. Returning to the papers, we note that in communcations of many writers, primarily from the provinces, there was expressed an anxiety over the way the idea of dividing religions into traditional and nontraditional ones is being zealously pursued by local administrations. The instigators of the actions of administrations are most often the active priests of the Russian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, who appear on news media with rather negative information with regard to non-Orthodox confessions.
A young Adventist pastor from Nizhny Novgorod, Aleksei Britov, was filled with evident pessimism. "Imagine that in a little while this academy where we have gathered will not exist." However, the young pastor's anxiety was not shared by an elderly worker from the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate who was present in the hall, Elena Speranskaia. She is responsible for relations with protestants and "new" religions. "I do not understand why anyone wants to represent the patriarchate as some kind of monster or boogeyman," she declared in her response. "Much has been said about politics, but for some reason there is little about God and Christ. Let's talk more about what unites us and let's work together in the solution of social problems."
As a general conclusion it can be said that yet another good step in the dialogue of native protestants among themselves and with society has been taken. Although much more work needs to be done so that the full diversity of Russian protestantism can really be presented and so that authoritative people and specialists and various protestant churches can be drawn more tightly into this dialogue. For example, it seems that very interesting papers on the history of Lutherans in Russia and the theology of Lutheranism were announced for the conference. That could have turned out to be a good topic. But the Lutherans did not show up. A pity! (tr. by PDS, posted 11 May 2004)
Relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have begun relaxing gradually. Immediately after the first conversations on overcoming disagreements between RPTs and RC Catholics began talking "about several mistakes" that they committed in Russia. They are talking about proselytism, of which the Orthodox accuse the Catholics.
On Wednesday, the first session of the joint working group for review of problems in relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches was held in Moscow.
According to the summary of the meeting, the general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Igor Kowalewsky, acknowledged that the Catholic church actually had committed mistakes in Russia, although this was not an intentional practice.
According to Kowalewsky, the Vatican does not view Russia as a country for missionary work and understands that Russia is "not New Guinea and not an African country, in which it is necessary to preach Christianity. It is a country with a thousand-year Christian culture," and thus nobody is trying to catholicize Russia.
Relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches especially worsened after the Vatican decided in 2002 to elevate the status of apostolic administrations in Russia to the level of full-fledged dioceses. The Orthodox church, in response, accused the Catholics of proselytism and began an anti-Catholic campaign. Every visit by the pope to a republic of the former Soviet Union was accompanied by an angry response from the Holy Synod of RPTs, as was the activity of Catholic priests on the territory of Russia. Several of them even were expelled.
RPTs officially denied its involvement in all of the expulsions of Catholics, but it is no secret that the most active missionaries were driven from Russia.
In the past year the Moscow patriarchate even sent a letter to the head of all Catholics of Russia, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, in which cases of Catholic proselytism in Russia were enumerated. In reply a letter was sent, from which it followed that all actions of Catholic priests in RF were conducted for the satisfaction of the spiritual needs of believers and new Catholic parishes have arisen only upon the request of or with the consent of local authorities.
It is known also that the Roman Catholic church does not recognize the concept of "canonical territory," and it has used the right of everyone to freedom of religious confessions as a theoretical basis for the advance to the east. The situation reached the point where in 2002 the Russian Orthodox church officially informed the Vatican that it found undesirable the planned visit of Moscow in the second half of February by the head of the papal council on promotion of Christian unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper.
However in 2004 Kasper arrived in Moscow "for fellowship with Catholic clergy in Russia." But despite this, a meeting between Cardinal Kasper and Patriarch Alexs II still took place. After this a joint commission of the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches was created, which is supposed to resolve the disputed issues in the relations of the two churches. In addition to the problem with missionary activity by Catholics in Russia they are also talking about the conflict between Greek Catholics and Orthodox believers in western Ukraine.
The very appearance of such a commission, along with the statement by Igor Kowalewsky, gives some chance of a warming up of the relations.
As the press secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Viktor Khrul, explained to "Gazeta.ru," Kowalewsky spoke "about mistakes which could be assessed as proselytism. The problem is that nobody has tried to define what proselytism is."
"If proselytism is enticing people from one Christian community into another by unworthy methods, then why should one consider as such work in orphanages and caring for children, especially if nobody has tried to convert them to his faith," Khrul reported. "Why has nobody accused 'Sister Mother Theresa,' who opened two orphanages in Moscow, of missionary activity, while attempts of Catholic priests to care for homeless children evoke displeasure on the part of the Orthodox church? I do not understand where this approach will lead if all the time concrete cases of conflict are being examined while a general definition of the concept of 'proselytism' has not been worked out."
The vice-chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, commented on the situation for "Gazeta.ru" in this way: "We are happy that the Vatican says that it does not wish to convert Orthodox believers to Catholicism. Nevertheless, a number of cases indicate that such activity is nevertheless being conducted by Catholic priests."
According to Chaplin, the joint commission is immediately called to review specific conflict situations and to clarify whether they fall under the general concept of "proselytism." Thus, in Lobna, the Catholic parish which runs the "Rodnichok" children's home is engaged, at the same time, in religious education of children, Chaplin says. A similar situation has developed in one of the children's shelters in Novosibirsk. Incidentally, Chaplin added, in Novosibirsk Catholic priests have expanded their missionary activity to the adult residents of the city, too.
Such attempts by Catholic priests are considered by the Orthodox church to be unacceptable. "It is another matter if Orthodox priests work in Catholic orphanages in Russia, such as, for example, in Yaroslavl province, where a Catholic center for work with drug addicts is operating. Its leaders have invited Orthodox priests for the spiritual care of their clients," Chaplin noted.
For laity, the problems between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, as well as activity for drawing Christian confessions together, seem to be somewhat different. "Such admissions by Catholics mean only that they have despaired of gaining justice from our government, which has declared the equality of all confessions but does not guarantee it in reality," the director of the Institute for the Study of Religion in CIS Countries and the Baltic, Nikolai Mitrokhin, told "Gazeta.ru." "In sum, the situation has been created where Catholic priests are periodically expelled from the country and their activity is halted. Now they are forced to take diplomatic steps, admitting to actions they have not committed. Catholics simply find themselves in a situation where they have to repent.
"In the course of many years RPTs simply has exploited myths about both proselytism and Greek Catholic expansion in Ukraine, although in reality there is a mass of example of how Catholics and Orthodox coexist and cooperate fruitfully there.
"Thus one can hardly expect a warming up of relations between the churches since actually these relations depend on complex processes which are taking place within the Orthodox church itself and not on the way in which Catholic conduct themselves in Russia." (tr. by PDS, posted 10 May 2004)
Posted on Portal-credo.ru, 10 May 2004
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Thousands of people arrived to say good-bye to the president of Chechnya, radio station "Echo of Moscow" reported, citing ITAR-TASS. The agency explained that in accordance with Islamic regulations, memorial events last for three days. Today after the performance of all the religious rituals and of communal prayers over the grave the body of Akhmad Kadyrov was committed to the ground.
After the burial the singing of prayers was begun at the home of the deceased, in which believers ask the Almighty to forgive the earthly sins of the departed. Meanwhile the burials themselves were conducted in conditions of not simply elevated security but even unprecedented measures, extending to prohibiting any vehicles on the road. Participants in the funeral ceremony included leaders of the southern regions, the governors of the Krasnodar and Stavropol territories and the Saratov province, and representatives of Ingushetia, Adytei, and Dagastan.
The head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, sent condolences to the relatives and friends of the victims of the terrorist act.
We add that as a result of yesterday's explosion in the Grozny stadium, according to official reports, Akhmad Kadyrov and another five persons died. Sixty-three persons received wounds. Meanwhile, Associated Press, citing sources in Grozny, gave a different number of fatalities: 24.
It has been learned that Ramzan Kadyrov has been named first deputy of the chairman of the government of Chechnya. The decree appointing him was signed by the acting president of the republic, Sergei Abramov. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 May 2004)
MUSLIM CLERGY LOYAL TO MOSCOW CURSE MURDERERS OF KADYROV
Portal-credo.ru, 10 May 2004
The mufti of Chechnya, Akhmad Shamaev, issued a sharp condemnation against the organizers of the terrorist act in the Grozny "Dinamo" stadium as a result of which the president of the republic, Akhmad Kadyrov, and the head of the Chechen state council, Khusein Isaev, died, "Lenta.ru" reports, citing Interfax.
Shamaev declared that on 10 May in all mosques of Chechnya there will be prayers for the victims of the terrorist act and the murderers of Kadyrov and Isaev will be cursed. According to the mufti, those who perished were "brilliant, courageous, and dedicated politicians." "Those who do not wish for peace and calm to be established in Chechnya considered Akhmad Kadyrov their greatest enemy because it was impossible to frighten and stop him," Shamaev said.
The terrorist act was committed at 10:35 Moscow time in the "Dinamo" stadium during a parade celebrating Victory Day. An explosive device equivalent to more than a kilogram of TNT was rigged under the platform for honored guests.
As the minister for nationality policy of Chechnya, Taus Dzhabrailov, told RIA Novosti, at the time of the explosion, along with Kadyrov and Isaev, a reporter, Adlan Khasanov, and an eight-year-old girl died. According to information from NTV, two body guards of the Chechen president also were victims of the terrorist act. Information circulated earlier about fourteen deaths has not been confirmed.
According to preliminary information, 56 persons were wounded. In particular, seriously wounded was the commander of the United Group of Forces, General Valery Baranov. The head of the Ministry for Internal Affairs of Chechnya, Ala Alakhanov, and the commandant of the republic, Grigory Fomenko, also were injured in the blast.
A criminal case has been opened regarding the explosion in the "Dinamo: stadium on the basis of article 105 ("murder") and article 204 ("terrorism"). (tr. by PDS, posted 10 May 2004)
CONDOLENCES FROM PATRIARCH ALEXIS II IN CONNECTION WITH TERRORIST ACT
Sedmitsa.ru, 10 May 2004
On 9 May Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus sent a telegram to the acting president of the Chechen republic, Sergei Abramov, and to Bishop of Stavropol and Vladikavkas Feofan:
"With profound pain I received the news about the death as the result of a terrorist act of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, State Council Chairman Khusein Isaev, and other participants in the celebration of Victory Day.
The cynicism of the terrorists knows not limit. On a day when people recall the great victory over the evil of hatred of humanity the blood of those who have labored for the return of Chechnya to a peaceful life, legality, and order was shed.
May the Almighty grant eternal rest to the departed. I pray for the healing of the wounded, especially those for whose life the physicians are fighting. May harmony and calm come to the Chechen land, which are so needed by the people of various nationalities living there. I express my sympathy for the families of the killed and wounded.
Alexis, Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus:
(tr. by PDS, posted 10 May 2004)
posted on Portal-credo.ru site, 10 May 2004
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On 15 April 2004 a seminar was held in the Department of External Church Relations [OVTsS] of the Moscow patriarchate with representatives of the Russian Orthodox church and the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists [RSEKhB] on the subject "The role of the Christian in contemporary Russian society."
The moderators of the seminar were the chairman of OVTsS Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill and the president of RSEKhB, Yury Kirillovich Sipko.
The seminar included papers and discussions on three topics: "Christian associations and the state," "Social ministry of religious associations," and "Patriotism in Christian understanding. Service in the army and alternative service."
During discussion of the topic "Christian associations and the state" it was proposed to continuously exchange information, provide mutual consultations and legal aid, and to work out a common position on various questions in the sphere of church-state relations.
Concern was expressed that in the adoption of several very important laws the interests and desires of religious organizations were not taken into account. As a result the new land and tax codes of RF serious restrict the possibilities for religious societies in the area of social ministry and educational and charitable activity.
The desire was expressed for the activation of the work of the Council on Cooperation with Religious Associations of the presidential administration of the Russian federation--an agency that will give the possibility of meeting and having direct dialogue of religious leaders with representatives of the supreme governmental authority. Such contact is necessary for taking account of the opinions of religious organizations with regard to the most important questions of church-state relations.
On the topic of "Social ministry of religious associations" it was recognized that at the present time contemporary Russian society, as never before, needs moral healing. The loss of moral instruction has led to a spread of serious illnesses, particularly AIDS, alcoholism, and drug addiction. The problem of homeless children is an urgent issue for Russia. In these conditions Christians can and should increase their ministry for the welfare of the needy and the poorest strata of the population. Believers in Christ are called to testify by word and deed to their adherence to the principles of Christian morality and to help people to change their lives on the basis of these principles.
It was especially noted that both Orthodox believers and Evangelical Christians-Baptists are conducting social work which does not always receive the necessary support from the state. Christian societies possess the potential to carry out social programs that society needs, and thus this should be supported by the authorities. A constructive dialogue of religious societies with the government and society on the most important problems should get into the sphere of realistic cooperation.
The desire was expressed to return to the experience of closer cooperation among theological educational institutions that occurred in the past.
On the topic of "Patriotism in Christian understanding. Service in the army and alternative service," seminar participants agreed that the defense of one's neighbors and one's fatherland is a Christian duty. Christians should have an effect on the morality of military personnel who belong to their confessions.
It was decided to continue meeting for discussion of theological and
religious and social problems.
(tr. by PDS, posted 9 May 2004)
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Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, Old Believer Metropolitan Andrian of Moscow and all-Rus, the head of Russian Catholics, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the chief rabbi of Russia for FEOR, Berl Lazar, the head of the Central Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia, Supreme Mufti Talgat Tajuddin, and the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of the European Part of Russia, Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, as well as the head of the Traditional Buddhist Sangkha of Russia Pandito-Khambo-Lama Damba Aiusheev, the president of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith Sergei Riakhovsky and several other protestant leaders were present on 7 May in the St. Andrew's Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace for the ceremony of inauguration of the president of the Russian federation, Vladimir Putin. This was reported by a correspondent of Portal-Credo.ru.
Among the religious figures in St. Andrew's Hall also was a group of senior hierarchs of RPTsMP, Metropolitan of Krutitsy and Kolomna Yuvenaly, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kiril, Metropolitan of Voronezh and Borisoglebsk Sergius, and Metropolitan of Kaluga and Borovsky Kliment. The patriarch was located separate from the group of hierarchs, alongside the wife of the first president of Russia, Naina Yeltsina, and deputy premier of the government of Russia Alexander Zhukov.
A tribune on which were laid the constitution of RF and the symbol of the presidency, and where Vladimir Putin took the oath for assuming the office of president exactly at noon, was arranged under a bas relief of the 18th century "Unsleeping Eye," symbolizing the Holy Trinity. As in the year 2000, when Vladimir Putin took the office of president for the first time, participants in the ceremony forgot to place on him the presidential symbol, a chain with the coat of arms of the Russian federation.
After a military parade, which Vladimir Putin received on Cathedral Square of the Kremlin, he entered one of the Kremlin cathedrals to the tolling of the Kremlin bells. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 May 2004)
PUTIN MEETS PATRIARCH AFTER INAUGURATION
Religiia i SMI, 7 May 2004
According to a report from the Interfax news agency, "the inauguration events were capped by a meeting of V. Putin with Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus in Annunciation cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin." (tr. by PDS, posted 9 May 2004)
PATRIARCH ALEXIS PERFORMS PRAYER SERVICE IN HONOR OF INAUTURATION
Religiia i SMI, 7 May 2004
RIA Novosti reports "Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus conducted a brief prayer service in honor of the second inauguration of the president of Russia." (tr. by PDS, posted 9 May 2004)
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On 5-6 May 2004 a meeting of the joint working group for improving relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches in the Russian federation was held. In accordance with previous agreement, the session was held in sequence on the territories of the Catholic and Orthodox sides, on 5 May in the building of the secretariate of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia and on 6 May in the Pilgrimage Center of the Moscow patriarchate ("Universitetskaia" hotel).
Despite substantial difficulties, positive achievements have been observed recently in relations between both churches. At the time of the visit to Poland by the head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate Metropolitan Kirill declared that there have been no instructions with regard to proselytizing activity either on the part of the Vatican or on the part of local Catholic bishops in Russia, but the joint group will deal with separate incidents.
The Catholic church in Russia always was, now is, and remains a religious minority that is always ready for constructive cooperation with the Russian Orthodox church for the welfare of Russian society. But, along with this there have existed separate incidents which because of misunderstanding and the absence of appropriate information have evoked disturbance among representatives of RPTs and some strata of society. These incidents sometimes have been interpreted by them as cases of proselytism.
At the session of the working group the Orthodox side presented to the Catholic side several such incidents that occurred on the territory of the Russian federation. This must not be viewed as a trial of the Catholic church with intent to accuse it of proselytism and the establishment of control over its activity in Russia. The sides came to the conclusion that an analysis of the causes of disturbance and the absence of mutual understanding in some specific cases will help in working out a code of conduct for both churches. The Orthodox side presented also positive examples of cooperation between our churches which could be clear Christian testimony for the contemporary world. These examples were supplemented by the Catholic side.
The sides came to the conclusion about the necessity of informing one another more broadly and of close common action and constructive cooperation, particularly in social projects. Special concern was shown with regard to news media which often interpret inaccurately incidents and statements of representatives of individual churches which do not promote normalization of Orthodox-Catholic relations.
The atmosphere during the work was friendly and one hopes that the group that was created at the local level will help work in the area of correcting problems that arise between our churches.
The Catholic side also took into account the concern of the Orthodox side with regard to problems of inter-church relations outside the boundaries of Russia, although a review of such problems does not enter into the competence of the working group.
Father Igor Kowalewsky, general secretary of the Conference of Catholic
Bishops of Russia.
Information Center of Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia
(tr. by PDS, posted 7 May 2004)
posted on Portal-credo.ru site, 7 May 2004
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