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Priest's suicide exposes problems in Orthodox church

Why one should not be surprised that the infrastructure for effective church managers remains a much more important goal than the person
By Svetlana Solodovnik
Ezhednevnyi zhurnal, 14 June 2011

The former rector of the Dormition cathedral of Trifonov monastery, Archpriest Peter Shak, was buried at the end of last week as a layman after a civil funeral in the Tsiolkovskii House of Culture of Kirov, without a church funeral and "proper honors." Father Peter died at his own hand; this was finally established by expert analysis. Thousands of people from Kirov came to bid him farewell. The foyer of the House of Culture, the square in front of it, and the sidewalk of adjoining October Prospect were filled to capacity.

Father Peter occupied the position of rector of the Holy Dormition cathedral of Trifonov monastery from 1992. In April 2011 the new archbishop of Viatka and Slobodskoi, Mark, removed him from his ministry in that capacity, after which Fr Peter was hospitalized. No wonder. After his dismissal the priest suffered a heart attack and lay in intensive care for a long time. And then he hanged himself. The patriarchate sent a commission to Kirov to investigate. But it was already clear that the new archbishop had triumphantly "hit" all the major churches of the city, removing from work the old worthy priests and setting in their places "his own." In an interview with GTRK-Viatka, he frankly said that any person prefers to surround himself with "those people with whom he will be able to work more fruitfully. . . . This is a normal process. When there is understanding of one or another question, it is decided more quickly."

"His own" priests, possibly, are no less worthy than the old Viatka priests, but it is rather difficult to believe that all the dismissed priests were implicated "in serious financial and economic violations and sometimes crimes" (Archbishop Mark's words from the same interview). Or else one must admit that the Russian church is a band of thieves.

The main word there is "serious;" petty violations exist in practically all churches where by tradition there exist "black cashboxes," which help to supplement a little bit the official (i.e. taxable) wages of church workers—choir conductors, singers, cooks, Sunday school teachers, etc. Of course, if Archbishop Mark decided to fight for complete transparency of the church budget, then such commitment to principle could only be welcomed. But I somewhat doubt that the Vladyka is ready to be guided by those principles in his own administration of the diocese. In every case we have not yet seen a complete financial accountability of the Viatka see. So that the intentions appear more corrupt and bureaucratic: it is easier and faster to decide questions with "his own." Lo the splinters fly.

To add to the shame, Fr Peter was asked to evacuate the diocesan apartment where he lived with his wife and two sons (the embezzler priest did not have his own residence). It has been stated in blogs that those who arrived with the sad news asked him to pay them each one million rubles for every year of residence in the manse. They also write that the results of the work of Archbishop Mark's new team have already hit hard the life of the city: the prices for baptisms and funerals, prayers and requiems have been raised. Previously a babushka could get a prayer for a soul's repose for 10 to 15 rubles, but the new "tariff" is 100! "What a shock!" the blogger said in horror.

The Orthodox community is outraged and indignant, but after all the "trend" was indicated long ago, back when the Moscow patriarchate took the course of schism in the Surozh diocese, also to a very great extent from mercantile considerations: in the struggle for the church building purchased once by the émigré community with money collected literally from their last efforts. The emigrants of the "new wave" were dissatisfied by the procedures in the diocese (women came without head scarves, they prayed for non-Orthodox persons, and the priests were improper), and they never thought that they could collect money in the same way (and among them are some extremely wealthy people) and build (or buy) their own building. Why pay or build if it is possible to seize? After all the Surozh diocese is a member of the Moscow patriarchate, and that means the building belongs to the Moscow patriarchate. And they seized it. And the "old ones" who are not prepared to be reconciled to such injustice now roam about other churches, where they are given a corner and the possibility of conducting services in line along with local parishes.

Or the St. Nicholas cathedral in Nice, for which Russia sued for several years the Orthodox Association of Nice. The cathedral was build by Emperor Nicholas II on land purchased by the imperial cabinet and it was nationalized after the revolution. This, properly, gave Russia the right to claim the cathedral. But since the 1920s the cathedral was owned and fully maintained (again on modest emigrant money) by the Orthodox Association of Nice, which is within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese of Orthodox Russian churches in western Europe of the Constantinople patriarchate. The free lease expired 31 December 2007 and through the court Russia recovered what they considered their own property (The Orthodox Association, however, intends to file an appeal). Now the government intends to transfer the church to the Russian Orthodox Church and it is not known how the fate of the parish and its priests will come out.

Many Orthodox persons approve the expression "their own property," without taking into account the feelings and considerations of the people without whom this "their own property" simply would not exist. In the first case, the emigrant community bought the building; in the second, it maintained it in working condition for 80 years without the least help from Russia, and how would they know what would happen with the cathedral when they did not have a lease? But in both instances, infrastructural interests trumped the human consideration.

Or take the scandals involving "property of religious significance" in Russia itself, when museums, if they are not thrown out of church buildings onto the street, are shoved into attics and basements, and monasteries evict from "seized territories" persons who have lived there all their lives.  So why would we now not be surprised that the infrastructure for effective church managers remains a much more important goal than the person? (tr. by PDS, posted 14 June 2011)

Russian original posted on site of "," 14 June 2011


Residents of two villages of Kirov province, parishioners of the Nikolai church located in Rudnichnyi, have expressed disagreement with the new economic policy of the new Viatka bishop of RPTsMP. In May and June, meetings of residents were held, at which the decision was made to write an appeal to Archbishop of Viatka and Slobodskoi Mark, and then was begun the collection of signatures under the appeal, "Viatskii nabliudatel" reported 14 June.

"We consider that those rates for rituals and candles which have been imposed on our St. Nikolai parish by the leadership of Viatka diocese have been set without taking into account the purchasing capacity of the population, and thus they are extremely unrealistic, and they prevent us from fulfilling our religious needs. Thus the meeting of residents of the villages of Rudnichnyi and Lesnoi resolves:

1.  The rates previously accepted by St. Nikolai parish we consider acceptable.

2.  The rates set by the diocese, we consider inoperable since they are not consistent with the real incomes of the population.

3.  All auditing and monitoring actions on the part of the diocese, conducted without the oversight on the part of members of the parish meeting and also without representatives of the meetings of residents of the villages of Rudnichnyi and Lesnoi, we consider invalid.

4.  All diocesan directives respecting the St. Nokolai parish will be certified by a public commission delegated by the people's meetings and representatives of organs of local administration (local dumas) and the regional duma, which may be attended by representatives of the Russian lay community and news media.

5.  The activity of the priest Archpriest Leonid Safronov we consider to be satisfactory."

The outrage of the parishioners of St. Nikolai church is based on the fact that recently the leadership of the Viatka diocese of RPTsMP issued an order in accordance with which identical rates for church rituals and candles would apply in all parishes. As a result, the cost of candles and rituals immediately increased by several times.


Igor Gaslov, a "patriarchal blogger," wrote in his journal about the systematic character of suicides by priests, monks, and students in ecclesiastical schools of RPTsMP, that are evoked by an unfair decision of a bishop. He devoted a whole series of messages in his blog to Bishop of Syktyvkarsk and Vorkutinskoe Pitirim.

According to Gaslov's account, who is known for his being close to Chisty Lane, Bishop Pitirim drove to suicide Hegumen Iona, who had restored the church in the village of Ust-Kulom, but was not able to cope with the financial problems since he received no support from the diocese. In addition, according to Gaslov's report, Bishop Pitirim threated the wife of one of his priests with death by suicide.

From the "patriarchal blogger's" post, Bishop Pitirim began being called in other blogs "Bishop of Suicides." However, other Internet users suggest that Igor Gaslov is serving the interests of one of the parties within RPTsMP and is spreading compromising information about representatives of the competing clan. Bishop Pitirim is known as the bishop who is most loyal to corporate interests in RPTsMP. He has frequently openly criticized ecumenism and has blessed various patriotic events.

In yet another version, bloggers are connecting the spread of compromising against Bishop Pitirim with an attempt to deflect attention from another bishop of RPTsMP, Archbishop Mark, whom they directly or indirectly accuse of driving one of the priests of his diocese, Archpriest Peter Shak, to suicide.

At the time of the patriarchal election campaign in 2008-2009, Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev posted in his blog ("living journal") at least three cases of students of the Tobolsk Ecclesiastical Seminary being driven to suicide. From various dioceses of RPTsMP, reports continue to arrive that there have been incidents there of suicides by priests which are carefully covered up and presented to the public as either the result of criminal attacks or death from natural causes. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 June 2011)


Two photographs containing allusions to the "nontraditional sexual orientation" of the leadership of the Syktyvkarsk and Vorkutinsk diocese of RPTsMP were posted in his blog on 13 June by Professor Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy, who is known for his closeness to Patriarch Kirill.

The first photograph shows a banner on which is inscribed:  "Children visiting Bishop Pitirim. Syktyvkarsk and Vorkutinsk diocese of RPTsMP." The background of the banner shows the colors of the rainbow, which representatives of sexual minorities consider to be their symbol.  The second photograph shows Bishop of Syktyvkarsk and Vorkutinsk Pitirim near a crucifix which is decorated with ribbons recalling a rainbow. Near the head of the bishop is a yellow semicircular object similar to a halo.

Archdeacon Andrei presents these innocent photographs with the headline "Komi Rainbow." In the same report, Archdeacon Andrei gives a link to the journal of "patriarchal blogger" Igor Gaslov, with a collection of links to material compromising Bishop Pitirim.

Deacon Andrei Kuraev began occupying himself with spreading compromising material against bishops of RPTsMP in December 2008, on the eve of elections of a new patriarch. At the time Fr Andrei aggressively attacked Metropolitan Kliment, one of the major competitors of Kirill in the struggle for the patriarchal throne. Fr Andrei accused Metropolitan Kliment of plagiarism, violation of election procedures, and he made a number of unpleasant insinuations against him.

After his victory in the election, Patriarch Kirill elevated Fr Andrei to the position of archdeacon, investing him with a double orarion and a red kamelaukion.

The current attack by Archdeacon Andrei against Bishop Pitirim may be evidence of the elevation to the "very highest level" of the intention to discredit the RPTsMP hierarch who is the most loyal to corporate interests. Bishop Pitirim is famous for his open criticism of ecumenism and support of patriotic organization. In addition, he already has appeared at the center of several church scandals can be called "moral." (tr. by PDS, posted 14 June 2011)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

A new Russian Bible

by Dmitrii Rebrov
Neskuchnyi sad, 6 June 2011

On 1 June a new translation of the Old Testament into Russian came out in the publishing house of the Russian Bible Society (RBO). Over the course of the past 15 years, RBO has been engaged in the preparation of this text, but the long awaited event was overshadowed by an uproar: the group of authors who worked on the translation quit the Bible society, suddenly coming out against the publication of the "New Russian Bible."

The uproar, which culminated in a schism and the departure from the administration of the Russian Bible Society of the greater part of its founding fathers—and principally Archpriest Alexander Borisov, rector of the church of Saints Kosma and Damian in Shubin, president of RBO since 1991—was the consequence of a conflict between the executive director of the society and the group of translators, working on the new translation of the Old Testament under the leadership of the famous philologist and leading research associate of the Institute of Eastern Culture of the Russian State Humanities University, Mikhail Seleznev.

The new Russian Bible is a Russian translation of the Old Testament, intended to replace the prerevolutionary synodal version, which has been published in the course of the past several years in stages, as small leaflets. By the summer of 2010, this text was in the main ready for a final edition, with the exception of formal procedures of consent in consultation with the United Bible Societies. Unexpectedly, about a year ago, the head of the Old Testament translation group, Mikhail Seleznev, suggested that the production be halted. One of the reasons for this was the decision by the leadership of RBO to publish along with the new text under a single cover the "outrageous" New Testament translation of Valentina Kuznetsova, which came out in RBO as a separate volume in the middle of the 1990s, known to the Russian reader under the title "Joyous News." Just after its first publication it evoked a wave of criticism. "When you get acquainted with such texts, sometimes the feeling grows that you are not reading sacred scripture but are attending the commotion in the kitchen of a communal apartment," wrote in his open letter to the translator Metropolitan (then Hieromonk) Ilarion, a prominent theologian and now the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of RPTs. "In such a 'translation' there is a deliberate and consistent profaning of the sacred text, which is being shifted into a marketplace, bazaar, and kitchen language," he writes in his book "Orthodoxy," that appeared recently in the publishing house of the Presentation monastery. "The words 'idiot,' 'to crow,'  'scheme,' 'went nuts,' 'smart cookie,' and 'whore' do not correspond to either the spirit or letter of the sacred text, which requires a more reverent attitude. When the imprecision of the translation is magnified into a conscious attempt to debase the style, along with the author's weak command of Russian literary style, the result turns out to be altogether deplorable: 'Such are the kind of people who worm their way into homes and captivate silly floozies. These women have a heap of sins and a mass of desires. . . . And rogues and swindlers will go even farther—out of the frying pan into the fire—and lead astray both others and themselves' (2 Tim. 3, 6.13, in Kuznetsova's translation). In the Greek original there is no 'heap of sins' and 'mass of desires,' but 'women, laden by sins and led by various lusts.' There is no such 'out of the frying pan into the fire' in the Greek text even by allusion; the translator made up this expression herself."

The publication of the Old Testament translation under the same cover as such an ambiguous text could, to a certain extent, compromise it, especially under the pretentious name of the "New Russian Bible" that the publisher intended to use. Foreseeing the negative reaction of a substantial portion of the Orthodox community, Mikhail Seleznev suggested to delay the release of the combined edition and to translate the New Testament anew.

"Seleznev's Old Testament translation is measured and precise and is very different from Kuznetsova's translation, which was created for opposite purposes," says Archpriest Leonid Grilikhex,, who heads the department of biblical studies of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and is one of the prominent specialists in the area of sacred scripture in our country. "The goal of 'Joyous News,' is to bring the text of the Bible to the contemporary reader, in principle; in the West there has long been a tradition of Bible translations that provide the reader a certain adaptation of the text. The translation of Seleznev and his group has a different goal; it is continuing the tradition of 'scholarly' translation, like the so-called Jerusalem Bible in the West." One can hardly call the publication of two such different kinds of text under the same cover a good idea, Fr Leonid thinks.

"On my part, to criticize the work of a colleague would be quite incorrect," Mikhail Seleznev himself explained. "Especially since the experience of Valentina Kuznetsova's translations is that of a trailblazer, and we should be thankful to her for this. That translation was created at the end of the soviet era, and its has the imprint of the rebellious and dissident mood of the 1980s. 'Joyous News' is the product of a brave translation experiment. The translator intended to get as far away from the customary official translation of sacred scripture. In its time, acquaintance with Valentina Kuznetsova's New Testament translations made a very strong impression on me—it was a shock, but the shock of opening some new horizons of translation freedom: 'Can one really translate the Bible like that?' When new horizons are opened, you certainly must not go to extremes. But the space in which you live and work has become somehow wider."

Who will answer for the future of biblical scholarship? "I agreed to the publication of the translation of the Old Testament along with Kuznetsova's 'Joyous News' reluctantly. These are two very different texts stylistically," acknowledged the already former president of the Russian Bible Society, Archpriest Alexander Borisov. "Mikhail Seleznev asked to extend the time for working on the text, and I acted on this initiative on 2 June 2010. But to my amazement that evoked a very stormy and negative reaction from the executive director, Rudenko. In the course of the conflict he aggressively amassed supporters, conducted agitation among them, so that in the autumn at the general meeting, out of 70 participants our point of view was supported by only 20. In the end, I left the position of president of the Russian Bible Society, and the executive director effectively usurped power in RBO." Along with Father Alexander, a whole number of its founders, representatives of various Russian Christian communities, left the administration.

In the debates roiling RBO in the course of a whole year, to the discussion about timing has been added a dispute about the goals of the existence of the Bible society. To a great extent the "schism," Mikhail Seleznev thinks, has been produced by these contradictions in worldviews. "I consider it proper that RBO be an organization that, along with publishing activity, is engaged in the activity of enlightenment and scholarly research," he says. "Indeed, in the majority of countries, Bible societies are engaged exclusively in publishing and distributing the bibles, while the scholarly research activity in the area of biblical studies is supported by academic foundations or universities. But there are exceptions. For example, the German Bible Society undertakes to publish critical scholarly texts of sacred scripture in the languages of the original and it supports textual investigation in the area of biblical studies." Executive Director Rudenko and his supporters expressed opposing positions.

"Continuation of work on scholarly biblical translations and commentaries on the Bible after RBO has completed this work is a most important question which faces us today," Mikhail Seleznev concludes.  "Neither in the church nor in the academic world do there simply exist institutions dealing with the translation of the Bible into Russian. Now the fate of biblical studies is in our hands and not in the hands of the administrators of RBO, and it has become necessary for us to answer for it in the future."  For now the working group of RBO translators is seeking forms in which their team will be able to continue to exist further, but prospects of such existence are cloudy.

"That a new translation of the Old Testament is simply necessary—this is a generally recognized fact. The synodal translation is antiquated and even originally it had great shortcomings," Archpriest Leonid Grilikhez agreed. "In this regard, the experience of Seleznev and the group of translators who worked with him is valuable. However a church translation can be born only within the bosom of the church and it cannot be the work of any one group of translators. Here would be appropriate the method that was used in creating the synodal translation in the 19th century: with a unity of principles, the translation itself was produced by specialists of all four ecclesiastical academies; they checked up on one another and discussed. The Holy Synod officially reviewed and approved their texts. But now the church, unfortunately, is really not engaged in its own translation projects and when such project might begin is difficult to say."

On 1 June 2011, both translations under a single cover were nevertheless published by the Bible society. According to employees in the RBO store, the old editions of the "Seleznev" text will soon disappear from the shelves, and it will be possible to acquire this translation of the Old Testament only along with "Joyous News." At the present time, Mikhail Seleznev is head of the department of biblical studies in the General Church Graduate School; it is possible he will continue his translation work here. It is interesting that this year the graduate school began training master's degree candidates in "biblical studies" for the first time, whose competence would, in essence, include the translation of sacred scripture.

We recall that RBO is the largest publisher of biblical literature in Russia and is an inter-confessional public association that has the goal of publishing and distributing the text of sacred scripture.  Its membership includes Orthodox, Catholics, protestants, translators, academic scholars, and public figures, with equal rights in its board. However, the operative administration of the society is conducted not by the board but by the executive director. RBO is a member of the worldwide network of Bible societies, coordinated by the United Bible Society. Each of the affiliates maintains in practice complete autonomy and freedom of independent decision making, within the framework of common conceptions. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 June 2011)

Russian original posted on "" site, 11 June 2011

Russia Religion News Current News Items
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