Antipatriarchal Orthodox seek external support

by Irina Borogan
Segodnia 21June 1996

A group of dissident clergy calling themselves the Holy Synod of the Russian True Orthodox Church appealed on 20 June to the Estonian ambassador to Russia for asylum in Estonia for a portion of the clergy and laity of their church who desire to leave Russia. The True Orthodox church is officially registered by the ministry of justice but has been unable to gain possession of a church building for services. The Russians anticipate that the Estonian Orthodox Apostolic Church, which is separated from the Moscow patriarchate, will accept them into its jurisdiction. A similar request to Ukraine has been made and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church has expressed support for the Russian dissidents. The Ukrainians share the dissenters' hostility to the Moscow patriarchate, particularly because of the patriarchate's compromise with the KGB.

Earlier petitions by True Orthodox to Russian president Yeltsin and Moscow mayor Luzhkov for church buildings have had no results.*

The article suggests that the real reason for the appeals to non-Russian officials is simply to call attention to the dissidents' complaints.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Pravoslavnye groziat vyezdom v Estoniiu
*See the news item below: Former underground priest protests continuation of state discrimination (posted 1 July 1996)

Official agreement on cooperation between Orthodox Church and Russian state for social services

Sergei Krymskii

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 20 June 1996 Nezavisimaia gazeta reports an agreement between Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II and Russian Minister of Social Defence L.F. Bezlipkina.

The paper questions whether this agreement signals extraordinarily close relations between the patriarchate and the state, or a recognition of some moral obligation, or the church's defensive response to the intrusion of foreign sectarianism. This secularist, liberal newspaper concludes with a whimsical hope that Russian society will declare itself in favor of its Orthodox heritage.

"On 18 June in the patriarchal residence on Chisty Lane there was a signing ceremony between the Russian Orthodox church (in the person of Patriarch Alexis II) and the Ministry of Social Defence of the Population of the Russian federation (in the person of the minister Bezlepkina). According to the official communique: 'the agreement is directed toward the merging of efforts of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox church for restoring moral norms of social life and establishing social protection for the population in keeping with the high historical mission which the Russian Orthodox church has fulfilled in the course of centuries.' "For the first time since the Leninist decree on separation of church and state a dialogue has become possible between two entities which have been hostile to each other for a very long time. The agreement establishes the following: 1. coordination and joint conduct of various measures for the social defense of the population; 2. consequent formulation of a complex system of social defense, uniting the energies of state organs and the Russian Orthodox church; 3. establishment of a section in the ministry for mutual relations with religious confessions in order to bring about cooperative activity; 4. adoption of a plan for conducting regular joint actions in charity. "The patriarch stated that the 'agreement permits the church to perform, on a basis that almost has the force of law, the kind of thing that for a long time it has been forbidden to do, namely to perform social good.'"

Nezavisimaia gazeta expresses skepticism about this agreement insofar as it may be just proper words. "One wishes to believe that the official proclamation of participation by the Moscow patriarchate in such a noble affair will attract the participation of persons of the episcopal, priestly, and monastic vocations. In recent years clergymen have too often spoken out as teachers of morality." But "bitter experience" has taught one to be cautious. The paper suggests that this agreement could be just for show, using the common Russian word for such display--pokazuka. It also suggests that the Russian church compares unfavorably with the "western church" where Mother Teresa signifies the experience of performance of social service. Still the Russian church can point to a twentieth century example of charity, Grand Princess Elizaveta.

The paper suggests that perhaps bishops at the diocesan level will respond to the summons from the center. It speculates that this development might obviate the need to use legislation to fight against foreign religions because "then Russia will see the real Church of Christ in its earthly ministry and thus will finally and voluntarily make its choice for Orthodoxy as in the time of saints Antony and Feodosy of the Caves."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):Tserkov' v sotsiume
(posted 25 June 96)

Russian priest criticizes colleague who supports communists

by Nikolai Sitnikov
Segodnia, 13 June 1996 Priest Nikolai Sitnikov of the church of the Nativity of Saint John the Forerunner in Moscow published in Segodnia an open letter to Priest Alexander Shargunov,* criticizing him for his outspoken support of the communist presidential candidate G. Ziuganov. He states his amazement that an Orthodox priest could be so misled as to believe that the communists could really change from their essentially antireligious nature. English summary

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):U nas s nimi raznye puti i raznye rodiny
*see Keston News Service account of interview with A. Shargunov

(posted 17 June 96)

Russian paper laments Moscow's neglect of Ukraine

by Maksim Shevchenko
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 6 June 1996

Description: In a rather long article, Nezavisimaia gazeta writer Maxim Shevchenko describes the current church situation in Ukraine. After remarking that the church disputes in Ukraine remind one more of a premodern era, Shevchenko gives basic information about the four principal forces in the Ukrainian church warfare. He concludes by arguing against the idea that Ukraine should have ecclesiastical autonomy from Moscow and criticising the Moscow patriarchate for its ineffectiveness in maintaining healthy church relations with Ukraine. English summary

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):Tserkovnye smuty na rodine russkogo khristianstva

(posted 11 June 96)

Suppression of Orthodox in western Ukraine

by Sergei Krymskii

In Lvov oblast there are 2370 registered religious congregations. This includes Ukrainian Greek Catholics: 1355 congregations; Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox, 422; Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate, 261; ECB, 44; Pentecostals, 54; J. Witnesses, 30.

There also are 40 parishes of the canonical "Ukrainian Orthodox Church" , but it is languishing in humiliation. Whether it really has a relationship with the Moscow patriarchate is problematic. Its Bishop Augustine complains that his diocese seems to have been left to face alone the "enemies of the canonical Orthodox Church."

Nezavisimaia gazeta provides brief information about eight Orthodox parishes which have been forced to meet unofficially because authorities will not let them have their church buildings. Observing that existing law providing for religious freedom is being violated by the authorities, NG says that "peaceful coexistence [of religions] is provided in practice only for those who will declare their nationalistic essence."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):Novye katakomby galitsii

(posted 11 June 96)

Survey of religious affiliation and behavior among Russians

Segodnia, 6 June 1996

Survey of 1500 residents of Russia conducted by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion in May 1996:

Question: Do you consider yourself a believing person? If yes, to which confession do you belong? (percentage)
Religion All Men Women under
25-40 40-55 over
Orthodox 51 40 61 38 46 50 63
Other Chr. 1 1 11 2 0 1 1
Muslim 2 2 2 2 2 3 2
Other 1 1 1 0 1 1 1
No religion
6 5 7 7 8 7 3
Not believer 30 40 22 38 33 30 24
to say
9 11 7 12 10 9 6

Question: How often do you attend church (prayer building, mosque, etc)?
Frequency All Men Women under
25-40 40-55 over
1+ times
2 1 3 2 1 3 5
1-2 times
7 4 9 9 6 6 8
23 15 29 13 23 24 25
rarely 41 42 40 47 44 40 36
never 27 37 18 28 26 27 27

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):Veruem, ne vedaia dorogi k khramu
(posted 11 June 96)

Survey shows positive view of Orthodox Church, but not much attendance

Segodnia 22 May 1996

Summary: According to a survey of 1664 Russians, conducted in March-April 1996 by the Institute of Social Research, far more Russians are believers than attend church.
49% said they believe in God (in 1991 the figure was 34%).
6-7% said they attend church at least once a month (same figure as 1991).
88% said they have a positive opinion of the Russian Orthodox Church.
65% said they consider the Russian Orthodox Church necessary.
58% said they consider the Russian Orthodox Church just and competent.
40% said they believe in magic.
38% said they believe in astrology.
20% said they believe in transmigration of souls.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):Bolee treti rossiian veriat v magiiu
(posted 11 June 96)

Former underground priest protests continuation of state discrimination

by Priest Alexander Sergeev
Nezavisimaia gazetta 21 May 1996

Summary: Sergeev says that parishes of the True Orthodox Church have faced repeated frustrations in attempts to achieve legal recognition by the Russian government and especially to acquire the use of church premises. "Each time, when we petition the authorities for granting to us one or another unused church building, immediately an initiative group of the Moscow patriarchate is created and it is granted the premises we requested. It seems that the government is blind and deaf and has absolutely no wish to see or hear the church oppostion." Sergeev cites a decision by the Moscow city council whereby all church buildings were to be turned over only to parishes of the patriarchate. "With regret we observe that the law and justice in Russia serve exclusively the interests of Alexis II." On 6 February 1996 the Russian Ministry of Justice granted official registration to the Russian True Orthodox Church. Thereafter the number of registered parishes has grown, but these parishes have been unable to get premises for their gatherings. Thus they must still gather in the same way that they did under the soviets, when they were illegal: in private apartments or under the open sky. Reflecting the dissidents' fear of the hostility of the Yeltsin regime, Sergeev describes way the government pursued information about humanitarian aid sent to True Orthodox Christians. "Apparently this is legal, but the collection of such information can make it easier at the right time for certain services to completely wipe out our still existing underground organization." Further he says: "This majority cannot exit the catacombs because believers are not blind and they can see how the government is treating them." Sergeev concludes with a bitter comment that he can understand why Orthodox parishes in Estonia and Ukraine do not want to submit to the Moscow patriarchate and with a plea that the government give to True Orthodox Christians four churches in Moscow--or if not churches, at least land for building churches. He threatens that persecuted Orthodox believers will emigrate if the government does not treat them better.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):Oppozitsiia trebuet ravnopraviia

(posted 9 June 96)

Former prisoner of conscience under the Soviets supports the Communists

by Priest Dmitry Dudko
Zavtra, 30 April 1996

Summary: After a rambling discourse on the nature of the Russian nation as essentially Orthodox, Father Dudko poses the question: whom will the Russian nation vote for? He does not answer this question, but expresses his strong preference for the communists. Of the two principal candidates, neither Ziuganov nor Yeltsin can be considered Orthodox in the full sense of the word. But Ziuganov has taken atheism out of the Communist agenda and has tried to reach agreement with the church. So has Yeltsin, to the extent that he shows up in church with a candle in his hand and has promoted freedom of religion. "But with freedom also came excess." Yeltsin tried to look westward, but he has failed to find a common language with the West. Ziuganov's "chief achievement" is his reliance on native values, rejecting the West. But inevitably, Dudko says, such a reliance will cause him to depend on and promote Orthodoxy. This leads Dudko to conclude: "Thus I, the father confessor of the newspaper Den-Zavtra, advocate a union of communists with Orthodox."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read):O derzhave pravoslavnoi

(posted 8 June 96)

Yeltsin government persecutes Protestant believers:

A Keston News Service report documents what it calls " one of the most brazen violations yet of the 1993 constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and freedom of the press." A shipment of children's religious literature addressed to a Pentecostal group was seized by customs officials. This literature will not be released until "Moscow Patriarchate had subjected the text to expert review and confirmed that it was consistent with the Orthodox canons."

Full text :Officials Block Shipment

(posted 9 June 96)

Dissident priest calls for patriarch's repentance or resignation

by Priest Gleb Yakunin
Ekspress khronika, 17 May 1996

Gleb Yakunin accused Patriarch Alexis II of serving the KGB and declared that since the patriarch has been unwilling to admit to and repent of his past, it is understandable why the Estonian government has supported the independence of Orthodox churches in Estonia.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Otkritoe obrashchenie

English translation, excerpts: You have turned the temple into a house of trade

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