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State documents support censured priest

by Boris Kolymagin
from Brotherhood of St. Filaret
1 November 1997

As already reported, according to the decree of the most holy patriarch Alexis II, signed 9 October, Fr Georgy Kochetkov remains under the ban on his priestly ministry "until he repents," and twelve of the eminent members of his community have been barred from communion "until they repent sincerely." This decision, as the decree says, was made "in connection with the completion of the work . . .by the commission investigating the incident that happened during the divine liturgy in the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki on 29 June 1997 and the determination by this commission that violence and insult were committed against the priest Mikhail Dubovitsky, as well as the elucidation of the causes that led to this, expressed in systematic acts of arbitrariness on the part of Fr Georgy Kochetkov both during divine worship and in other activity of the parish which he headed, which caused a disruption of ecclesiastical peace and the creation of a conflict situation, as well as offense not only for Orthodox people but also for those seeking the way to the church." The most holy patriarch, bishop of Moscow, made this decision without once communicating with or hearing from either Fr Georgy or anyone from the community of the Dormition church. What is more, he signed the decree virtually on the eve of the publication of documents from the police, procuracy, and ministry of health of the Russian federation containing data of an objective investigation of the 29 June events and, consequently, he did not take them into account. However, on 8 October the 18th police precinct of Moscow adopted a resolution refusing to pursue a criminal case for violation of public order in the Dormition church on 29 June of this year. That is, finally it was officially and definitively established that no one beat Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky nor used force against him in the church on that day (in neither a juridical nor a moral sense can compulsory, involuntary hospitalization be called violence). The investigation in this police precinct was conducted on the basis of a complaint from Fr Mikhail's wife, which alleged that on "29 June he was subjected to violent measures and sent to the psychiatric hospital . . . without any basis." Thereby the 18th police precinct repudiated the 1 July letter of its commander, Senior Lieutenant A.L. Rimsky, which he wrote at the request of Archbishop Arseny, the patriarch's assistant bishop, in which he said that the police officers discovered a "fight between priests" at the altar of the church and that this was not the first time this kind of thing happened. (?!)

Unfortunately, it was this document that was used as the basis for the most holy patriarch's decree of 2 July banning Fr Georgy Kochetkov from his sacred ministry, "for outrageous actions insulting the honor . . . of the priest Mikhail Dubovitsky, and leading to physical violence against him at the altar of the named church." Besides, on 14 October the commission, formed by order of the deputy minister of health of the Russian federation, who had reviewed the materials dealing with the reasons for the hospitalization of M.V. Dubovitsky (i.e. Fr. Mikhail), stated that the "psychological condition of M.V. Dubovitsky is characterized by interruption of behavior by inappropriate response, that makes it impossible to establish verbal contact with him because of his repeated outburts calling for help against supposed substantive threats to his life." The commission came to the conclusion that "at the time of his hospitalization, M.V. Dubovitsky was in an acute reactive state, which corresponds to acute reaction to stress accompanied by interruption of behavior. . . . Under the circumstances, the steps taken by Dr. G.L. Shafran--his decision to remove M.V. Dubovitsky from the irresolvable psycho-traumatic situation-- WAS JUSTIFIED, because if he had acted otherwise the physician would have been charged with failure to render medical aid."

Finally, on 20 October the local procurator issued the resolution, refusing to put forward a criminal case for the illegal hospitalization of Fr. Mikhail Dubovitsky in a psychiatric clinic. The resolution states that "when the first-aid team arrived at the church, they were led into the vestry and the corridor, where the physician caught sight of a man who was lying on the floor, calling for help and reading psalms. All of this was happening while no one was bothering this man and no one was using force on him. The physician Shafran observed signs of acute psychological disorientation and decided, in accordance with the law of the Russian federation "Concerning psychiatric aid and guarantees of the rights of citizens during its administration," that Dobovitsky should be hospitalized involuntarily, inasmuch as he was at that time a public threat and his behavior could lead to conflict among parishioners of the church. Shafran declared that the rector of the church, Kochetkov, objected to the compulsory hospitalization of Dubovitsky. [ see original text of the prosecutor's decision]

Why was the church commission that had been created for an objective investigation of the 29 June incident in such a hurry to prepare its decision and, consequently, the decision of the most holy patriarch in advance of the final, objective determination by the secular agencies regarding matters of this sad case? Could it be that the commission did not know that the civil agencies were completing their work and that their decision would soon be rendered (in the haste of the commission under the presidency of Bishop Alexis Frolov, even all of the immediate witnesses of the events were not questioned, although the master tried to claim otherwise)? Isn't it obvious that even now, when the decision of the civil investigations has been rendered and has shown objectively that Fr Georgy is factually and juridically innocent, as are the acolytes and members of the church council of the Dormition parish who have been under ban, the church hierarchy does not intend to review its obviously unjust decision?

At the same time Archbishop Arseny, in violation of the statute on the administration of the RPTs and the civilian statutes of the parish, has issued a decree naming a commission for "auditing the financial and economic activity and disbursal of property," even though by this statute such a commission is elected only by the parish meeting and from among the members of the parish meeting. After the delivery to Fr Georgy on 13 October of the most holy patriarch's decree, the 2000-member community as a whole was literally thrown out of the church of the Dormition in Pechatniki by the newly appointed rector and warden Archpriest Oleg Klemyshev. Absolutely all workers in the church were expelled from their work without warning and proper procedures by the most crude and illegal means. The zealotry of Fr Oleg reached the point where he personally expelled from the church the young woman, the civilian night watchperson, and replaced her with "his" man. And just before this he commanded her to leave and she spent the whole night keeping watch on the street, pacing around the church, which was not included in her job description and thus constituted illegal and arbitrary infringement upon her person. The church employee even had to write a declaration to the police in order to protect herself from illegal compulsory acts of the new "warden" in a cassock.

Here it must be noted that the use of force is an ordinary matter for Fr Oleg Klemyshev and it even is something that he nurtures. Before the whole community at the conclusion of the Sunday liturgy on 5 October he, still in his priestly vestments, did not restrain himself from attacking a person who was trying to start videotaping the rector, who at the time was a person who was out of control (at the time he was still the acting rector). The incident that led to this was the singing of the prescribed greetings for the patriarch, rector, and the parishioners on Fr Georgy's birthday. At this time the videocamera was torn from his hands.

It seems a nightmare to contemplate that Fr Oleg, once he was appointed rector of the Dormition church, brought to the sanctuary a certain V. Sergeev (the acolyte of Archprist Alexander Shargunov), who on 29 June in front of everybody, hundreds of people, attacked one of the staff of the church of the Dormition in Pechatniki, and punched him in the nose and shed blood inside the church, trying to reach the sanctuary after the plaintive cries of Fr Mikhail for help. Incidentally, even the police did nothing about this violent person whom they removed from the church and who was led away by people from the Presentation monastery, nor did the patriarchal commission for investigating what happened on that day, but no conclusions were made regarding Fr Oleg or others like him who used violence, who were in the church of the Dormition in Pechatniki and, alas, are still there to the present.

It is possible to say that the "ideological" opponents of Fr Georgy, despite their titanic efforts, have not achieved all the goals for which they have fought: Fr Georgy has not been unfrocked and his parish community has not been officially dispersed, as happened in 1994 when the community of Fr Georgy was thrown out of the Vladimir cathedral of the Presentation monastery and "united" with the community of the church of the Dormition in Pechatniki.

Trying to compensate, the "opponents" of Fr Georgy now are earnestly attempting to spread false rumors that Fr Georgy has been serving the liturgy at his home in violation of the decree of the most holy patriarch and that some persons who had been excommunicated were continuing to commune with him.

However, it is true that one "success" of the "opponents" is evident: the church which had been filled with young people, children, and adults, and with Christian love and joy is now empty. Fr Georgy and other excommunicated brothers are meekly bearing their penance, which causes pain for all members of the community who are well aware of their innocence. The community is seeking for itself other temporary churches, where, as before at Pechatniki, love and peace will reign at the Eucharist and not dissension and the sectarian spirit of isolation and exclusivity. Despite the difficult circumstances, the Saint Filaret Orthodox Institute that Fr Georgy Kochetkov heads conducted on 15 - 17 October an international theological conference, "Living Tradition," which shows the dedication of Fr Georgy and other advocates of the missionary and catechetical, as well as eucharistic, movement to overcome any trials and to continue the missionary and educational ministry for the benefit of the Holy Church. (tr by PDS)

Russian text: Obshchina o. Georgiia Kochetkova izgoniaetsia

(posted 2 November 1997; amended 15 November 1997)

Implementing new religion law

RFE/RL 30 October 1997

Captain Joseph Smith, the Salvation Army's head of social services in northwest Russia, told our correspondent that he is not worried for now. "The Russian Foreign Ministry invited the Salvation Army in 1991 to do charity work. We don't expect to have any problems caused by the new law," he says. Nevertheless, based on the new law, the Salvation Army is being abruptly evicted from three state-owned halls that it has been renting for its church services in St. Petersburg. Smith said he considers these to be isolated incidents.

Full text of RFE/RL report: Salvation Army encounters resistance


Under New Law Russians Return Synagogue Papers

WASHINGTON -- The Russian authorities, citing a controversial new law on religious associations, have withheld registration of a synagogue in the provincial town of Bryansk, a Washington-based Jewish group said on Thursday.

The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews said the directorate of justice in Bryansk, 320 km (200 miles) southwest of Moscow, sent an application for registration back to the synagogue leaders on Oct. 15.

The synagogue has been operating since the early 1990s but needed to register because the new law only gives automatic recognition to places of worship active for at least 15 years, a spokesman for the group said.

"We are disregarding the application ... and are returning the documents presented by you," the directorate wrote.

"What is happening in Bryansk is exactly what we predicted would take place in Russia's provinces under the auspices of the religion bill," Micah Naftalin, national director of the union, said in a statement.

"This law is in effect a hunting license, designed to intimidate and persecute Jews and Western-oriented Christians, despite all the assurances to the contrary," he added.

Supporters of the law, signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in September, say it will help tackle the rash of dangerous sects which have stepped in to fill in the spiritual gap left when the communist system collapsed.

Opponents says it is designed to protect the Russian Orthodox Church and that local officials can use it even against traditional minority sects and religions.

The spokesman for the Washington group, Jason Silberberg, said the Bryansk authorities, in withholding registration of the synagogue, cited an article requiring religious groups to submit a long list of documents. (Reuters)

Ukrainian paganism grows

Izvestiia, 31 October 1997

Our correspondent managed to penetrate their secret apartment and life.

Pagan churches arose in Ukraine four years ago but their strength has grown only recently. According to the statements of their "father" they are quite confident that they will reach their basic goal--the expulsion of the "invading Christian church" from the entirety of their native territory of Kievan Rus. Under the direction of their distant American center, they are well-off materially and they do not admit just anybody into their circle but only people with good standing and preferably with higher education. In their ranks are writers, artists, and the rest of the flower of the country's intelligentsia.

Within the sphere of interest of the "champions of the historic truth in Kievan Rus" lie both Russia and Belorussia where they are trying to create their representation. It has been determined that soon their outposts will appear in Moscow and Tiumen.

The ranks of pagans are certainly growing. They are using the best auditoriums and air times on radio and television for their presentations. But their basic activities do not occur there but in the apartments where the "enlightened fathers" gather far from outsiders eyes. I managed to get into one of these residences.

The church father of RUNVIRA ("Indigenous Ukrainian National Faith [Rodnaia ukrainskaia nationalnaia vera]," which is the meaning of the acronym that is the name of the largest of the neopagan churches), the writer and doctor of sciences Stepan Pinchuk, met me in somewhat strange clothing, seeming something like athletic wear with a blue and yellow ribbon on the collar. Around his neck was a shiny gold chain with a large pendent with the sun and the national trident. "It is not gold; it is just a Chinese product made from 'self-refined metal,'" Stepan Petrovich assured me. "Do all Runvists have such a thing?" I inquired. "No. Only the enlightened and those able to teach. They are called Runfathers and Runmothers." "Are there many of them?" "Relatively. We have communities in every province and several cities have several. But mine is the oldest and largest.

Having checked beforehand that I had removed my shoes (expensive carpets covered the floor and it would be rude to soil them), the "Runfather" led me into a room where the neopagan "meetings without witnesses" are held. On the table was an expensive television, Panasonic, and a famous sound system. On the walls were icons, crucifixes, and other Orthodox symbols. Noting my amazement, since the Runvists do not tolerate images of gods, much less Christian gods, Stepan Petrovich explained: "I consider them simply objects of art."

Artists, poets, and writers constitute the framework of the neopagan church which was organized in Kiev on the foundation of the Union of Writers of Ukraine. Runvira brought together literary figures who are well regarded in the country, Sergei Plachindy, Anatole Kachan, Nikolai Lugovik, and many others. The path of the organizers of the church was strategically correct; having formed the first church out of people with great names, the flower of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, they guaranteed that many new people would flow into it.

"Our faith is indigenous, but the Christian Moscow faith is an intruder," Stepan Petrovich preaches, while at the same time waving in front of me the sacred books of Runvists, "Faith of Magic" and the ritual guide. Pinchuk is sure that they contain all truth of slavic life and will certainly revive the spirit of the Ukrainian nation and expel the "Muscovites" from it. He preaches this in his home meetings. One of the basic premises is that Christian churches must be either closed or turned into museums, or else the icons should be removed from them and the Runvist symbols, the sun and trident, replace them.

The meetings go like this: they begin with the new prayer "My Dazhbog," and then the sacred book, Faith of Magic (which means Mighty Faith), is read, and songs are sung with taped accompaniment that glorify the founder of the doctrine, Lev Silenko, who now lives outside New York. Afterward there is prayer and "miscelleny." As one of the representatives of the state commission on religions of Ukraine told me, it seemed to him at first that these meetings parodied the business meetings of a collective farm. Later it became clear that what was going on in Runvira was quite serious.

No one, not even the state committee that registered the new church and permitted it to open its bank account, understands nor can figure out how the church finances itself. It is obvious that it comes from the American center and perhaps from some powerful local sponsors, but who they are is still unknown.

Gradually the neopagans, whom no one has taken seriously, have begun to appear at the governmental level. Besides humorous letters to the president with requests to remove from the Ukrainian money the picture of Prince Vladimir the Baptizer, the "enslaver" of the native land, they have things that are more substantive.

The open Runvist Anatole Lysenko, designated the official representative of the spiritual teacher in Kiev, informed me that by the efforts of his fellow believers the doctrines of Runvira are now a part of the higher education curriculum: "Under the direction of the Runvist Fedorchenko, teachers in Lviv have developed and submitted to the ministry of education a syllabus for a course of "religious studies," which includes our teaching. The ministry confirmed this syllabus and classes have used it since last year. This class is rather large, comprising 78 hours."

The "official representative" himself teaches religious studies from a Runvira point of view in the Kiev college of culture. There already has been definite success in achieving among adults contempt for Christian sacred things--during breaks the students run off to smoke secretely and to drink beer under the church of the Savior in Berestov, next door. Cigarette butts and pieces of bottles deliberately defile the space directly beneath the wall plaque on the church: "In this church was buried in 1157 the son of Vladimir Monomakh, Kievan Prince Yury Vladimirovich Dolgoruky, the founder of the city of Moscow." None of the local "cultured scholars" have entered the church-memorial for a long time nor have they seen the crypt of Dolgoruky with the plaque "Built in commemoration of the 800th anniversay of Moscow by the workers of Kiev."

Runvist Anatole Lysenko told me that he is only one of very many people who officially teach the neopagan doctrine. His fellowbeliever colleagues work at universities in Kiev, Lviv, Uzhgorod, in the Cherkassk Teachers Institute, and the Kievan Mogila Academy. "Very many of their students have joined Runvira and formed their own communities."

How many Runvists there are in Ukraine, Russia, and Belorussia is not known to government officials and the Runfathers themselves do not deal with this. They merely observe that their flock is tens of thousands of people.

They continually emphasize their tolerance and loyalty: "We do not make blood sacrifices and we do not even demand that our heathen temples be restored to us." State officials are extremely happy about this because one of the largest pagan pantheons was in the very center of Kiev, in the region of the current facilities of MID, the English embassy, and buildings where several of the highest leaders of the country live. And another, according to the Runvists, is near the village of Chaikino, where President Kuchma was born. The Runfathers like this: "We are waiting for the chance to tell the president that he also is from our ancient culture."

At first glance the well-organized structure that the neopagans have created is not obvious. Like rays of light their fellowcitizens stream from the periphery toward the center that unites the "flower and pride of the nation," including intellectuals, practically all with higher education, and very many teachers of history and ethnography. Their task is to draw to neopaganism as many young people as possible. The Runvists speak about this frankly. They also willingly testify that their preachers, Runfathers, get money in the churches. In acquiring it the fathers say that it is for the Teacher living far away in America, the founder of Runvira, Lev Silenko, who is a person with a rather slippery past, in my view.

At the apartment where the meetings of the organization take palce, one of the Runfathers described for me the biography of his prophet: he was born in Kirovograd district into a cossack family; his father was repressed; he enrolled in a library college but was expelled; he worked in construction in Moscow; and at the time of the mobilization for the Great Patriotic War he went to the front; he was captured, escaped, and in the spring of 1942 he appeared in Kiev where he worked on the pro-Ukrainian paper "Our Word," whose workers were arrested and perished, but Lev Silenko emerged from the Gestapo alive, liberated because of his youth. Then he left for western Ukraine, crossed the border, and wound up in Germany. He began to decipher Sanskrit writing and created the doctrines of the Runvira and his own church, which purchased a large parcel of land 130 kilometers from New York, which he called Oriiana (the ancient name of Ukraine) and where he built a large temple. Now he lives there in wealth and sends exhortations to his disciples.

The preachers describe this biography to everyone who wants to join Runvira. Two questions seemed inexplicable to me: how was a person who was even expelled from library school able to decipher Sanskrit and how did he manage to leave the Gestapo alive? To my amazement, the Runvira fathers were able to say nothing about this. In the booklet they gave me for my own education, "Sacred Doctrine," where for know-it-alls like me they present 220 answers to basic "questions of the time," I found nothing that satisfied me, although I counted fifteen sections of the booklet devoted to the nature of "Zhids" (I beg forgiveness; that's what it says) and two to the struggle with Russian chauvinism.

Nevertheless it is amazing that the Ukrainian intelligentsia rushes into Runvira and not into any of the other 67 religious denominations existing in the country. In the traditional Orthodox church there is no peace; the adherents of various patriarchs continue their invisible war for the churches and believers. The new cults are in the main a threat to life. And the neopagans seem quite noble, as they supposedly are reviving the ancient religion of Rus and seem somewhat like a masonic lodge with the veil of secrecy and exclusiveness.

It is also understandable that the Runvists have succeeded in finding adherents in the neighboring states. Their future plans for the spiritual rebirth of Kievan Rus sounds quite alluring. The intelligentsia, which has lost faith in governments and fallen into poverty and thus has no prospects for itself needs to believe in something, even it it is called by the long forgotten word "Dazhbog." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Novye iazychniki protiv khristianisoi tserkvi

(posted 1 November 1997)

Orthodox parish seized

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 30 October. State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova considers that the events concerning the television broadcasting of the film "Last Temptation of Christ" constitute a violation of freedom of speech. As is known, the film, which presents a literary treatment of the gospel that is offensive for believers, was twice removed from the airwaves because of the negative reaction of the Russian Orthodox church and the public. Nevertheless, Starovoitova declared that "this is a retreat from democratic victories and a restoration of the national communist ideal." She spoke today at a press conference at the State Duma, which was devoted to the law on freedom of conscience.

Starovoitova, who is known for her consistent criticism of the new law, considers that its adoption was the first "symptom of the narrowing of the field of democratic liberties." "The law infringes upon the rights of believers of all confessions, and we have warned that even Orthodox will suffer," Galina Starovoitova said while defending a Riazan parish in a matter in which, according to her, "the government has interfered in impermissible manner." The case concerned the church of the Epiphany in the Riazan settlement of Borka. According to information presented at the press conference, the church had been transferred in 1992 by the local authorities to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (RPTsZ), but now has been "seized for state use" by decision of a court. The plaintiff in the case was the state center for preservation and use of monuments of history and culture of the Riazan regional administration. It has been learned that experts of the center became concerned that the maintenance of the church, a monument of seventeenth century architecture, was being conducted in an amateur manner by the efforts of the community, thereby raising the prospect of the loss of a unique ensemble. However the priest Maxim Zuev considers that the judges acted prejudicially because the parish is not under the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate but the RPTsZ. This fact, in the opinion of Galina Starovoitova and deputy Valery Borshchev, constitutes proof of "the direct interference of state officials in church affairs and evidence of the infringement ofthe rights of confessions which have their canonical center outside of Russia." (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text

(posted 31 October 1997)

Implementing the new law

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 30 October. The process of preparation of the substatutory regulations regarding the implementation of the new law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association" was reviewed today in a session of the Commission on Affairs of Religious Associations of the government of Russia. It was conducted by deputy premier of the government Oleg Sysuev. Along with the regular members of the commision (of the rank of vice ministers of the federal ministries and administrations) representatives of major confessions and authoritative specialists attended the session.

The session participants decided to form an expert council for conducting an academic religious study, whose creation was provided for by the new law on freedom of conscience. The study will have to determine whether a new organization being registered is religious and also to assess the conformity of the goals and activity of a new religious organization to Russian legislation. The expert council should be formed under the governmental commission on affairs of religious associations. The final decision in this matter will be made at the next session, which will be held in a month.

The commision also approved a draft of a regulation, "On proceedures for opening a representation of a foreign religious organizations on Russian territory," which was developed by the Ministry of Justice. As is known, the provision making possible the existence of foreign religious organizations on Russian territory appeared only in the final version of the law on freedom of conscience and required the development of new mechanisms for implementation. It was decideded to present this draft for governmental confirmation in December. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text.

(posted 31 October 1997)

Ukrainian church head interviewed

HIS BEATITUDE VLADIMIR (SABODAN), METROPOLITAN OF KIEV AND ALL-UKRAINE: "Division affects not only church people but also society as a whole"

Interview by A. Khludentsov
Pravoslavie v Rossii
24 October 1997

--Your beatitude, have the expectations of the Orthodox believers of Ukraine that were connected with the arrival here of the most holy patriarch Alexis been fulfilled?

--The patriarch's arrival benefits all of Orthodoxy as a whole as well as mutual understanding among our churches. It is hardly a secret that in relations among Orthodox churches sometimes problems arise.

Thus began the conversation of the his beautitude Metropolitan Vladimir. The ecumenical patriarch is visiting Ukraine a second time, while he is in Odessa for the first time. The head of the Constantinople church clearly defined his position with respect to the Russian Orthodox church and the Ukrainian Orthodox church, noting their legality and canonicity. Thus the hopes of Orthodox believers for the meeting of the primates of the two churches were justified.

--In the summer of this year an agreement was signed between the Ukrainian Orthodox church and various religious groupings, which establishes harmony among them. Tell us about this in more detail.

--On 22 July of this year in Kiev a memorandum was signed which dealt with renunciation of forceful methods and the resolution of interconfessional problems. Fifteen Christian confessions of Ukraine signed it. This measure was taken under the aegis of our president and members of the government. The essence of the document was that force will not be used in resolving interconfessional questions. The signed memorandum is not any kind of theological document of a confessional character. It, in the first plast, is a manifestation of the good will of those who signed it. Unfortunately, no practical results have yet been realized and the violence is continuing.

--Your beatitude, judging from information which comes to us in Russia from Ukraine, we get the impression that local authorities are more supportive of schismatic groups than of the canonical church. Is this so?

--It is difficult to say, more or less. The government tries to relate evenhandedly to all confessions, in accordance with the constitution and Ukrainian law on freedom of conscience. It is possible to speak about the sympathies and antipathies of individual officials or of some groups, for example, nationalistically minded ones. The authorities strive to have good relations with everyone. They assume that all confessions on Ukrainian territory, who are registered with state agencies, are equal before the law. Although it is impossible not to note that they treat some religious groups with more sympathy and some with less. In the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine there is a large group of deputies who support our church. There is an opposing group which supports the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church--Kievan Patriarchate," which calls itself "For the Canonical Ukrainian Church."

--And do the authorities consider the schism that erupted under the leadership of Filaret Denisenko an internal church matter of do they think it a state problem?

--I think that each person, whether a member of the government or an ordinary citizen of our country, having some relationship with the church, suffers pain from the schism. Because division affects not only church people but also society as a whole. And this means the state, too. Now the state structures are declaring more frequently the slogans calling everyone to join together for the second millennium of the birth of Christ. Everyone now is advocating such unity even through the use of some force. But this problem cannot be resolved merely by the wish of officials, no matter how highly placed. It seems much easier to divide than to be united afterward. Denisenko operates on the basis of politics and the national idea.

--Your beatitude, which time was more complicated: when the persecution of the Ukrainian orthodox church was just beginning or now, when the passions, it seems, have somewhat subsided?

--The most difficult years were 1992-1994. Then things somewhat quieted down. This was connected, in the first place, with Leonid Kuchma's becoming president of the country. For us, Orthodox believers, a slight amelioration began. Now the abuse and persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox church are continuing. So that one still cannot speak about some kind of easy times. It is possible merely to dream about them. The campaign against our church is directly connected with the schism and also with the upcoming elections. Some want to earn political capital through the schism in the church and contradictions of the nation.

--Your beatitude, Patriarch Alexis said in his sermon to believers in the Holy Dormition monastery of Odessa during his pastoral visit: "The church schism in Ukraine is a heavy sorrow for us. We sympathize and suffer along with his beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir and all archpastors who are ministering under difficult conditions. But we believe that the Lord, by the prayers of his Most Pure Mother, will heal the wounds of the church and will give courage and strength to the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox church and the archpastors to resist attempts at division." All our editors and readers associate themselves with these words of the primate. We wish you God's help in your spiritual task. We all together a praying to the Lord that he grant you the strength for your difficult work. We thank you that you took time to answer our questions. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text

(posted 24 October 1997)

Burial of tsarist family planned


Kommersant Daily, 23 October 1997 (Pravoslavie v Rossii)

The government of Russia finally has decided about the burial of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. This will happen on the next Forgiveness Sunday, 1 March 1998.

But the place of interment has not yet been determined; it will be either the place were the tsarist family was shot or the cathedral of saints Peter and Paul in Petersburg. The resolution of the matter will reveal whose authority is stronger, the Orthodox church's or the secular authorities'. Kommersant-Daily reporter Sergei Khrupun obtained exclusive materials from the government of the Russian federation and the state commission on the burial.

The remains of the royal family were found in July 1991 near Sverdlovsk. Since then the dispute over when and where they will be buried has gone on unceasingly. The procuracy of Sverdlovsk region dealt with the matter for two years. On 19 August 1993, by order of the procurator general, a criminal case was instigated under the direction of the senior procurator and criminologist Vladimir Soloviev. In October a governmental commission was created. But in parallel with those events another powerful organizations has been dealing with the remains of the royal family. Since 1992 the leadership of the Orthodox church has been reviewing the question of the possible canonization of Nichilas II and members of his family. These two tasks--burial and canonization--are somewhat contradictory.

It could be suggested that this was why the remains were not interred in the autumn of 1995, when the procurator general presented a fifteen-page conclusion of the results of the expert commission that was conducted under the direction of the leading Russian specialist on genetic analysis, doctor of medical sciences and winner of the state prize, Pavel Ivanov, who worked with military medical scientists from the USA. The document came to the conclusion that the remains did belong to members of the family of Russian Emperor Nicholas II and persons related to them. On 18 September 1995 the criminal case about the death of the royal family was closed.

However in February 1996 Soloviev said in a letter to the goverhmental commission that the conclusion of the best experts of Russia, USA, Great Britain, and Ukraine on criminology, genetics, molecular biology, and anthropology about the genuineness of the remains of the royal family "evoked varied responses from different organizations and citizens who expressed doubt about whether the remains belonged to members of the royal family."

Behind the vague expression "organizations and citizens" were hidden the senior hierarchs of the RPTs. The Holy Synod under the presidency of Alexis II, at its 6 October 1995 session, "considered it expeditious to create an international expert commission, including independent specialists, to reach a final conclusion about the identification." However, according to Pavel Ivanov, not a single expert in the world since 1992 has expressed criticism of the results of the investigations. The synod insisted upon clarification of several matters that are irrelevant to the investigation but important for canonization (for example, the matters of ascertaining or denying the ritual nature of the murders). The current procedures of RPTs on canonization provide that for a person to be recognized as a martyr who died for profession of the Orthodox faith the simple fact of martyrdom is sufficient, and there is no requirement of miracles and general popular veneration. Thus full responsibility for the possible canonization of such martyrs automatically would lie upon the Holy Synod.

We note that in the matter of canonization there could be some doubts of a quite different kind, for example, the issue of the moral responsibility of Nicholas II for the bloody event of 9 January 1905, although this apparently does not bother RPTs.

The influence of the church was sufficient for the procurator general to reopen the investigation. But at that time the government cut off funds for the work. At the same time, as the director of the investigation, Soloviev, noted in a letter to the governmental commission, "for understandable reasons" the offices of the procuracy have been unable to get financial sponsors.

Nevertheless in the autumn of 1996 the commission on the burial of the remains of the royal family preliminarily set the date for 5 March 1997, on Forgiveness Sunday. But as we know that did not happen. Right up to the middle of 1997, according to documents in our possession, scholars and the procurator were requesting continuation of the funding. Something changed in July 1997 with the appointment of First Deputy Premier Boris Nemtsov new president of the governmental commission. The Russian government suggested alloting two billion rubles from the state budget to bring the work to a conclusion. Scholars promised that all investigations would be completed within two months after the allocation of the money and that they could do it for less money if the remains were temporarily moved to Moscow. However the governor of Sverdlovsk province Eduard Rossel categorically refused to transfer the remains, claiming that he was ready to agree with the president and patriarch to bury the remains in his domain.

Besides, this also was in the interests of RPTs, even if someone could argue that the grave did not contain the royal family; whoever was buried there would be recognized as saints simply because they were martyrs of the bolshevik regime. Moreover, on the basis of documents in our possession, it appears that the Ekaterinburg authorities are planning to build a church on the spot where the relics were found.

The governmental commission prefers a different spot for the burial--the cathedral of saints Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg, the traditional place of burial of Russian tsars. A member of the commission Eduard Radzinsky said: "It would be shameful to bury the remains in Ekaterinburg, the city where the imperial family suffered martyrdom. When the bodies of the French royal family were recovered after the revolution in 1793, they were buried, as proper, in the family crypt in Paris."

The commission proposed other possibilities, each with some justification: the Alexander Nevsky lavra, one of the cathedrals of the Kremlin (this historical link between the epochs) or the cathedral of Christ the Savior (which ties in with the idea of the new Russia). The problems with these alternatives also are indicated in the documents in our possession: in Petersburg "the local population is rather critical and there is not room for nine graves." There isn't enough room in the Kremlin either. The church of Christ the Savior would be bad because "there is no connection with historical interments of Russian rulers."

One thing can be said with certainty: in the near future we can expect "activization of the explanatory work" with regard to the authenticity of the remains and the need for them to be buried, most likely with Boris Nemtsov's participation. And the patriarch also wants this activization, according to the documents. In any case, much if not everyting will depend upon the church. The commission documents literally state the following: "To declare the necessity of the burial of the remains to the extent that the basic disputed matters are resolved. Later, in consultation with RPTs, it can be determined which disputed questions are basic." (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text

(posted 24 October 1997)

International support for Lutherans works


by Vsevolod Lytkin, Novosibirsk
FEBC Radiotserkov
13 October 1997

Abakan, republic of Khakasiia. On Friday, 10 October, the ministry of justice of the republic of Khakasiia (RK) reversed the decision it had taken earlier closing the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission (ELM) of Khakasiia. This decision, "Regarding annulment of the state registration of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission" (according to the pertinent document) was made by the ministry of justice on 6 October of this year on the basis of a presentment to the procurator of RK from the commissioner on affairs of religious organizations of the republic of Khakasiia, N.S. Volkov.

It is of interest in this matter that as early as 26 September, that is, before the new law on freedom of conscience was printed and entered into force, Fr Pavel Zaiakin, the director of ELM, had received an official letter about "cessation of the activity of ELM." The letter said that "pursuant to the adoption by the State Duma of the Russian federation law on freedom of conscience, the activity of your organization is terminated. We ask you to refer all questions to the councillor on religious affairs of the president of the government of the republic of Khakasiia." On 10 October Fr Pavel met with deputy minister of justice of RK V.N. Tupitsyn and declared that he categorically disagreed with the decision the authorities had made inasmuch as it was illegal (in particular it contradicts article 61 of the civil code of RF which says that only a court decision can close an organization that has the status of juridical person). "This is to say nothing about the absence of any reasons for closure of our mission, because there are no legal bases for closing ELM," Fr Pavel commented with regard to his statement.

As a result of long examination the ministry of justice made a new decision: regarding rescinding "the annulment of the state registration of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission." Deputy ministry of justice of RK V.N. Tupitsin apologized to Fr Pavel. But he warned as well that in the future the attempts to close the mission could be repeated. This seems the more likely in that the commissioner on affairs of religion of the government of RK, N.S. Volkov, is still trying to close the mission. He assured Fr Pavel: "Your work is dead; go where you want--to the president or the United Nations. Appeal wherever. Here everything has been done of the basis of the law." He also declared to Fr Pavel that he is very displeased with the phone calls from Moscow and reports on western radio regarding persecutions of Lutherans in Khakasiia.

Fr. Pavel said: "Therefore we do not feel that all the storms have passed. But now we are pleased with this victory and the restoration of legality. We thank everyone who prayed for us. We felt your concern. There were many telephone calls and we heard many words of support. Many people themselves called officials in Moscow and Abakan and persuaded them that closing our mission was illegal. We shall continue to carry the word of the Gospel to the peoples of Khakasiia." (tr. by PDS)

(posted 18 October 1997)

Censured* newspaper strikes back

by Sergei Bychkov
Moskovskii komsomolets, 16 October 1997

At present the debates about the rebirth of the Russian church are becoming more shrill. It seems that some bishops and priests have no objection to reviving the inquisition within the bosom of Orthodoxy but have been engaged in the necessary preparatory work for some time.

At the end of last week there was a session of the Krasnopresnensky court case on the suit of Archpriest Alexander Shargunov (secular name, Vintsent) against Moskovsky Komsomolets. During the heat of last year's presidential elections he openly supported the leader of the Communists, Ziuganov, despite the patriarch's and synod's prohibition on clerical involvement in politics. In the suit he quite frankly stated why he did this: "Although the Public Committee (Shargunov is the creator and president of the Public Committee for the Moral Regeneration of the Fatherland) expressed support for G.A. Ziuganov as the leader of the bloc of national-patriotic forces, and not as the leader of the communist party, we note that in accordance with the guarantees established by the current constitution, the communist party is not a criminal organization, it is not prohibited by law, it is equal before the law and court, and it is equal in rights, obligations, and responsibility." Obviously Shargunov, in defending communist ideology, aspires to the position of the Grand Inquisitor. For a long time he has been publishing a brochure under the strange title "Antichrist in Moscow," in which in the name of the church he regularly anathematizes the television and a number of periodicals.

We remind our readers that in the past year three Orthodox priests answered Shargunov on the pages of MK. It seemed that Shargunov considered that he had been insulted and he demanded satisfaction from his brethren. The next session of the court will be on 27 October to which the MK writers, the Orthodox priests, have been summoned. This is the first instance in the history of Orthodoxy when an Orthodox priest has taken his brethren to a secular court. One should not deny Shargunov his originality: it is sufficient to recall how he danced on the grave of Vlad Listiev: "It is highly unfortunate that the church cannot consider that the late telejournalist was pleasing to God by his programs, which brought into home much that was, at best, vain and stupid entertainment and, at worst, entertainment that corrupted people. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text

(posted 17 October)

*NOTE: On 3 October the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church took note of "antichurch publications" appearing in Moskovsky Komsomolets and Sovetskaia Rossiia (in its supplement Rus Pravoslavnaia), expressing its regret for the appearance of "articles that contain an extremely biased interpretation of church history and spread deliberate lies and slanders." The synod declared that the church considers the articles to be "intended to discredit archpastors and pastors in the eyes of believing people" and that the persons responsible for the articles "deserve canonical sanctions" and should repent (from a press release from the Moscow patriarchate). Information from Ecumenical News.

Patriarch reprimands reformist priest

13 October 1997,
from the press service of the "Presentation" brotherhood

On 13 October 1997 Fr Georgy Kochetkov received a decree [text of patriarchal decree] signed by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, forbidding Fr. Georgy to perform priestly services and excommunicating twelve parishioners of the church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God in Pechatniki. This action was taken pursuant to recommendation of the commission that investigated the incident in the church of the Dormition on 29 June of this year. On that day the second priest of the church, Mikhail Dubovitsky, was hospitalized by psychiatric first aid in the presence of police officers. this sad event was used for a campaign of slander intended to discredit and suppress the missionary, educational, and charitable activity of Fr Georgy Kochetkov, his community, and "Presentation" brotherhood. The decree charged Fr Georgy and his parishioners with "violence and insult against a priest."

Unfortunately, the decision regarding the sanctions was made without any kind of conversation between the patriarch and Fr Georgy or any of the members of the parish community and "Presentation" brotherhood, although requests for a meeting with our bishop were sent to the patriarchate. [tr. note: sentence added by "Presentation" brotherhood press service on 14 October 1997.]

The patriarch's decree came out literally on the eve of the receipt of the results of an investigation of the same incident by a representative commission of the ministery of health of the Russian federation. According to reliable sources, this commission reached a conclusion regarding the validity of the hospitalization of Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky. It is assumed that a detailed conclusion will be received also from the procurator's office which, despite pressure, still has not begun a criminal case against Fr Georgy. On the same day, in order to avoid disruption of the peace of the church and in accordance with the requirements of the patriarch's decree, Fr Georgy and the laymen named in the decree made confession before the diocesan confessor. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text

Strengthening education

by Vadim Akentiev, Kemerovo
Radiotserkov, FEBC

On 6 October the third session of classes in Orthodoxy pedagogy opened in the Kuzbas Institution of Continuing Teacher Education. Several years ago the Department of Educational Institutions of the Moscow patriarchate pointed to the need for organizing such courses in all regions of Russia because of the introduction into the schools beyond the fourth grade of study of biblical themes and events which were the foundation of many works of Russian and foreign literature and art, which manifest the achievements of our history and culture. Thus the goal of the classes, according the Svetlana Sokolova, assistent director for academic methodological work, is "to explain to our pedagogues, who in the main are secular, the foundations of Christian belief and to acquaint them with the Bible with the help of Orthodox priests and teachers who have been brought in for this purpose."

Incidentally, Svetlana Evgenieva turned to the Kemerovo diocese back in 1988 when a new subject, the "history of world artistic culture," was introduced because substantial holes in our system of education had been recognized. For example, it is extremely difficult for a teacher to explain the meaning of the event portrayed in the famous painting by Alexander Ivanov, "Appearance of Christ to the People." Svetlana Sokolova recalls "how confusing and absurd it was at the time to try to study the religious music of Bach, Rachmaninov, and Chaikovsky which knowledge of the Gospel."

The first week-long courses of Orthodox pedagogy happened in February. Sixty-eight persons--teachers of public school, Sunday schools, staff of day-care centers, and hospital workers--participation. They had classes in "the practice of church life" and the "annual cycle of Orthodox holidays." In the second session in May workers of the Kemerovo diocese delivered lectures on Russian iconography, the symbolism of the Orthodox church, and works of Russian literature. The third session is being conducted by teachers from Moscow diocese. Alexei Svetozarsky (Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy) will acquaint the students with the history of the Russian Orthodox church. A doctor and professor of medical science, the monastic priest Anatoly Berestov, will give lectures devoted to the effects of occultism, extrasensory experience, and totalitarian sects on a person's psychological state. Maxim Kozlov, a teacher of the same academy and rector of the church at MGU, will describe Christian denominations and their work among youth.

The Kemerovo diocese is underwriting all expenses, including stipends for the teachers, hospitality of the students, and travel expenses. At the same time the Institute of Continuing Teacher Education emphasized that these courses have no intention of drawing all teachers of the district into the church. Svetlana Evgenievna stressed "that would be compulsion." For her the question of faith is a "very intimate" one, and thus the academic pedagogue will be "uneasy and suspicious" when dealing with people who "yesterday were atheists and today are coming to church ahead of everyone. It is possible not to be a believer and to act in accordance with conscience, and it is possible to be a believers and to engage in evil. History shows examples."

At the end of the conversation with Svetlana Sokolova, the "Radiotserkov" reporter expressed caution about the growth in our coutnry of religious fanaticism and the extreme intolerance toward other views and opinions that is associated with it. Svetlana Evgenievna responded that she also "fears fanatics in any matter." Thus at every session, she said, it is repeated that "besides Christianity there are several world religions and all of them have equal right to exist. Toleration is one of the Christian virtues." (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text

(posted 10 October)

Orthodox suffer under new law

by Rostislav Khotin
Executive News Service
Copyright, 1997 Reuters Ltd.

KIEV, Oct 7 (Reuter) - Ukraine protested to Russia on Tuesday after police seized an Orthodox cathedral from pro-Kiev churchmen near Moscow in line with a controversial law on religion signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Dozens of priests and believers also demonstrated outside Ukraine's parliament at what they said was a lack of action by the authorities in returning the church, monastery and other buildings seized by Russian police last week.

"Ukraine's foreign ministry sent a diplomatic note to Russia's foreign ministry via their embassy in Kiev," Dmytro Svystkov of the foreign ministry told Reuters. "The note is a protest against the illegal actions of police in Noginsk." Vsevolod Tkachenko, another ministry official, said the note "expressed concern at the actions of Russian police which increased the polarization of believers in Russia and Ukraine." He added that such actions could "spark anti-Ukrainian feelings in Russia and anti-Russian ones in Ukraine."

The breakaway pro-Kiev Ukrainian Orthodox church accused police last week of seizing church buildings in Noginsk near Moscow on September 29 after a local court ruled they should be given to Russian Orthodox authorities. The seizure appeared to be in line with a law signed by Yeltsin identifying Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism as Russia's traditional religions. It was signed despite attempts by U.S. Vice President Al Gore and human rights groups to convince Moscow that it was discriminatory. The law effectively robbed new branches of Orthodoxy which sprang up after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 of their legitimacy in Russia, critics of the law say.

Ukraine's church has split into an "independent" branch headed by Patriarch Filaret, and its bigger, pro-Moscow rival which has twice as many churches --some 6,000 -- in Ukraine. The pro-Kiev branch has some 20 churches in Russia, the largest of which was in Noginsk.

Patriarch Filaret, who has been struggling for recognition by worldwide Orthodoxy, last week linked the seizure to the passage of the controversial Russian law which sets up a process for recognizing official religions in Russia.

Supporters of the law, including the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, say it will help tackle the dangerous sects that have poured into Russia to exploit a spiritual gap left by the collapse of communist rule. Opponents say it violates Russia's post-Soviet constitution and discriminates unfairly against conventional minority religious groups.

Ukraine's population of 51 million includes some 11 million ethnic Russians, the biggest Russian community outside Russia. About five million Ukrainians live in Russia. Relations between two most powerful former Soviet republics were uneasy after the break up of the former Soviet Union in 1991, but have improved since the signing of a much-delayed friendship treaty last May.

Moscow protest against law

by Natalia Sergeeva
Segodnia, 7 October 1997

This afternoon there will be a demonstration in defense of freedom of conscience at the main entrance of the Central Park of Culture and Recreation. Citizens who are unhappy with the recently adopted law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" will gather at the gates of the park. Most of the demonstrators will be representatives of various religious associations that are popularly called sects, for whom the law is offensive. Jehovah's Witnesss, Mormons, Moonies, Krishnaites, and Adventists intend to express their objections to the law and at the same time to the authorities who supported its adoption. But representives of confessions that are traditional for Russia also are expected because they claim that the law restricts their rights. Most likely supporters of the Moscow patriarchate will not pay attention to the demonstration because they are satisfied with the document. At least Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus frequently has expressed his satisfaction with the contents of the new law.

According to the version that was adopted, in order to conduct religious activity a religious organization must have documentary proof of its existence for at least fifteen years. If there is no such document, it must undergo reregistration annually. Besides, the rights of these "under-age" organizations, according to the new law, are restricted. In particular, they do not have the right to distribute religious literature, to create their own religious institutions, and to publish newspapers and magazines, and their members are prohibited from teaching in public schools. "This document is directed not only against alternative religious associations that are new for our country but also against organizations that have a long history of existence in Russia. The law strikes at Catholics, protestants, and even Orthodox. For example, a substantial proportion of Old Believers, Buddhists, Muslims, and representatives of Catholic orders (Carmelites, Jesuits) will suffer. In general, the rights of about 300 religious organizations that now are officially registered will be infringed," according to the executive secretary of the Chamber on Human Rights of the Presidency of the Russian Federation, Lev Levinson.

As is well known, very many religious association that existed in Russia for decades and longer did not have the possibility for official registration under the soviet regime. For example, the True Orthodox church (catacomb church) and Fedosian priestless Old Believers. Now they all must somehow prove their age and show that they "were not born yesterday." Lev Levinson considers that many religious associations in the situation that is developing will be forced to reestablish their status by judicial process by citing the legal proceedings that were made against their members under the soviet regime, since this is the only official evidence of their existence fifteen years ago. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text

(posted 9 October 1997)

Local law cannot contradict federal law

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslaviia v Rossii

ULAN UDE, 6 October President Leonid Potapov of Buriatiia today vetoed the law "On Religious Activity on the Territory of Buriatiia" and returned it to the parliament of the republic. The reason for the veto were several provisions of the republican law, adopted 17 September, that contradicted the federal law on freedom of conscience that came into effect on 1 October.

The legislators of Buritiia had narrowed the forms of religious organizations without specifying in the law the concept of a "religious group," as a result of which, for example, the rights of such groups to conduct religious services would be ambiguous. Besides, parliament of Buriatiia restricted missionar activity not only in the state and municipal educational systems, but extended these restrictions to all educational institutions without taking into account distinctives of their legal status. The state-legal administration of the president of Buriatiia said that the veto to the law does not mean that the head of the republic entirely disagrees with the conception of the law.

We recall that the law "On Religious Activity on the Territory of Buriatiia" officially strengthened the list of the confessions and belief systems that have historically emerged in the republic. This included traditional Buddhists of Russia, Orthodoxy, Ancient Orthodoxy, and Shamanism. However this list has a historical and not a legal force and does not entail any infringements on the rights of believers of other confessions. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text.

(posted 7 October 1997)

Meaning of the law is in its application

by Vsevolod Lytkin, Novosibirsk
FEBC Russian Christian News

Khakasiia. On Tuesday, 30 September, the director of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Khakasiia, which has been operating in this republic for two years, received an official letter informing him that the activity of the mission he heads will be terminated in accordance with the new law on freedom of conscience and religious association, adopted recently by the State Duma. The letter stated: "In connection with the adoption by the State Duma of RF on freedom of conscience, the activity of your organization is terminated. Refer all questions on this matter to the councilor on religious affairs of the president of the government of the republic of Khakasiia."

The Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Khakasiia, whose staff includes at the present four persons, is engaged primarily in educational work among children and school-age youth, organizing adult groups for study of Holy Scripture, and distributing humanitarian aid. The mission was registered with the ministry of justice of the republic of Khakasiia on 14 June 1996 as an independent religious organization. The director of ELM, Father Pavel Zaiakin, said that the adoption of the new law undoubtedly will have as its consequences certain changes in the charter of the mission, but no one expected such a sharp and strange reaction by the authorities. "We understood that this law would be directed against the activity of sects. But we did not imagine that it (the law) could be applied to our missions, since Lutheranism has existed in Russia for 420 years. Obviously we will have to deal with the authorities in court, although everyone knows how difficult this is, especially in such places as our Khakasiia," Fr Pavel said. (tr. by PDS) Link to Russian text

Background information: Khakasiia is in south-central Siberia, to the southeast of Novosibirsk. On Sunday, 14 September 1997, the first Lutheran church in Khakasiia was opened. The building for the church was acquired and renovated with funds of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Khakasiia, which has been operating successfully in this republic for two years. . . . The parish in Tuim settlement of Khakasiia was formed in May of this year and consist entirely of Russian speakers. In several other cities of Siberia there also are newly created Lutheran parishes consisting of Russian parishioners, where the liturgy and all of the ministry is performed in the Russian language. Previously the village administration had been housed in the building which was acquired by the Lutheran congregation . According to Father Pavel Zaiakin, the rector of the parish, this is quite symbolic: "Once earthly authorities directed affairs here, but now its heavenly ones." The consecration of the church will be conducted next spring when the Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical-Lutheran church, under whose jurisdiction the parish in Tuim falls, will come to Tuim. (from the news service of Radiotserkov, correspondent Vsevolod Lytkin, Novosibirsk, 18 September 1997)

(posted 3 October 1997)

Ongoing difficulties of Kochetkov parish

Press Service of the "Presentation" brotherhood
Information for the press:


The conflict concerning the community of the Church of Dormition of the Mother of God in Pechatniki, which is headed by the priest Fr Georgy Kochetkov, continues. Moreover, some Moscow priests and laymen (archpriest Vladimir Divakov, abbot Tikhon Shevkunov, priests Vladimir Viglyansky and Valentin Asmus, Olesya Nikolayeva, and others) speaking on the radio program "Radonezh" and the newspaper of the same name, are striving to do all they can so that this church conflict will not calm down, but rather grow and acquire scandalous overtones. It is obvious that the goal of all these actions is that the missionary, educational, and pastoral activity of Fr Georgy cease and that the brotherhood and school he founded, along with the more than 2.000-strong community, would be evicted from another church building they restored, and would be dispersed.

Thus, in the last issue of "Radonezh" newspaper there is an article, the author of which (K. Tikhonravov) strongly resembles in style and tone the abbot Tikhon Shevkunov, that mentions the articles of the criminal code of the Russian federation, which will allegedly be applied to the actions of Fr Georgy and his coworkers. It is curious that these kinds of publications, pumping up hysteria not only in the church media but also in the secular press, are published by "Radonezh"--the newspaper, that claims to be the voice of the whole Church--at a time when the issue has not been decided either by a church commission nor by secular agencies of investigation. The enemies of Fr Georgy Kochetkov are trying literally to shove these kinds of materials, filled with lies, into the secular media as well. For example, the wife of Fr. Vladimir Viglyansky, Olesya Nikolayeva, is doing all she can in order to publish her next article, containing falsifications and unworthy language and style about the events of June 29th, in "Nezavisimaya Gazeta". It may be worth noting that O. Nikolayeva was not present in the church of the Dormition on that day and cannot be considered a witness, much less an objective critic of other witnesses.

It now has become clear that the war against Fr Georgy and his community is being conducted not only in the media. The acting rector of Dormition church, the archpriest Oleg Klemyshev who has replaced Fr Georgy, is now openly doing everything he can so that fewer people come to their Dormition church. According to parishioners (even children) during confession he constantly advises them to go to other churches. It has now become a common situation that some dozens of people are not admitted to confession and are being barred from the Eucharist without any serious grounds.

Upon his arrival at the church, Fr Oleg first of all expelled all the altar-boys who had assisted Fr Georgy, except for two, and brought with him someone nobody knows. In doing so the acting rector declared that he didn't need any other helpers. On Saturday, 20 September, without announcing any failings or sins, he excommunicated for one month one of the two remaining altar-boys and brought another unknown person in. One can tell that soon the last assistant of Fr Georgy also will have to leave his service in altar. On Sunday, 21 September, Fr Oleg Klemyshev, in the strongest manner, forbade collection of contributions in the church for the Sunday school for 150 children, St. Filaret's Moscow Orthodox Christian Institute, and catechumen school and theological courses, thereby depriving these educational and ecclesiastical schools of the Russian Orthodox church of their sole source of support. However the parishioners of the Dormition church take these and similar actions as aimed to provoke a scandal, disobedience to the church authorities, and a schism within the community and the church.

Against this background the investigation commission for the events of 29 June, constituted by Patriarch Alexis II, continues its work. Unfortunately, all its members are openly and sharply hostile to the activity of Fr Georgy and the brotherhood he heads. Many of them placed their signatures under declarations against Fr Georgy four years ago at the time of expulsion of the community from the Vladimir cathedral of the monastery of the Presentation. Of course, one cannot expect any objective decision from this commission. This also is confirmed by those who were summoned to the New Savior monastery, where the commission meets, to tell about the events on 29 June. According to their testimony, the commission is extremely prejudicial in its attitude and does not take the word of the witnesses into consideration. Besides, the members of the commission are openly attempting to present the events of 29 June as a result of "anti-church" and "heretical" activity of Fr Georgy and his coworkers, trying to use this sad incident in order to do away with and banish the activity of Fr Georgy Kochetkov and the brotherhood and schools he founded.

These incidents (and this one is, unfortunately, not the only one in the last few years in Russian church) are evidence of the growing influence on the hierarchy and all the church as a whole from generally fundamentalist-minded forces, who are aspiring to power both in the church and in Russian society and trying to destroy everybody who is in any way different from their mind set and actions.

In these circumstances the community of the church of the Dormition in Pechatniki appeals for help and support to all Christians and will thankfully accept it in any form. (ed. by PDS)

Russian text

Western criticism of law and church

by Lawrence A. Uzzell
Los Angeles Times
1 October 1997

Russia: Religious freedom belongs only to the Orthodox Church, a lasting memento of its service to the Soviet Union.

MOSCOW--Superficially, Russia's recent enactment of a law restoring state control over religious life looks like a victory for the most backward elements in Russian society. The truth is not so simple. This assault on freedom succeeded because key leaders in Russian politics and the Russian Orthodox Church are not traditionalist enough.

The law's core is not medieval but Soviet. It classifies religious bodies such as church congregations according to the status they had 15 years ago. The more loyal a church was to its faith during the pre-glasnost years--the less willing to make the compromises needed to get official registration from a militantly atheist state--the fewer rights it will have now to engage in basic ministries such as distributing religious literature. Even churches in the most privileged class will have no right to teach religion to anyone but their own "followers." If consistently enforced--which it won't be--the law would block even the dominant Orthodox Church from any missionary activities designed to win converts.

The Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church's top governing organ, not only accepted but also actively lobbied for such provisions. Working closely with the communist chairman of the parliament's religion committee, the patriarchate's representatives retroactively legitimized much of the system that the communists had used to oppress Orthodoxy itself. The powerful Metropolitan Kirill told Catholic and Protestant negotiators that he would fight "to the death" for the sections of the new law that deny basic rights to religious institutions created since the end of the Brezhnev era.

To my Russian friends, the patriarchate's alliance with the communists is no surprise. They know that at its uppermost level, the patriarchate is Russia's most Soviet major institution--the only one with the same leaders today as before the demise of the Soviet Union. Most of these bishops rose to the top at a time when one could do so only by winning the approval of the KGB-controlled Council for Religious Affairs, usually by agreeing to serve as a KGB informer. Just as they served as spokesmen for Soviet foreign policy in the 1980s--a role that Kirill still boasts about--they now are aligning themselves with the forces of ultrastatism and ultranationalism.

These forces seem antiquated to most Americans. But from the 2,000-year perspective of Orthodox Christianity, they reflect modern belief systems dating back no more than two or three centuries. The Russian Orthodox Church's extreme servility to the state is thus a relatively recent aberration, shaped more by imported Western ideas than by the heritage of Orthodoxy.

When the Westernizing Czar Peter I turned the church into a state bureaucracy in the 18th century, his model was not the cradle of Orthodoxy in ancient Byzantium but the latest political fashions from Lutheran Sweden. Russia's 19th century laws requiring priests to report to the state politically sensitive information from confessions directly violated Orthodoxy's traditional canons. Then came the ultimate triumph of statism in Russia, from an ideology invented by German atheist Karl Marx. The legacy of that triumph is a peculiarly Sovietized form of Orthodoxy, the central deity of which seems to be not Jesus Christ but the Russian state.

During the vicious war in Chechnya, the patriarchate issued a statement calling on young men to accept military conscription and to obey even orders that they thought unjust. The statement said nothing about the notorious hazing of young recruits that leads annually to hundreds of suicides. It could have been a press release from the Defense Ministry.

Such mutilations of classic Orthodox Christianity are far less influential at the parish level than at the top. But they lend themselves to politicians seeking not ethical guidance but a national identity card, a reservoir of symbols associated with "Russianness." Since about half of all Russians consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians (though fewer than 5% regularly go to church), this tribal view of Orthodoxy is especially attractive to parties whose own ideologies have lost mass appeal. Communist leader Gennady A. Zyuganov told me in 1994 that one of his top priorities is protecting Russia's "spiritual heritage." He seemed oblivious to the irony that his own party had demolished more churches and martyred more believers than any other organization in history.

To cooperate on issues such as the new law on church-state relations, both the communists and the patriarchate have to ignore the core founding principles of their own belief systems. Both seem more than willing. - - - Lawrence A. Uzzell is the Moscow representative of the Keston Institute, a research center based in Oxford, England, that studies religious life in Eastern Europe

Copyright Los Angeles Times

Religion law becomes effective


Rossiskaia gazeta, 1 October 1997

The official government newspaper published the text of the law adopted by the Federation Council of Russia and signed by President Boris Yeltsin. Such publication marks the official date on which the law becomes effective.

Russian text of law.

English translation of law.

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