Moscow mayor stonewalls church's quest for premises

Segodnia, 21 September 1996 (summary)

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov told Segodnia reporter that he does not approve the transfer of two churches to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (RPTsZ). Old Believers offered to donate the buildings, which were standing empty, because the government had refused to let the RPTsZ have any of the Orthodox churches in Moscow. Mayor Luzhkov said that he personally opposes the transfer to RPTsZ of any premises in the capital. There are two active RPTsZ parishes in Moscow, one of which meets in a private apartment and the other in a hospital. The sobor of the RPTsZ, meeting in New York, decided to move forward with plans to collect funds in order to purchase premises for a synod office in Moscow, in order to facilitate communications between Russia and the leadership of the church outside of Russia.

The newspaper report about the sobor observed that surprisingly little attention was given to the RPTsZ activity in Russia, in contrast to the previous sobor, in France, at which "the conflict with two bishops of the Free Russian Church was intensely discussed. This time there were amazingly few decisions regarding Russia, which demonstrates the continuing practical removal of the leadership of RPTsZ from Russian affairs. The sobor decided to return to the old suggestion to establish a bishops' conference in Russia, which would report to the synod. At the present time the RPTsZ has three diocesan bishops in Russia, Bishop Evtukhy Kurochkin of Ishim and Siberia, Bishop Veniamin Rusalenko of the Black Sea and Kuban, and Bishop Agafangel Pashkovsky of Simferopol. It seems that after several scandals and discord the synod has decided to act in Russia with the greatest caution. The sobor recommended to Bishop Arseny Kiselev of Briansk and Lugansk, a protoge of Free Russian Church Archbishop Valentin of Suzdal who transferred to the RPTsZ, that he spend three years as an ordinary monk; he naturally did not agree."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Zarubezhnaia tserkov reshila priobresti sobstvennost v Moskve

Orthodox priests minister to border guards

Segodnia, 26 September 1996 (full text)

Military service personnel of faroff border posts of the Transbaikal border district have received the possibility to be concerned about the salvation of their souls. In accordance with an agreement on cooperation with the Orthodox diocese of Chita, a group of its priests traveled to the barracks where they conduct meetings with the border guards, discuss the basics of Orthodoxy with the servicemen, and distribute religious literature. According to the press service of the Transbaikal border district, visits of the Orthodox priests to the outposts have become a common phenomenon. Over the course of several months, "ministers of the cult" have performed religious rites at the request of defenders of the motherland. And the border guards, in their turnhave begun to give substantial aid to the church in restoring churches which had been destroyed.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): S avtomatom i evangeliem

Premier Chernomyrdin and his hometown church


Segodnia, 7 and 11 September 1996 (summary and excerpts)

Segodnia newspaper reported that Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin joined Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II for the dedication of the restored church of St. John the Divine in the premier's home town, Cherny Otrog in Orenburg region. In its first report on the matter the paper said that Chernomyrdin provided the money for the restoration project. In a followup article the paper reported that the rector of the church said the money for the restoration came from an investment group called "International Economic Cooperation," the gas industry, and the Orenburg regional charitable fund "Conscience." The first article said the following: "The village church of John the Divine, consecrated yesterday by the patriarch of Moscow and all-Russia, Alexis II, was built with the immediate financial assistance of the prime minister, which will be permanently declared by the plaque on the wall: 'This sacred temple in the name of the apostle-evangelist John the Divine was erected with the blessing of His Holiness Alexis II, patriarch of Moscow and all-Russia, and by the labors and zeal of the president of the government of Russia, Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin, 1995-1996.'" The second article said: "The church, which was built over a period of seventeen months, was consecrated by Patriarch Alexis II. It is possible that some journalists were misled by the participation in the solemn ceremony of the head of the government of Russia, Viktor Chernomyrdin, whose relatives live in the village."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Viktor Chernomyrdin postroil khram

Viktor Chernomyrdin na tserkov ne zhertvoval

Chinese Christian sect active in FSU


Nezavisimaia gazeta, 5 September 1996 (summary and excerpts)

In a relatively long (2300 words) article, Nezavisimaia gazeta described the activity of a Christian sect that arose in China and now is active in several regions of Russia. The reporter states that a multitude of brochures and books are circulating in Russia "coming from the pen of Witness Lee and representing the missionary organization 'Living Stream.'" The sect is registered in Russia under the name "Church of Home Meetings."

"The first preachers of the sect came to the USSR in 1984 as students in Russian language courses in Leningrad. With the help of local evangelists, representatives of the sect began to translate into Russian the tracts of Witness Lee, which then were printed in West Germany and distributed in the USSR. At the end of the 1980s, after the liberalization of the censorship of the mails, sectarians advertised an address in Seattle from which it was possible to order books by Li Chansho (Witness Lee) from the Soviet Union. At present, the activity of the Church of Home Meetings is expanding in Russia and in the other republics of the USSR. Besides publishing activity, intensive work for conversion to the "true faith" is going on. 300 American and 100 Taiwanese missionaries are permanently located in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kiev. Humanitarian aid also functions as a means of indoctrination."

The article contains details of the theology of the sect and describes its hostility to the priesthood and ecclesiastical institutions.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Missiia doma sobranii

Information from the Moscow pariarchate


Nezavisimaia gazeta, 20 September 1996 (summary and excerpts)

New church for Russia's icon treasures

Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II consecrated the Moscow church of Saint Nicholas in Tolmachi district to be the parish church of the Tretiakov art gallery and to house specifically the two magnificent iconic treasures of Russia, the Vladimir Mother of God and Andrei Rublev's Holy Trinity. The opening of this church represents a solomonic compromise. "Now at the same time believers will be able to pray before the icons. . . and nonbelievers and non-Orthodox will be able to admire the masterpieces which will remain on the inventory of the museum. The conflict, about which publicists have written so much and with varying degrees of passion, was resolved easily and elegantly."

Ecumenical activity of the patriarchate defended

The department of external church relations of the Moscow patriarchate issued materials defending the church's participation in the ecumenical movement. The department reported: "The participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the ecumenical movement was discussed at a session of the theological commission at which Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk presided. The immediate occasion for the discussion was preparation for the session of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in Geneva and the upcoming November world conference on "Missions and Evangelization" in Brazil." The department then noted contemporary criticism of the church's participation in WCC, which some consider to be virtually heresy. In defense the department asserted that discussion of varying views on the Truth is necessary, while the impossibility of such discussion leading to any change in the church's theology has been frequently demonstrated. "Ecumenical dialogue is that form of bloodless dispute which was impossible in the middle ages."

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

Autocratic bishop in Altai


Nezavisimaia gazeta, 5 September 1996

V. Svintsov, a member of the Altai department of the Union of Writers of Russia, described current problems of the Orthodox church in the Altai region, comparing the bullying actions of the ruling bishop with those by which atheist agents of the Soviet regime bullied the church during the time of the USSR. Bishop Antony Masendich heads the Altai diocese. Orthodox believers there call him "Metropolitan of the Soviet Union." [or, literally, "thrice Soviet metropolitan"]

Svintsov summarizes the biography of Antony. He started as a priest in the Alei cathedral in Altai. He then moved to Baku and then to Ukraine, where he became an Orthodox Bishop. Then he transferred to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, in which he became a metropolitan. In that office, Svintsov charges, Antony "organized pogroms of clergy and parishioners who remained faithful to the Moscow patriarchate." When he failed to win election as patriarch of the UAOC, Antony "repented" and returned to the Moscow patriarchate and was assigned to Altai.* He brought with him his "team of young 'arkhimandritchiks,'" who now serve as agents of his oppressive measures in Altai.

Antony has transferred respected and longsuffering priests to remote parishes. Antony's agents take over the desirable parishes. Newly opened churches are compelled to buy their churchware from the bishop at artificially elevated prices. If parishes try to obtaiin churchware from more favorable sources, the bishop threatens them with ecclesiastical discipline. The bishop has raised the costs of church services. Of special significance is the price the bishop assesses for an antimensium, without which a new church cannot use its altar.

Ironically, if a priest does submit to the bishop's demands and pays the "tribute" he comes under suspicion. The bishop's agents demand to know the source of his money, in the interest of gaining access to a slice of the income. "All of this evokes discontent among believers," Svintsov concludes, "and naturally undermines the authority of the Russian Orthodox church in Altai."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Pisma iz eparkhii

*More details about Ukrainian Orthodox church circumstances.

(posted 9 September 1996)

American sect draws Moscow youth


Segodnia, 6 September 1996

The newspaper reports the flourishing activity among Russian youth of an American cult-like religious organization calling itself the Church of Christ.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8 capacity to read): Dikii religioznyi zapad v Moskve

English translation: Wild religious west

(posted 8 September 1996)