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Georgian Orthodox church quits WCC


(from Sob. inf., 22 May 1997)

By decision of its Holy Synod on 20 May the Georgian Orthodox church terminated its membership in the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. [see WCC press release]

What led to this decision was a declaration of 27 April 1997, which was unprecedented in the contermporary Orthodox world, made by Archimandrite Georgy of the Saint Shio of Mghvime monastery that the monastery "is breaking eucharistic fellowship with Patriarch-Catholicos Iliia II because of his ecumenical heresy." [text of letter]

On 30 April the head of the lavra of Saint David of Garedzhe, Archimandrite Grigory, associated himself with the letter of Archimandrite Georgy and the brothers, on 1 May the head of the Betania monastery, the monastic priest Haggai did the same, and on 15 May Archimandrit Georgy of the Zarzma monastery added his support.

On 19 May a large group of Georgian priests addressed Patriarch-Catholicos Illia II with a request "not to destroy the robe of Christ's church by schism" and to make the decision to withdraw from WCC. "Otherwise," the appeal said, "we will associate ourselves with the decision of the above mentioned brotherhoods and will break eucharistic fellowship with you." [text of letter]

The extreme gesture of the heads of the largest monasteries and provincial parishes of Georgia evoked the synod's decision that "the Georgian Orthodox church will refuse to participate in the ecumenicam movement and withdraw from the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches."

In its decision of 20 May the Holy Synod identified two reasons for the withdrawal of the Georgian Orthodox church from the WCC and CEC: "the continuing attempts of the WCC leadership to give the organization unique ecclesiological functions," as well as the circumstance that WCC "does not fully serve the interests of Orthodox churches." In the words of Georgy Andriadze, one of the leaders of the Tbilisi Orthodox society "Dzelevai," "No one expected such a radical decision by the Holy Synod. Obviously it was evoked by a real threat of schism in the Georgian Orthodox church.

The synod also decided to place a ban on the heads of the four monasteries and they were forbidden to perform liturgical services until they repent "for an attempt to bring schism to the church." In an open letter to Patriarch Catholicos Iliia II of 21 May they expressed their repentence. The decision of the Holy Synod was sent to the Geneva headquarters of WCC on 22 May. In Tbilisi the reaction of other local Orthodox churches to the decision of the Holy Synod is still not known. [WCC responses]

22.05.97 (tr. by PDS)

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Grusinskaia pravoslavnaia tserkov

(posted 3 July 1997)



Zavtra, 23 May 1997

In its May 23rd edition, the nationalist newspaper Zavtra highlighted the ongoing bitter dispute within the Russian Orthodox church between traditionalists and ecumenicists. It introduced this controversy with the following paragraph:

"Two months have passed since the conclusion of the work of the bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church and there has been no abatement of the discussion that was evoked by its decisions (or, as some think, the absence of such). In this regard the most acute polemic has swirled around the report made at the council by the president of the synodal theological commission, Metropolitan Filaret Vakhromeev. But whereas earlier, in the years of "stagnation," such arguments seethed inside a narrow circle of activists of the "Orthodox community," now we have the possibility of conducting them in the court of the entirety of the church people. Life has demonstrated that the discussion of the most important problem of contemporary Orthodoxy must be open and public. And so, Archpriest Vladimir Savitsky responds to Metropolitan Filaret (whose report to the council we also publish with some omissions)."

The article by Father Vladimir accused Metropolitan Filaret of distortion of history and theology in order to justify the Russian Orthodox church's participation in ecumenicism in the forms of membership in the World Council of Churches, as well as fellowship with Roman Catholics and with monophysites. In Filaret's history, the Russian Orthodox church has taken a leadership role in the ecumenical movement, while in Vladimir's version Orthodoxy has anathematized it.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Dom na peske

For earlier references to this dispute over ecumenism within Russian Orthodoxy, see the following items:

Traditionalist criticism of Moscow patriarchate
Whence This Anger?

On a related matter, the Georgian Orthodox church recently decided to withdraw from the World Council of Churches.

(posted 30 May 1997)

Yakunin loses suit

from Orthodox Christianity in Russia, 21 May 1997

On 21 May in regular session of the Khoroshev people's court Judge Liudmila Saltykova rendered a decision dismissing the suit in which the director of the Iraneus of Lyon Center, Orthodox publicist Alexander Dvorkin, was accused of slander and statements damaging the honor and reputation of new religious movements in his brochure "Ten Questions for the Obstrusive Stranger."

The suit was filed in November 1996 by the Public Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience headed by Gleb Yakunin (see Democratic organization criticizes Yakunin). It was joined by around thirty Krishaites and Scientologists as private individuals. Because of numerous Russian and western experts summoned as both respondants and plaintiffs, the trial on this suit was transformed into a unique months-long roundtable on problems of freedom of conscience in Russia.

The course of the case was changed when on 31 January Bishop Tikhon of Bronnits, president of the publishing council of the Moscow patriarchate, at a press conference in the House of Journalists declared that Patriarch Alexis II (see Patriarchate attacks Yakunin) was following the trial and the Moscow patriarchate viewed the suit as a sectarian suit against the Russian Orthodox church. In February 1997 the Krishaites and Scientologists withdrew from the suit.

Yakunin's committee decided to continue the case and two of its members, M. Osadchev and L. Levinson, declared themselves in court to be members of all sects enumerated in Dvorkin's brochure. However this did not rescue the affair from failing and the six-month case was terminated with dismissal of the suit. Alexander Dvorkin said on 21 May that the sectarians,"apparently, were not giving up and will sue me in other courts." Dvorkin said that during the trial the Iraneus Center, which has actively exposed the methods of several pseudreligious groups from the time of its creation in 1991, received unprecedented broad support from the church hierarchy, priests, and laity, as well as state officials and politicians.

21 May 1997


Additional report from Ecumenical News Service: Orthodox church wins

(posted 2 June 1997)

Attorney analyses religion law

REMARKS ON THE DRAFT "On introducing amendments and addenda to the federal law 'On freedom of religious worship'"
by Galina Krylova, attorney, Moscow

An attorney for one of the "new religions" that have proliferated in Russia in the 1990s concludes that the bill to change some provisions of the 1990 Russian law on religion, which seems to be lying idle for the time being in the State Duma, "is actually a new and distinct law." (But see Keston report from 3 June reporting "a surprise breakthrough" in the lawmaking activity.) Recognizing that the existing law may need some changes, Galina Krylova argues that it is preferable to the proposed new bill. "It is compatible in concept and content with the constitution and international rules and regulations."

Generally, the new bill entails substantial increase in government regulation of religious activity.

At the end of 1996, after hearings throughout the fall, changes were made in the draft which, according to Krylova, improved it somewhat from the point of view of human rights. But the law still would disadvantage "new religions."

"Even though the draft has certain amendments which bring it into conformity with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, ingeneral its purpose remains to restrict the activities of religious orgnaizations new or nontraditional for Russia, which consequently will lead to the restriction of religious freedom itself."

Full English text of analysis: Remarks on the draft . This document was provided by the Unification Church of Russia, Konstantin Krylov, Chairman.

Dissatisfaction with the current law has been expressed repeatedly by the Moscow patriarchate, as for example, in the patriarch's interview.

(posted May 28, 1997)

Further on Muslim conflict in Dagestan

Segodnia, May 16, 1997 (full text translated)

Deputies of the state duma have gone to help the republican authorities.

The situation in Buinakosk region of Dagestan, where on 12-13 May there were armed confrontations between followers of different sects of Sufism, Wahabis and Tarrikates, continues to heat up. Sources in the security agency of Dagestan told the Segodnia correspondent that the occasion for yssterday's renewal of tension was gunfire from a Wahabi post upon a police car. As a result residents of the village of Karamakhi were severaly injured.

All day in this village, where most of the population is Dargins, there was a protest demonstration at which residents from the nearby villages of Buinaksk, Levashinsk and Magaramkentsk districts were present. As representatives of the interior ministry of Dagestan reported from the scene to Segodnia, Dargins demand not only the punishment of the Wahabis but also the expulsion of their families from several districts of the republic. The heads of the administration of the three above-mentioned regions and republican authorities are trying to prevent possible bloodshed. The situation is worsened because armed groups of Wahabis are coming into Dagestan from Chechnia. They are building blockhouses near villages where their supporters live.

One of the versions that was expressed in the course of the recent joint investigation conducted by Segodnia, agencies of internal affairs and security of Dagestan and also local reporters of ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti has been confirmed, namely that the confrontation between Wahabis and Tarrikates was proviked by a "third force." The organizational preparation of the belligerents for engaging in a military solution of relations is amazing. The confrontation in Chabani-Makhi, supposedly resulting from a domestic dispute (as some representatives of the Dagestan government tried to explain to Segodnia correspondent) could grow into a conflict which will infolve not only the entire north Caucasus but also other regions of Russia where Muslims live. Segodnia has learned that several deputies of the state duma have flown to Dagestan on an urgent mission to try to help local authorities prevent bloodshed among Muslims. Earlier, with their help, a verbal agreement for a 45-day moratorium in military action was worked out. But it seems to have been broken. Whether this conflict can be resolved peacefully or can be localized coming days will tell.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Dagastan na porokhovoi bochke

(posted 16 May 1997)

Muslim conflict in Dagestan

by Ilia Maksakov, Maxim Sevchenko

Nezavisimaia gazeta, May 15, 1997 (full text translation)

Religious causes of the conflict still have not been eliminated

Dagestan. Authorities in Dagestan again have demonstrated their ability to control the situation in their troubled republic and to manage interethnic and religious conflicts. A commission of the state soviet, the national assembly, and government of the republic of Dagestan, led by the vice president Said Amirov conducted conversations with participants of the conflict in the village Chabanmakhi and achieved an agreement between them for an armistice and liberation of hostages. As reported earlier, on Monday an armed confrontation broke out between representatives of the Sufi Islamic sect that is traditional in the republic and Wahabbis, as a result of which one person was killed, three wounded, and 22 taken hostage.

As the NG correspondent reported from the scene, as a result of the negotiatins in which the minister for national affairs and external relations of Dagestan, Magomedsalikh Gusaev, and state duma deputy, Nadirwhakh Khachilaev (who is president of the Union of Muslims of Russia) also participated, a verbal agreement was achieved for a forty-five day moratorium in military activity and for beginning the quest for a way to manage the conflict. The two sides of the confrontation, which included 300 supporters of the Sufi sect that is traditional for Dagestan and 150 Wahabbis, reached an agreement, whose text NG has distributed. In this document participants of the conflict profoundly regret what happened and express condolences to the relatives and neighbors of the victims. In order to prevent confrontations in the future and achieve normalization of conditions the parties undertake to remove positions of illegal military formations and send people home and to create a joint group for preparing suggestions for the state soviet, national assembly, and government of Dagestan on normalization of circumstances and removal of causes that led to the conflict. An agreement was reached that armed groups will not be permitted within residential areas, other than security agencies, and that force will not be used in dealing with future issues. The commission of the republican leadership came to the conclusion about the necessity of a continuation of the dialogue for review and resolution of questions raised by both sides.

According to reliable information, the immediate cause of the conflict was the murder of the brother of the leader of one of the local settlements, Abakar Akaev, who was interferring with the spread of Wahabbism. His car was shot up by four people. He was killed and two murderers were arrested. The release of the two others was demanded in exchange for the liberation of the hostages. It is still not known whether that release took place. Nadirshakh Khachilaev declared that Wahabbis are irreconciled to the Sufi sect of traditional Sunnite Islam in Chechnia. The active adherents of "pure Islam," as Wahabbis call themselves, reject the Sufi schools that are traditional for the region and are integrally associated with the culture of Chechens and Dagestanis. Wahabbis are well organized and armed. According to several estimates, around 250 Chechens are prepared to come to their aid, and they have massed on the border of Dagestan and in case of prolonged conflict could intervene in armed confrontation. Precise declarations to this effect have been made by the famous field commander Khottab, who is a supporter of Wahabbi Islam. In an interview with a NG reporter, Nadirshakh Khachilaev suggested that there is no prospect of an immediate solution of the conflict because it has a religious premise and ultimate resolution can be achieved only by educational work aimed at leading Wahabbis to renounce their understanding of Dagestani Islam, which evokes the hostility and confrontations among the population. According to various calculations, the number of Wahabbis is growing, although they do not have a clearly organized apparatus.

According to the official version of events, reported to Interfax by the secretary of security of Dagestan, Magomed Tolboev, the confrontation resulted from a domestic dispute between two cousins who were followers of the two Islamic factions, which led to a intra-Islamic conflict. A consultant for the administration of religious affairs of the Dagestan governemnt, Murtazaali Yakubov, noted that the leadership of the republic and the local clergy oppose Wahabbism in the republic, since it produces conflict. He said that in the past year, on the basis of intra-Islamic conflicts, the head of the administration of Karamakh settlement was killed and there were several incidents of mass confrontation of believers that led to human casualties. Murtazaali Yakubov noted that Wahabbism and Sufism agree on many points, but there are differences. Wahabbism, on the one hand, is more orthodox; but on the other hand, it is more liberal in certain matters, which attracts adherents. Among the differences between Sufism and Wahabbism is the former's way of adapting Islam to local traditions and historical circumstances. (tr. by PDS)

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Vlasti dobilis zakliucheniia peremiriia

(posted 15 May 1997)

Analyses of Dagestan situation from RFERL:
"Dagestan Faces Religious Rivalries And Tensions," by Elizabeth Fuller
"Dagestan's Religious Tensions," by Bruce Pannier

Armed conflict among Muslim factions

Segodnia, 14 May 1997

"Soon Russia will find out what the difference between Wahabis and Tarrikates is.

The incident that occurred in the night of 12-13 May in the village of Chabani-Makhi of Buinaksk region of Dagestan not only disturbs the population of this region but has elicited great concern among the Muslim clerics of Russia. 'We are already accustomed to various kinds of emergency,' one of the security experts of Dagestan declared in a conversation with a Segodnia correspondent, 'but now for the first time we are forced to deal with the consequence of armed confrontation arising on a purely religious basis.' . . ."

On 14 May 1997 RFE/RL gave the following report:

"SITUATION CALM IN DAGESTANI VILLAGE. Order has returned to the village of Chabani-Makhi in Dagestan where one person was killed and three hospitalized in a confrontation yesterday between Islamic groups. Members of Tarikat Sufi orders and the Wahabis clashed briefly, and the Tarikats took 18 Wahabis captive, prompting some 200 armed Wahabis to take refuge in their mosque and call for support from other Wahabis in the area. Religious leaders were called in to mediate, and the two groups agreed to solve to solve their differences peacefully."

More complete information was reported in Russian newspapers on the same day. The Tarrikates apparently are trying to drive the Wahabis from their village.

Full English translation from Segodnia and Nezvisimaia gazeta. (posted 14 May 1997)

Traditionalist criticism of Moscow patriarchate

by Konstantin Dushenov
Moskva, No. 2 (1997)

"Orthodox Russia has enemies..." Metropolitan Ioann of St. Petersburg

"The core of the Russian church is being eaten away (alas, with the support of some of the bishops) by two destructive diseases, two insidious heresies: renovationism and ecumenism."

After 1991 the traditionalist element in the Russian Orthodox church emerged to public view with special force and it continues vigorously to challenge the leadership of the Moscow patriarchate. In the first half of the 1990s this element had a prominent champion in the person of the metropolitan of St. Petersburg, the successor in that post of Patriarch Alexis II. Metropolitan Ioann died 2 November 1995, but, as this article demonstrates clearly, his memory remains strong and inspires an insistent attack upon the senior hierarchs of the church. (For a representative of a considerably different Russian point of view on these matters, see the article by Fr. Georgy Chistiakov that appeared in October 1996, Whence This Anger?)

Konstantin Dushenov criticizes especially sharply Metropolitan Ioann's successor in St. Petersburg, Metropolitan Vladimir. He accuses Vladimir of promoting egregious violations of Orthodox traditions in his support of the World Council of Churches, his fellowship with Catholics, and his advocacy of adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

Dushenov's advice: "As regards Metropolitan Vladimir, it will not be irrelevant to recall that the fifteenth rule of the seventh ecumenical council categorically requires all Christians, without awaiting a church trial and conciliar determination, to withdraw from communion with such a bishop who publicly from the pulpit preaches heresy that has been condemned by the church and the holy fathers."

Full English translation : By silence is God betrayed

(posted 12 May)

President Boris and Saint Boris

Reuters, 9 May 1997 (full text)

MOSCOW -- President Boris Yeltsin (pictured) inaugurated the resurrection of an ancient Moscow church on Thursday, turning for help to his own patron saint in promoting a new age of reconciliation and accord in post-communist Russia.

"The revival of holy shrines is the mark of our times," a solemn Yeltsin told onlookers gathered in the rain after Patriarch Alexiy, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, blessed the foundation stone of the Church of St Boris and St Gleb.

Sons of the 11th century Slav ruler Vladimir, Boris and Gleb were killed by a power-hungry relative in a struggle for control of Kiev, then Russia's main principality. They later became the first Russian saints canonized by the Orthodox Church.

A 15th century temple devoted to Boris and Gleb was pulled down in 1930 as a part of Stalin's anti-religion campaign. "Boris and Gleb refused to turn to force to save their lives," said Alexiy, dressed in formal green and gold robes. "In the eyes of pagans they lost, in the eyes of Christians they won by proving their cause by the power of the spirit."

Yeltsin, who spearheaded the struggle against communist dictatorship and later steered Russia into bold free market economic and political reforms, resorted to force twice in confrontations with his political opponents. In August 1991, he led resistance to a hardline communist coup against then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The failure of the coup ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in December that year. Three people were killed during the coup.

In October 1993, Yeltsin sent tanks to quell a mutiny by supporters of the dissolved Soviet-era parliament in Moscow. More than 100 people were killed, but Yeltsin's communist and nationalist foes won dominating positions in the State Duma lower house of the new-look parliament.

Yeltsin, who won a second and final term in office last July, has said he wants to put an end to the political divisions of the past and bequeath his successor a country with a stable political system. Last November, he proclaimed that the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, still officially celebrated, would henceforward be marked as the Day of Reconciliation and Accord.

Yeltsin also proclaimed 1997 the Year of Reconciliation and Accord. But his communist opponents have poured cold water on the plan saying that they will continue efforts to change the course of Yeltsin's reforms and try to oust him.

In his pursuit of peace in Russia, Yeltsin has urged all the nation's movements and forces to take part in working out a new "national idea" to replace communism. Religion, and especially Russian orthodoxy, is seen as a vital part of such an ideology.

"Christ is risen!" the atheist former communist Yeltsin told onlookers on Thursday, using a traditional Easter greeting.

He later marked the anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany by laying a wreath at a war memorial. On Friday, Yeltsin will review the first military parade on Red Square since the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Reuters)

(posted 11 May 1997)

Crowds attend Moscow Easter liturgy

Icon of the Resurrection

Moskovskii komsomolets, 29 April 1997
(full text translated)

More than 120 thousand Muscovites came to the Easter service on the night of 26-27 April. Of that number, only 55 thousand were actually able to get into the church buildings and the remainder had to stand outside. The feast-day liturgy was celebrated in 185 churches in the capital.

The state administration of internal affairs of Moscow told MK, 5886 police officers were deployed by the Moscow militia to maintain public order. Outside the churches during the time of the procession, 535 were arrested for disturbing the peace. In the afternoon police removed from the grounds of the churches 210 bodies of citizens who had passed out from alcohol .

In the morning another 120 thousand townsfolk came to the churches to bless Easter bread (kulich) and eggs.

However this year a certain decline in Easter activity was noted. For example, last Easter more than 165 thousand persons attended Moscow's churches.

Especially greater gatherings of people were observed, as usual, outside the main cathedrals of the Transfiguration, Christ the Savior, and Saint Daniel's monastery.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Posle paskhi

(posted 1 May)

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