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Interconfessional cooperation in Siberia

by Yury Kolesnikov,

NOVOSIBIRSK, 26 January. A week of prayer for the unity of Christians climaxed with an ecumenical prayer service in the Roman Catholic cathedral church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Novosibirsk. "On the concluding day we decided to conduct a joint service with representatives of other confessions," the dean of the cathedral, Fr Anton Roma, told the Radiotserkov reporter in an interview and he introduced the guests who were present, Alexander Link, pastor of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, and Fr Oleg, priest of the Orthodox church of the Derzhavnaia Mother of God. Alexander Link had worked a long time in Moscow and was the vice president of the International Organization of Religious Freedom, which included representatives of various confessions. "I hope that here, in a German cultural center, we shall conduct such meetings," he said. "The time has now come to end discord among Christians. Joseph Svidnitsky, the papal prelate is my best friend, and I cannot say anything bad or even questionable about the Catholics' church." Asked by the reporter whether he recommends that members of his church attend meetings of the Catholic rite, Pastor Link responded that he does and that he considers that "every church has its own distinctives and attending such services enriches a person." "I personally would hold such services every month," Fr Anton declared. Fr Oleg, the priest of the Orthodox church of the Derzhavnaia Mother of God, in his turn, said: "We are seeking peace with all confessions and churches and I am happy to have made new brothers and sisters." (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 30 January 1998)

Protestants deprived of meeting place

by Oleg Cherny,

KHABAROVSK. 26 January. The year 1998 began with an extraordinary incident for two protestant churches of Khabarovsk--they lost the premises where they had been holding their services. Radiotserkov has learned that representatives of several protestant confessions, the church of "Jesus Christ" and the church of "World Mission" had been meeting for services for more than five years. Parishioners of the churches had friendly relations among themselves although they hold varying views with regard to the faith. They used to walk around the hospital and talk with people about Jesus Christ and help those who were especially needy. None of the patients ever had a bad word to way about the believers and the medical staff was pleased--the recovery of the patients went much faster. It should be noted that the chief physician of the hospital did not accept from the Christian communities any payment for lease of the premises, figuring that the hospital was getting more than it was giving.

However, on 25 December 1997, Bishop Mark of Khabarovsk and the Priamur visited the hospital with a summons to liberate the conference hall from the "sectarians." The hall earlier had been a domestic RPTs church, according to existing documents. Mark said that "sectarians" befuddle the minds of people and lead society to desruction and a Russian person must embrace a truly "Russian faith." After this, the chief physician recieved a letter requesting that the sectarians be turned out. However, the chief physician of the hospital, who has jurisdiction over the conference hall, decided to defend the protestants and refused to change anything in the lease. Father Mark, apparently enjoying respect or influence in high administrative circles in Khabarovsk, sent a letter to the governor of the territory requesting a review of this question. The result was that the two protestant churches lost their premises for holding services.

This story raises several question. First, the conference hall is within the juristiction of the hospital and matters of its lease should be decided on the local level, that is, by the medical staff of the hospital. They have the right to decide whether "sectarians" are there or not. Second, since the hospital conference hall once was the property of the Russian Orthodox church, then representatives of RPTs have the right to request the return of religious buildings in accordance with the decision of the Russian government. But it is possible to do this in a Christian manner, respecting the feelings of believers of other confessions, or by means of pressure and force. Who is right in this situation? (tr by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 30 January 1998)

Protestant growth in Siberia

by Yury Kolesnikov,

NOVOSIBIRSK, 25 January. The word "Hope" resounds rather insistently for a Christian church in the village of Shushenskoe, Krasnodar territory, which was the first place of exile of the former leader of the world proletariat. But, evidently, this name was not given to the congregation of Evangelical Christians Baptists in honor of Nadezhda Konstantinovna [Krupskaia] nor in anticipation of the shining Communist future, but in expectation of the glorious day of the advent of the true Liberator and Savior of human souls. "I accepted Christ myself in an amazing way," the presbyter of the church, Sergei Churikov, told the Radiotserkov reporter, and he described how, when he was sixteen years old, he remained the only nonbeliever in a family of fourteen people and he shunned prayer and all mention of Christ. Fortunately for him, Sergei loved to listen to the radio. Many nights, hiding under the blanket so that nobody would be bothered by the sound, he twirled the knob, "surfing" the airwaves. Then one time, he "stumbled" upon the strange speech of a preacher, which affected him so much that quite unexpectedly for even himself, upon the invitation to make a prayer of confession during the singing of the hymn "I want to talk with thee," Sergei cried out loudly to the Lord for forgiveness. Frightened members of the family rushed into the room and found him in tears and kneeling. Soon afterward he accepted baptism.

Brother Sergei appeared in Shushenskoe in 1994 as an evangelist from the Novokuzhetsk mission "Light for the World" and in four years managed to set up a ministry so that in the place where several old believers had lived out their days a strong evangelical congregations appeared and grew to the size of 120 persons. At the present time, thirty-three-year-old Sergei Churikov is the associate senior presbyter of Krasnoiarsk territory, the presbyter of the Shushenskoe church, and organizor of another eight Bible groups in nearby settlements.

As regards the place for honoring the Communist "idol," the Lenin museum, it, along with the hotel that was built specially during the years of atheist rule for "pilgrims" of the CPSU, is today abandoned. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 30 January 1998)

Religion restricted in Uzbekistan

by Steve LeVine
New York Times, 28 January 1998

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Anxious to contain displays of Islamic piety, President Islam Karimov has conducted a monthlong crackdown that local Muslim leaders say might prompt just the radicalism he fears.

The police have removed mosque loudspeakers -- which are used to call Muslims to prayer -- and detained hundreds of people, enacted curfews in two cities and harassed men with beards, which some grow as a sign of devotion.

Last Friday, the police in the capital expanded the campaign by briefly detaining about 100 veiled women to halt a protest near the presidential palace. The women asserted that the police had detained their sons or husbands without charges.

The crackdown comes in what was the Soviet Union's largest Muslim republic, a country of 23 million people that has prided itself on being an island of secular stability in a violent region.

Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan and Tajikistan, both of which have endured years of war and now have Islamic governments or coalitions. Afghanistan is ruled by the radical Taliban, and Tajikistan by a joint secular-Islamic leadership.

Karimov has sought to justify one of the most authoritarian governments in the former Soviet Union as the only alternative to a similar political shift here. He has argued that he is not opposed to Islam, but only to letting religion seep into politics.

After a decline that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbekistan's Muslim campaigners have become more brazen, and while experts still doubt that radical Islam will gain a broad following here, its adherents appear to be growing stronger.

"Government policy is becoming tougher and people are losing their tolerance," said Abid Khan Nazarov, an influential religious leader whom officials expelled in 1995 as the imam of an important mosque in Tashkent. "There is the danger that the situation will provoke the emergence of some terrorist group."

Independent analysts have debated for years whether Karimov is obsessed with control or is genuinely fearful of radical Islam.

Whatever the case, the president has maintained Soviet-era controls on religion, in which the government appoints virtually all Islamic leaders. As a catch-all pejorative, the government routinely calls Islamic devotees Wahabis, a reference to the strict Saudi version of Islam.

The government campaign began last month after the killing of four policemen in the fervently Islamic city of Namangan, 130 miles east of here. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the government blamed Islamic militants.

Islamic leaders said criminal gangs were more likely responsible, and asserted that Karimov was trying to turn a tragic event to political advantage. They say they are not trying to disrupt Karimov's rule but only want to loosen the government's hand in religious affairs.

Since then, the government has enforced a 9 p.m. curfew in Namangan and the neighboring city of Andizhan. Hundreds have been detained. It has not been reported how many are still held.

Against this backdrop, women in various styles of veil gathered in Tashkent last Friday to protest.

The fact that the women covered their faces was unusual in Tashkent, a Russified city of 3 million people where until recently veils were virtually never seen. Some of the women wore a traditional veil not seen here since the 1930s, one made of woven horsehair.

Zufia Zia Khana, her face covered in black, said her husband, Akhal, 47, had been arrested on Jan. 18.

"There are no charges," Mrs. Khana said. "He has a beard, so they accuse him of being a Wahabi."

The government denied that it was holding Mrs. Khana's husband and urged the women to take their complaints to official religious authorities.

"You can search every room in the building. Akhal Khan is not here," Mirkhosil Mirkhajayev, assistant chief of the district police, told reporters.

When the women tried to approach the presidential palace in two buses, the police commandeered the vehicles and detained the women until after nightfall.

Later, one of the women, Mukadam Nigmatova, said that the police berated the protesters for speaking to reporters.

"We want religion here, and for the government not to touch our sons," Mrs. Nigmatova said. "That is our aim. We did nothing against the government."

c. New York Times

(posted 28 January 1998)

Identification of tsar's remains questioned

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 27 January. Members of Orthodox organizations called the state commission to deal with the question of identification of the Ekaterinburg remains attentively and with appropriate care.

At a press conference today in the House of Journalists, which included various specialists who have been involved in this problem a long time, serious doubts were expressed about the identification of the bone remains now being studied with the tsarist family.

Doctor of historical sciences Yury Buranov reminded reporters of the weighty evidence of the fabrication of the document on the basis of which the place of burial was determined. Reporter Alexis Murzin, who studied a substantial part of this document (the so-called Yurovsky Note), came to the conclusion that facts in it are false. Leonid Bolotin, representing the Russian public movement "Orthodox Russia," stated that the question of the identification of the remains is very crucial today. "In present circumstances, the point is not about the royal martyrs, whom many Orthodox venerate as saints," Leonid Bolotin said. "They were canonized back in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and the Russian Orthodox church is preparing to canonize the murdered royal family and their faithful servants." He recalled that for a long time remains that were discovered in 1918 and carried off with units of the White army have been venerated as sacred relics. These relics now are located in the Orthodox church of the New Russian Martyrs in Brussels. The results of a substitution--the declaration of the wrong remains as sacred relics--could have catastrophic consequences for Russia, as has been stated in the prophecies of elders, Bolotin concluded with concern.

At the press conference members of the union "Christian Regeneration," the Orthodox educational society "Radonezh," and others also spoke. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 28 January 1998)

Opposition to tsarist funeral

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

ST. PETERSBURG. 26 January. The All-Russian Party of the Monarchist Center called on the Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus, Alexis II, to refuse in the name of the Russian church to participate in an Orthodox burial of the so-called "tsarist remains." In the appeal directed to the primate which was delivered to his residence, the leadership of the party argues that "the decisive hour has arrived." In official circles, the document emphasizes, the conclusion about the "genuineness" of the remains has been made and the ritual for their burial in the former imperial capital has been worked out.

"It remains only to get your agreement to participate," the leaders of the party write to his most holiness. "The protocol provides that it is you who will perform the funeral over these unknown bones in St. Isaac's cathedral."

The monarchists say that they know that the secular authorities have exerted enormous pressure on the most holy patriarch, since "without the church the splendid funeral that is planned will have a dubious and grotesque character." At the same time the planners understand that "still there has been no answer to the questions posed by the Holy Synod." Doubts about the authenticity of the remains have not been removed.

The letter emphasizes that the primate, and in his person the whole Russian Orthodox church, can be drawn into extreme danger and, perhaps, a fatal adventure, whose goal is "not only a satanic smear of the sacred memory of the Tsar-Martyr and his august family, but also the undermining of faith among the Orthodox people." The church is being steadily drawn into a blasphemous deception: having glorified the royal martyrs, it will be forced to recognize these remains as their sacred relics.

"May the Lord help you to resist this impure and adventurist intent," the authors of the letter conclude their appeal. "This is expected of you by all who are not deceived by the steady propaganda and consider that the false remains and their burial is an ordinary political game from which the church must hold itself as far away as possible. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 27 January 1998)

Russian attorney critiques new religion law

Juridical Overview of the New Russian Federal Law
by Attorney Galina A. Krylova

Ms. Krylova gives a survey of the history of the adoption of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" in September 1997. "The adoption of this normative legislation constitutes a flagrant violation, elevated to the status of a Federal Law, of human rights and freedoms by the Russian Government, and its contempt of its international obligations. . . . The adoption of this new Federal Law not only represents a violation of the Russian Constitution but also a violation of the standards of international law."

After a detailed analysis of the constitutionality of the provisions of the law and a comparison of these provisions with other standards of freedom of conscience, Ms. Krylova concludes that while a major effect of the law could be restriction of the activities of many religious minorities, the real purpose of the law pertains to matters of property. "For a practicing lawyer it is obvious that the adoption of the Federal Law is motivated not only by uneasiness about the growth in influence in Russia of religious organizations other than the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). The purpose of this new Federal Law is also to solve the problem of property ownership by religious organizations of other confessions, as well as by certain Orthodox communities which presently have the status of independent legal owners of their own property. Confiscating this property is the basic purpose of this Federal Law."

Thus far, the law has done little by way of restricting activities of religious minorities. This is partly because of official concern about criticism. It also stems from legal uncertainties. But, Krylova concludes, "In any case there will not be an easy fight for the freedom of conscience in Russia." (full text of analysis)

by Attorney Galina A. Krylova

Ms. Krylova details the history of court actions in Russia affecting new religions, specifically regarding Aum Shinrikyo, Unification Church, and Jehovah's Witnesses. In addition to trials dealing specifically with each of these religions, Ms. Krylova participated in the "Dvorkin case" that dealt with "sectarians" generally and several other criminal cases.

She concludes: "Thus, in the opinion of a practicing lawyer, all the significant trials in Russia with respect to religious organizations demonstrated that justice takes stable anti-clerical positions, and that decisions against "sects" are not prevented by the absence of actual information of their criminal nature or by the necessity to violate the laws. That is why the author hereof considers that the adoption of the new law only secured the objectively formed Russian reality of religious discrimination and the violation of human rights in the sphere of liberty of conscience." (full text of paper)

(posted 24 January 1998)

Conservative paper answers western liberals

by Pavel Bogomolov
Pravda-5, January, 21, 1998

The title itself, as well as the subtitle, of this publication which is rather eclectic in scope instills in the British reader dark doubt about the benefit of the spiritual and social role of the largest confession of the Russian federation. "Russia and the Ghost of Rasputin" declares the bold face title of this large two-column article. Just below is the editorial question: "John Lloyd asks if Orthodoxy can cure the moral malaise." Lloyd (assistant editor of the Labor paper New Statesman) derives his doubt from the meeting of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk last week in which the English reporter participated with great interest. The subject is the "supreme ideologue of the church, the basic guide of its policies, who is widely considered the most powerful figure in the hierarchy and its directing force behind Patriarch Alexis II. At present Kirill has the best chance of becoming his successor. In such a case Kirill would be the first postcommunist patriarch."

The subject of the conversation was, of course, the new law of the Russian federation on freedom of conscience, which is being sharply criticized in the West because of its "repressive character with regard to competing, in the main Christian, confessions." Along with the head of the Anglican church, the archbishop of Canterbury and, it seems, the Vatican, the attacks on the Russian legislation in this area are being intensified by the American Congress, three representives of which also conversed with Metropolitan Kirill, in addition to Lloyd and other western guests. And what, it may be asked, was the theme of their conversation? It is expressed, it seems, in the following typical phrase: "Vigorous and genial, with a mellifluous voice shaping crystal-clear Russian, he told his visitors, graciously and at length, to mind their own business." In a word, Kirill remained unwavering in his views. Like a patient having recovered after a long confinement, hitherto denied aid from other churches, Russian Orthodoxy "now is again in good health and it does not need nor want aid," according to Lloyd's summary.

The English journalist reports that the dominant atmosphere in the conference hall was one of a duel of two completely opposing sets of arguments. The guests saw their host as somewhat of an "obscurantist priest" zealously protecting the territory of his parish. While the metropolitan on his part saw before himself people who, in the best case, did not understand the traditions and spiritual integrity of Russia. As Kirill declared to the group, the law is not at all antiliberal inasmuch as its confirms the most valued rights not only of Orthodoxy but also of three other widespread confessions from tsarist times, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. As for the rest, including various kinds of evangelicalism arriving from America, they can be legalized in the Russian federation after fifteen years.

But, Lloyd suggests, Russia is a country where laws either are executed in a draconian manner or have no meaning at all. If in this case the first alternative is at work, that would confirm the obvious attempt of Orthodoxy to become the de facto state religion. (It is simply strange that this bothers a representative of Britain, where the dominant Christian confession of a protestant, or Anglican, type is the state religion and the head of state, the monarch, fulfills at the same time the function of head of the ruling church.) Apparently having sensed the weakness of his warning, Lloyd reverts to the standard rhetoric of kremlinologists: "The leaders of the Church, KGB-approved under communism and clinging to their residences, cars and servants, have a common interest with the Yeltsin administration in propping each other up without asking difficult questions. The priests bless every new office block, shopping arcade and even the latest MiG fighter; the politicians give the Church concessions that allow it to fund itself by importing commodities tax-free - mainly alcohol and cigarettes - and to live richly off the proceeds of their sales. It is a useful, seemingly inevitable and corrupting embrace [between the secular and church authorities, ed.]"

Second, Lloyd continues, the partnership of government and Orthodoxy corresponds fully with the emphasis of slavic spirituality, that is, the traditional submission both to God and to the state. Such a tendency has increasingly diverged, to the regret of the West, from the wave of "priest-democrats" which was coming into existence. This wave has still not disappeared finally--after the unsolved murder of Fr Alexander Men in 1990 his baton was taken by his supporters, in partcular Fr Alexander Borisov. Metropolitan Kirill has not begun, "in distinction from the late overt antisemite Metropolitan Ioann of Leningrad and Ladoga," to latch onto such tendencies within Orthodoxy, but their representatives themselves feel that the ground is slipping out from under them. So what is the final conclusion of the article in this regard?

"If Orthodoxy is to give Russia a moral example, it appears to be choosing the wrong one of its traditions. To again bow its head in uncritical collaboration with the ruling power is to traduce its own awful, brave martyrdom at the hands of Lenin and Stalin and their successors. . . .To what system of values does Russia now turn? Here was a nation whose most glorious modern cultural expression - its 19th-century literature - was essentially concerned with the issue of how fallen man might live. Communism could not destroy these texts in the same way as it tore down churches, or turned monasteries into borstals for orphaned, feral children. But it may have so weakened the Church and the laity that their faith in each other cannot be rekindled, and the country must lurch on without a counterweight to the cynicism that is its main public expression."

So, apparently, as the reader of Pravda-Five is already convinced, the Times is declaring (in essence for the first time after the "fateful 1991") a broad "bill of divorce" between the western intellectual trend and the Byzantine spiritual heritage of Moscow as the "third Rome." Until now we have dealt with episodic and purely fragmentary attacks on the Orthodoxy that is being reborn from the Baltic to the Pacific. But now, when in its new and by no means unfettered role it has become the support of the state and its shaken (if still not yet crushed) sovereignty, the West with its own eyes has perceived the threat to its own program for the gradual elimination of the boundaries of the cultural and religious and purely psychological autonomy of Russia. It has perceived and it has declared everything about this more explicitly.

It is sad that the sinister "ghost of Rasputin" is being seen among the Russians and our neighbors of the CIS not only by the Vatican but also, as you see, by followers of protestant traditions. The British know well that their history from the time of the early middle ages is a story of endless, exhausting struggle not with Orthodoxy but with Catholicism. It was Catholicism and not Russian "obscurantist priests" who sent the military armada to the shores of Albion. It was Catholicism that in the fateful years of World War II covertly supported Hitlerism, which had expelled "alternative confessions," whether Anglican or Orthodox. In this terrible period, under the patronage of Stalin and Churchhill, the rebirth of anglo-soviet interchurch contacts began, whose antifascist direction was, it would seem, obvious to all. Alas, today we are witnessing the final act of the erosion of the philosophical bases of the former mutual understanding in this extremely important area. True, contacts are continuing, but their rational background is being enervated. The western audience is being convinced that the religious life of Russia has not developed as it should. Such appeals, you will agree, must be evaluated in no other way than as a disturbing symptom. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 23 January 1998)

Orthodox prison ministry

Blagovest Info/Pravoslavie v Rossii

SAMARA, 21 January. Representatives of the Penal Administration (UIN) of the Department of Internal Affairs (UVD) of Samara region and of the Samara diocese of the Russian Orthodox church held a joint press conference today in Samara. A representative of the Samara Ministry of Justice described at the press conference the results of a three-year cooperation of UVD of Samara region and the Samara diocese in penal institutions.

The director of the department of educational work with personnel, Lt M. Dekatov and Fr Evgeny Shestun, who is responsible for communication with UIN, described the on-going joint effort. They reported that now practically every penal institution on the territory of the region has an active Orthodox church or chapel or prayer rooms. Employees of UIN of Samara region are receiving special catechism courses on the bases of Orthodox morality. In the children's corrective colony in Zhigulevsk, Samara region, more than 150 inmates attend Orthodox Sunday school.

One of the results of the joint work of representatives of the Orthodox church and law enforcement agencies, according to the speakers, is the establishment of confession in penal institutions. Recently in the village of Spiridnovka, in colony 13, Bishop Sergius of Samara and Syzran served the divine liturgy in a church built by the prisoners' hands. At the meeting with representatives of the ministry of justice it was noted that several years ago the initiative in preaching Christianity in prisons belonged to sectarians. But now the situation has changed in favor of the Orthodox. Priests of Samara diocese of RPTs consider prisons that are located near Orthodox churches are part of their parishes, and they deal with the prisoners as their own parishioners. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 23 January 1998)

Orthodox criticize NATO expansion

by Svetlana Gamova
Segodnia, 22 January 1998

KISHINEV. A conference convened by the Fund for the Unity of Orthodox Peoples was held in Kishinev. Representatives of eleven countries of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe participated. The Russian delegation was headed by the president of the fund, Valery Alekseev. The chief theme of the two-day conference was international relations and interethnic conflicts, including ways to prevent them. The participants identified as the basic causes of the emergence of hot spots the continuing division of Europe and the establishment of a mono-polar world, and they emphasized the "harm of further development of NATO as an exclusively military organization." Orthodox peoples can play a consolidating role in the intercultural dialogue on the continent, offering the "centrality of Christ as a special understanding of the world, society, and humanking" as the unifying force. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 23 January 1998)

RFERL, 23 January

Anti-Western and anti-NATO statements were made at a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodox Church States that took place in Chisinau on 21 January. Russian philosopher Valerii Alekseev said that NATO is a "serious danger to mankind" and its eastward expansion will bring about a division of Europe. Moldovan parliamentary deputy Vlad Cubreacov told an RFE/RL Chisinau correspondent that the meeting marked "the first serious attempt by Russia since the dismemberment of the Soviet Union to re-establish and expand its influence zone, taking advantage of the Orthodox community of faith." The meeting was attended by representatives of Orthodox Churches from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Georgia. MS

Officials punish foreign missionaries

by Nadezhda Svishcheva

KHABAROVSK 20 January 1998. Upon the invitation of the administration of the president of the Russian federation, from 12 to 15 January a delegation of the International Consultation Committee of the Conference of the De Biurht Fund was in Moscow. As the Segodnia newspaper reported, the task of the committee included joining in the development of interconfessional cooperation and preparation of recommendations for state agencies in the area of religious freedoms and implementations of the principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of faith. The delegation comprised fifteen people from Great Britain, Netherlands, USA, and Switzerland. It included two professors of law from Holland, three members of the House of Representatives of the USA Congress, and the director of the Library of Congress of USA.

On the eve of their arrival the administration of the president of the Russian federation stated that in the course of the visit the members of the committee intended "to devote attention to questions of the implementation of the law 'On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.'" We recall that last year the Congress of USA tied the apportionment to Russia of the next payment of financial aid of 200 million dollars to the rejectin of the law (the so-called Smith amendment). In the view of Americans, the Russian law infringes on the rights of missionaries and various small, primarily foreign, religious associations and groups. During the visit to Mosocw last year by American Vice President Albert Gore our politicals declared to the US delegation that there will be no restrictions of the rights of religious associations that already exist in Russia. At that time a change in the categorical decision of the Americans was made: USA agreed not to deny aid in general but only "to freeze" the appropriation of money for six months. At the same time they stated conditions for confirming the action of the law and also for becoming acquainted with the regulations accompanying it.

At the end of September in the Hague a corresponding agreement was concluded for the current visit of the "inspectors." We have not learned the results of the conference or whether the members of the delegation gave attention to questions of the infringement of the rights of missionaries and various small, primarily foreign, religious associations and organizations. But here in the Far East it is possible to observe this phenomenon. Thus, at the end of November 1997 all Khabarovosk citizens were following in the local press articles about the "missionary-spy" from South Korea, John Son. John Son was accused of passport-visa violations, tax evasion, employment of Chinese workers for constructing a church building, and not having a visa for his stay in Russia. A session of the commission of the territorial administration reached the decision not to extend the accreditation of Pastor Son in the territory as a serious violator of local laws, which in turn led to his expulsion.

A similar event occured at the end of December 1997 in Vladivostok. The church of the Living God of Pastor Mishchenko fell under the blow of the administration of the territory. At the consultative council accusations resounded of passport-visa violations and violation of the rules of missionary activity by the missionary Nil Paterson whom the church invited from New Zealand; besides this, the church was accused of concluding an illegal contract for leasing premises for the work of a Bible college, which has been operating since September of last year on the grounds of an army base and is registered under the auspices of the church. By decision of the council, missionary Nil Paterson was expelled from the country, the operation of the college was suspended, a financial audit was ordered, and the contract with the army base was cancelled.

Such passport-visa violations can be observed frequently: when a visa is registered at a hotel but the foreign guest stays with the people whom he has come to visit. The lease contract had been made prior to the date of the effectiveness of the new law on freedom of conscience, when it was not considered a violation to have a juridical address at religious organizations which were registered less than fifteen years ago. Thus, the harsh actions of the authorities are not at all justified, since those violations which were disclosed carry only fines. Obviously all of this has been done just for intimidation, as they say, so that others will learn. (tr by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 21 January 1998)

Jehovah's Witnesses growing rapidly

Blagovest-Info/Pravoslavie v Rossii

ALMA-ATA, 20 January. Belorussia, Russia, and Kazakhstan are among the top ten percent of countries of the world in growth rate of Jehovah's Witnesses. The report for the 1997 year published in the January issue of Watchtower magazine said that the number of baptized members of this organization in 232 countries totals 5,353,078, and if activie participants are included it reaches 14,322,226. The growth rate in Belarus is 29 percent, Russian, 28 percent, and Kazakhstan, 25 percent. Other leading countries include Ruanda, Albania, Equatorian Guiana, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ukraine. The regular congress of Jehovah's Witnesses will take place in Alma-Ata on 31 January - 1 February. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 21 January 1998)

Scientist questions identification of tsar's remains

ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 19 January. A categorical conclusion about the identity of the Ekaterinburg remains as those of the royal family is premature, based on the results of genetic research, and further DNA analyses must be conducted. This is the opinion of a participant in the scientific analysis of the remains, Doctor of Biological Sciences Evgeny Rogaev, expressed in an interview today with a reporter from ITAR-TASS. He was asked to comment on the statement of several experts affirming the absolute certainty of the identity.

Evgeny Rogaev, who directs the laboratory of molecular genetics of one of the scientific centers of the Russian Adademy of Medical Sciences, is widely recognized in world science as the author of the theoretical development of the method of identification of remains on the basis of DNA and the creator of one of the first of those methods put into use in forensic medicine.

In 1995, at the request of the wife of one of the nephews of Nicholas II, Dr. Rogaev conducted a genetic analysis of a sample of blood from Tikhon Nikolaevich Kulikovsky-Romanov, a close relative of the tsar living in Canada. It seems he had the possibility of comparing the data of his research with the published data of the analysis by American and English laboratories which reportedly studied fragments of a femur from "skeleton number four," supposedly belonging to Emperor Nicholas II. Although he concluded that the results of the comparision "do not in principle contradict the conclusion," Evgeny Rogaev considers that the investigations so far conducted are insufficient.

In order to remove any doubt about the conclusion, the scientist says, it is necessary to conduct additional tests in various laboratories. "In science," he explains, "the criterion of the reliability of any experiment is the acceptance of the results of at least two independent groups of experts." Genetic studies of bone remains from the Ekaterinburg grave that were made several years ago in Great Britain and USA were conducted by groups that included the very same specialists from Russia. "Besides, although the DNA method of analysis has a high degree of certainty, it is extremely sensitive to even the slightest corruption of the samples being analyzed," he noted. "It is known that if a fragment of one or a few cells of DNA from the control sample or another source were to fall into the sample being studied, it could produce a false identification."

Dr. Rogaev pointed to other disputed criteria on the basis of which a positive genetic identification is premature. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 21 January 1998)

Metropolitan versus congressmen


John Lloyd asks if Orthodoxy can cure the moral malaise
John Lloyd is associate editor of the New Statesman.

The Times (UK)
16 January 1998

Russia is reborn, but lacks a moral nervous system. The country wallows towards the millennium, a rough - and vast - beast, in search of a national idea with which both its people and the rest of the world can feel at ease.

The Russian Orthodox Church must be part of this. The question is how? And, more ominously, does it have the strength, and the standing?

Earlier this week, I met, among others, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk. He is the Church's chief ideologist, its main political fixer and is widely seen as the most powerful figure in the hierarchy, the eminence behind the Patriarch Aleksi II whom, at present, he seems best placed to succeed. Kyrill would be the first post-Communist Patriarch.

The subject of our conversation was a law, just passed, on freedom of conscience. Keenly promoted by the Church, it has attracted protests from the West since it is seen as repressive of rival, mainly Christian, groups. The matter is serious; the Vatican claims that it may mean restrictions on Roman Catholic churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury has complained, and the US Congress - led by members whose religious beliefs are proclaimed as more important than their political positions - has voted to cut off aid if the law is not amended. My companions, who included three of the most devout of these congressmen, put these points to Kyrill, who was unabashed. Vigorous and genial, with a mellifluous voice shaping crystal-clear Russian, he told his visitors, graciously and at length, to mind their own business.

Like the Christ whom he believes is risen, he liked to speak in little parables. One concerned a sick man confined to bed, who is told to get up by a fit, strong visitor whom he has invited to his sick bed. The sick man, agreeing, asks for help; the fit man refuses and instead challenges the invalid to a boxing match. This, said Kyrill, was Orthodoxy's situation. It was the sick man, asking for assistance from brother churches. Instead, it was told it had to compete for souls on its own ground. But now it was fit again. It neither needed, nor wanted, help.

Two differing mindsets stared at each other across Kyrill's vast conference room. The visitors saw an obscurantist priest protecting his territory. The Metropolitan saw men who, at best, did not understand the traditions and spiritual integrity of Russia.

The more he talked, the more one was aware of any simplicity of response slipping away. The law is by no means uniformly illiberal; indeed, it gives an honoured place to confessions - Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim - which had long existed in the old Russian Empire. Its most alarming provision is the stipulation that all religious groups seeking a legal status must prove that they had existed for 15 years; this could cut out the evangelical groups that have flooded in since the collapse of communism, many of them from America.

Much will depend on how these provisions are administered; they could, like much Russian law, be either draconian or meaningless. But the issue matters for three reasons.

First, if the law is applied rigorously, it may confirm Orthodoxy's obvious tendency to become a de facto (though not de jure) state church. The leaders of the Church, KGB-approved under communism and clinging to their residences, cars and servants, have a common interest with the Yeltsin administration in propping each other up without asking difficult questions. The priests bless every new office block, shopping arcade and even the latest MiG fighter; the politicians give the Church concessions that allow it to fund itself by importing commodities tax-free - mainly alcohol and cigarettes - and to live richly off the proceeds of their sales. It is a useful, seemingly inevitable and corrupting embrace.

Second, this relationship coexists with an emphasis on a Slavic spirituality - a tradition that emphasises submission to God and the State. It is a turning away from the slender tradition of "democratic priesthood", which is kept alive - after the unsolved murder of its charismatic leader Father Aleksandr Men in 1990 - by such priests as Father Aleksandr Borisov. Once again, there is no black and white; the Metropolitan has no history of bigotry (unlike the late Metropolitan Ioann of St Petersburg, a virulent anti-Semite), but democratic priests believe they stand on narrowing ground.

Finally, if Orthodoxy is to give Russia a moral example, it appears to be choosing the wrong one of its traditions. To again bow its head in uncritical collaboration with the ruling power is to traduce its own awful, brave martyrdom at the hands of Lenin and Stalin and their successors. If we in Britain lack a spiritual content for the Millennium Dome, imagine the turmoil in the minds of Russians who see a grasping and indifferent State shored up by a complaisant Church.

To what system of values does Russia now turn? Here was a nation whose most glorious modern cultural expression - its 19th-century literature - was essentially concerned with the issue of how fallen man might live. Communism could not destroy these texts in the same way as it tore down churches, or turned monasteries into borstals for orphaned, feral children. But it may have so weakened the Church and the laity that their faith in each other cannot be rekindled, and the country must lurch on without a counterweight to the cynicism that is its main public expression.

(from Johnson's Russia List, [for personal use only])

Moldovan church dispute

But the government does not plan to take forceful measures

by Natalia Prikodko
Nezavisimaia gazeta,
15 January 1998

The drawn-out litigation over the restoration of the Bessarabian Metropolia (BM) in Moldavia [Moldova, locally] , supposedly resolved at the very highest level in 1997, undoubtedly will continue in 1998.

At the end of last year the Supreme Judicial Chamber of the republic declared the claims of BM supporters against the government, which had refused it registration, to be illegal. Inasmuch as the decision of the Supreme Judicial Chamber is final and not subject to appeal, in principle it should have put an end to the five-year discusion about the fate of the metropolia that had existed in Bessarabia, which was a part of Romania from 1918 to 1940. But representatives of BM even before the final verdict was issued in Kishinev had promised to continue the case in Strausburg. Alexander Magola, the head of the chancery of BM, confirmed that in the current year it is planned to prepare an appeal to the European court on human rights. He expressed confidence that the Strausburg court will render an entirely different decision, which the Moldavian administration will be obliged to obey in accordance with the obligations accepted by the republic of Moldova upon joining the Countil of Europe.

This confidence, however, is not shared by the chief opponent of the defenders of BM in court, the director of the department on cults, Georgy Armashu. In his opinion, foreign experts also will consider as unjustified the claims of those who advocate the creation of another metropolia of a nonexistent administrative entity (what was Bessarabia, as is known, comprised a number of regions that now are Ukrainian) on local territory on which a completely legitimate Orthodox church of Moldavia (PTsM) is active. In this case, claims of the violation of freedom of conscience are inappropriate: the government, which declared the recreation of the former BM (as also the recreation of the former USSR) illegal, would agree to register a new, voluntary organization of believers who prefer the patronage of the Romanian Orthodox church (RomPTs), Geogy Armashu explained. It seems that the authorities of the republic of Moldova, heeding the recommendations of various European groups, must be guided principally by its own legislation and decisions of the legal agencvies of its own country, added Metropolitan Vladimir, who heads PTsM.

It seems even the future resolution of the European court (if it takes on this case for review) will not permit the closing of the problem. Today official Kishinev, which is obliged to enforce the law with respect to illegally acting church institutions obviously must confine itself to explanatory work within the population. Georgy Armashu declared that no forms of forceful measures for the liquidation of the BM structure are being prepared.

Every punitive action, though, would only multiply dividends for the side that has suffered which naturally would strengthen the hands of the political forces that support BM in the developing contest in advance of the March parliamentary elections. Already the powers that be, whose interests are represented in the election campaign by parties that call themselves centrist, are trying to avoid any quick movements, avoiding, as before, open engagement in religious disputes. The more so since, many are convinced, in reality these disputes are the result of the political dispute between Moscow (the PTs M which has received autonomous status remains under the jurisdiction of RPTs) and Bucharest (RomPTs in December 1992 gave its blessing to the rebirth of BM, which the then president Mircha Snegur, who now heads the legal democratic convention, called interference in the internal affairs of the republic of Moldova), who are both trying to retain their influence in the region. The current Moldavian president and premier are trying to maintain a balance in their relations with Russia and Romania. On top of that the conflict is complicated by the clash of external geopolitical goals and also by internal political matters: between those who call the native population "Moldavians" and those who call them "Romanians." Getting involved in this dispute, signified in particular in the stormy discussion over the correct name of the state language (Moldavian or Romanian?), the local rulers also would hope to avoid being accused of insufficient patriotism. (tr. by PDS)

c. Nezavisimaia gazeta

Russian text: Tserkovnyi konflikt v Kishineve ne ischerpan

See also "Moldavian church conflict"

(posted 17 January 1998)

Yeltsin's meeting with pope problematic

by Pavel Mirzoev
Russkii telegraf, 14 January 1998

The new law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" is controversial. The privileged position of "basic" confessions evokes protests not only from sectarians but also from numerous rights' defenders. In light of this, the upcoming meeting of President Boris Yeltsin with Pope John Paul II may turn out to be extremely complicated and the rulers are going to have to stock up on arguments which could be used against the righteous anger of Catholics, Baptists, Krishnaites, Evangelicals, and others.

On Tuesday there was a session in Moscow of the chamber of the presidency on affairs of public associations and religious organizations in which all interested parties participated. The goal was obvious: to demonstrate the complete unity of all Russian confessions. However the celebration of freedom of conscience was not achieved. The consequences of the document under discussion, which already has become a guide for action for the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs), are too obvious.

The reaction of representatives of the "out-of-favor" religious confessions to the programmatic statements of the president of the chamber, Alexander Tikhonov, regarding the equality of all religions in Russia, tolerance, and brotherhood, was completely predictable. "Sectarians" mentioned the situations that are created for numerous confessions with which RPTs is displeased for one reason or another. Those religious organizations which had not managed to register their existence under the soviet regime before 1981 are essentially disenfranchised. In particular, they are prohibited from opening religious schools, publishing, importing, and distributing their literature, and petitioning for alternative service for their adherents. Such inequality of rights, based primarily on the bureaucratic interference of the state in matters of freedom of conscience, cannot but affect the image of the Russian government.

Mr. Tikhonov thinks that the new law is an "important step in the direction of further democratization." Democracy, in the main, is spreading in RPTs. Thanks to the new law the "basic religion" has gotten in practice the right to control the course of the registration of religious organizations, which has begun. In Stavropol territory the existence of a Baptist church already was refused recognition. For a simple reason: the mayor of the city sent an inquiry to the local metropolitan, who characterized the confession as extremist. Reregistration, of course, did not take place.

Political leaders from USA also expressed their opinions at the chamber's session. In particular, the director of the Library of Congress, James Billington, expressed extreme concern about the new law. He suggests that the fifteen year qualifying period and the "new bureaucracy" associated with the system of registration of religious organizations and the recognition of certain confessions as "extremists" violate human rights and the Russian constitution. Incidentally, based particularly on its 28th article, which provides that "each person is guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of religious profession, including the right to profess any religion or to profess none," an appeal to the Constitutional Court is quite possible. Only this body is able to recognize officially the incompatibility of the new law on religion and the fundamental law.

No less important is the other part of article 28 of the constitution. It says that each person has the right "freely to choose, have, and disseminate religious and other convictions and to act in accordance with them." Likewise questions of the dissemination of religion and preaching became the subject of the conversation of Patriarch Alexis II and representatives of the Vatican. It is known that RPTs has an extremely negative attitude toward any intrusion into its territory of other beliefs. Before Boris Yeltsin's trip to the Vatican this situation must be smoothed out somehow. Whether this is achieved we shall learn in February when the Russian president and the head of the Roman Catholic church meet. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 16 January 1998)

Friday, January 16, 1998

MOSCOW -- A new round of talks aimed at soothing tensions between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church ended in Moscow on Thursday without agreement on a historic meeting between the Russian Patriarch and the Pope.

A statement issued by the Moscow patriarchate said delegates had noted that relations between representatives of their churches in a particularly sensitive area -- western Ukraine -- had not improved since their previous meeting in May last year.

In June, Patriarch Alexiy II called off a proposed meeting with Pope John Paul II, which would have been the first of its kind since the Great Schism split Christendom in 1054.

Russian church officials had said this week's talks were aimed at overcoming obstacles to setting a new date for a meeting but Thursday's statement did not mention it and officials were not immediately available for comment.

Itar-Tass news agency on Thursday quoted church sources as saying such a meeting would require the prior resolution of the issues causing tension in bilateral relations -- in particular the situation with the Uniates in western Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic or Uniate church was founded in 1596 but banned by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1946 and only resurrected with the onset of perestroika in the late 1980s.

The church, which claims five million followers concentrated mainly in western Ukraine, is subordinated to the Vatican but holds Orthodox-style church services and follows its calendar.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, violence broke out in western Ukraine as the Uniates started claiming church buildings from the pro-Moscow Orthodox church.

The situation has calmed down but it is still a thorn in the side of the Moscow patriarchate, which is keen to defend its dominant position against an influx of foreign confessions in the post-communist ex-Soviet Union.

It argues that the activities of the Uniates represent unacceptable attempts by the Vatican to woo converts.

Relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches were further strained in September by a controversial new law on religious freedoms in Russia firmly backed by the patriarchate.

The law, which took effect in September, was redrafted after human rights groups, the Vatican and the U.S. Senate said it discriminated against mainstream non-Orthodox faiths. The Kremlin said on Monday that President Boris Yeltsin would meet the Pope during a visit to Italy from Feb. 9-11.

Yeltsin has invited the Polish-born Pope, who dreams of preaching reconciliation and Christian unity in Russia, for a return visit, but the Pontiff cannot go unless the Russian Orthodox Church gives him the green light.

This week's talks were led on the Vatican side by Cardinal Edward Idriss Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, with Kirill, the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, representing Moscow. Both sides also met Patriarch Alexiy, the Orthodox Church's statement said.

Interfax news agency quoted a Vatican envoy in Moscow as saying that Cassidy was pleased with the latest talks and expressing the hope that a meeting between Pope and Patriarch may not be too far off.

Tass quoted sources close to the patriarchate saying the two churches had agreed to a joint mission to western Ukraine to study the disputes at first hand. (Reuters)

c Copyright 1998 The Associated Press


MOSCOW, January 15. Participants in the bilateral meeting in the St. Daniel's Monastery between the representatives of the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate agreed upon joint actions to overcome difficulties in relations between the Orthodox Church and Greek Catholics, says the press-release isued at the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. Both sides established a fact that there were no changes to the best in inter-confessional relation in the Western Ukraine since the previous meeting held in Bari (Italy) last May. They also discussed relations between the Orthodox and Catholics in other states of the CIS, exchanged opinions on the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement as a whole and touched upon the forthcoming celebration of the Bimillennium of Christianity. The participants are reported to agree upon arranging a joint visit to the Western Ukraine to settle an Orthodox-Greek Catholic conflict considered to be a bone of contention in relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. The same sources state that the Russian Orthodox Church is against using force in solving the conflict unlike the Greek-Catholic communities which are known to capture Orthodox temples to restore their parishes in them. As a result of these action the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate lost most of her parishes in the Lvov and Ivano-Frankovsk regions where the situation is especially tense. As for the meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia and Pope John Paul II, it would be held in case all the contradictions, such as the stance towards the Uniatists and the situation in the Western Ukraine, are settled. It is more than once that Patriarch Alexy II has voiced his willingness to attended such a meeting and to continue the dialogue. On January 15, 1988, both the delegations were received by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia.

(posted 16 January 1998)

American investigation of religion law

from Blagovest-Info/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 12 January. Congressmen Wolfe and Smith, who in July of last year initiated a restriction on economic aid to Russia if it adopted the discriminatory law on freedom of conscience, headed a delegation of the Congress of USA which arrived in Moscow on 12 January. The delegation includes five representatives from the lower house of the American parliament, the director of the Library of Congress of USA, Billington, and members of the International Organization of Experts for Defense of Freedom of Conscience. Billington said that the main goal of the delegation's visit in Russia is to study the initial experience of the application of the new religious legislation, which is necessary for the final resolution of the question about the size of American economic aid to Russia. On 12 January members of the delegation met with the administration of the Council on Cooperation with Religious Organizations of the presidential administration of Russia and with the president of the State Duma Committe on Relations with Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Valery Zorkaltsev. In the evening of the same day, under the auspices of the "Open Society" institute and the Russian department of the International Humanitarian Fund of G. Soros, there was a meeting of the delegation from the American Congress with representatives of the religious public of Russia. The delegation from Congress began its second working day with a visit to Saint Daniel's monastery, where the residence of the Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus is located. In the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate there was a conversation of member of the delegation with the administration of the department. In the second half of the day the delegation took part in a session of the Chamber on Affairs of Public Organizations and Religious Associations of the Political Consultation Council of the presidency of Russia, which was held in the building of the Academy of State Service of the presidency. The session was conducted by the president of the Chamber, Alexander Tikhonov. Other participants included representatives of federal offices of the legislations and executive branches, Andrei Sebentsov, Andrei Loginov, Viacheslav Polosin, and the director of the Institute of Religious and Law, Anatoly Pchelintsev. A representative of the International Organizations of Experts on Defense of Freedom of Conscience, which was created in 1997 in the Netherlands, Van Eidek, expressed the opinion that the Russian Orthodox church needs special care from the state after seventy years of persecution. "I understand Patriarch Alexis II," Van Eidek declared. On the whole, another representative of the organization who was a member of the delegation of the American Congress, Alting von Gezau, support the position of his colleague. In the evening there was a reception at the embassy of USA in Moscow which was attended by rights' defenders and public leaders. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

by Denis Babichenko
Segodnia, 14 January 1998

Yesterday members of the international delegation which has been trying to clarify the state of affairs in regard to the implementation of the Russian federation law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations participated in a session of the permanent Chamber on Affairs of Public and Religious Associations of the Political Consultative Council of the Russian presidency. Since the law has still not taken effect in practice, participants at the session were restricted to theoretical discussions of the positive and negative aspects of the law. Western experts are disturbed by the complexity of the procedure for registration of religious groups and the growth of the influence of the bureaucracy. In the course of the discussion it was evident that the provisions of the law and the polemical assertions of the Russian officials, as before, did not satisfy the western "inspectors." The declaration of the respresentative of the Russian Orthodox church who acknowledged that this law really does not conform with the tradition of freedom of religious confessions in the USA was like pouring oil on a fire, but he urged them to "recognize this reality." However it is possible that the Russian reality will not permit the delegation to draw a positive conclusion about Congress' granting 200 million dollars in aid to Russia which were "frozen" in 1997. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 16 January 1998)

Survey of Russians' religion

Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1998

MOSCOW--Despite a post-Soviet religious revival, about half of Russians consider themselves atheists, according to a new poll. Forty-six percent of respondents described themselves as non-believers, 45 percent considered themselves Orthodox Christians and 2 percent said they are Muslim, according to the survey by the Russian Center for Public Opinion Research. Other faiths registered at statistically insignificant levels: 0.2 percent said they were Catholic, 0.1 percent said they were Jews and 1 percent claimed allegiance to other faiths. About 6 percent said they could not answer. Explaining their religious convictions, about 31 percent said they have always believed in God, 13 percent said they began to believe in God after professing atheism, 26 percent said they have never believed in God and 2 percent said they once believed in God but lost their faith. Of the rest, 24 percent said they could not reply and 4 percent gave other answers. Ninety-six percent of respondents said they had been baptized -83 percent as small children and 13 percent by choice when they were older. Religion was officially discouraged during Soviet times, when the Communist Party promoted atheism and curbed the practice of religion. Since the Soviet collapse, many churches have been rebuilt and missionaries from other countries have founded new congregations. The poll of 2,400 people had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Copyright Los Angeles Times

(posted 16 January 1998)

Tomsk diocese troubles

from Radiotserkov, 12 January 1998

In a report from Radiotserkov correspondent Vsevolod Lytkin of 2 January 1998 we described the conflict between clergy and laity of Tomsk diocese with the new bishop, Arkady. The press service of the Tomsk Union of Christian Students has provided us new details of this conflict.

by Nikolai Kashcheev,
Tomsk Vestnik, 9 January 1998

An unprecedented conflict that is apparently an internal church matter has spilled from the television screen and pages of the newspaper. It began on a personal level. The episode, in which Deacon Roman Shtaudinger got involved, became like the pebble that starts an avalanche. Bishop Arakady, 54, described the incident this way in a meeting with a delegation of parishioners of the church of saints Peter and Paul: "I was talking with Shtaudinger in the presence of a secretary, associate, and three other people. He arrived shaking all over. I said to him, 'My son, what's the matter?' I patted him on the head and face. I said: 'So you have come to the old man, the bishop.' That's all it took to get such filfth to stick to me at the end of my sixth decade."

Deacon R. Shtaudinger gives a more unpleasant description of this scene. He has refused to recant his words even in the face of the threat of losing his ministry. Here's the story. The deacon's father-in-law, Wilhelm Fast, a layman, upset by the report of his relative, phoned the bishop and said: "It seems to me that you have done something unethical to my son-in-law." Since then a storm of unprecedented force has raged. Accusations of lies and slander have been mutual. The bishop explains the conduct of the other side as the result of disappointment because Wilhelm Fast's brother, Father Gennady Fast, was not confirmed as rector of the Tomsk ecclesiastical seminary. W. Fast himself and his group consider that argument nothing more than evasion. They intend to get a church trial to resolve the conflict. "There will be no church trial," says a bishop acquainted with the case, and his words are being confirmed. W. Fast went to the Moscow patriarchate. However the administrator of affairs did not receive him, inasmuch as the Tomsk citizen came without the blessing of his bishop. The chancellory of the patriarchate also refused to accept a written declaration. It became necessary to resort to the mail which gave no kind of assurances.

Trying to break out of the vicious circle, Fr Alexander Klassen, who also is W. Fast's son-in-law, took the unprecedented step of going on TV-2 and ATF-news, expressing public criticism of his holiness. Parishioners of the Peter and Paul church at the match factory organized a collection of signatures in defense of their pastor. And at the same time believers began to talk about the quiet penetration of ideas of protestantism into Orthodoxy.

Fr Alexander, who is at the forefront of the events, is an extraordinary person. Six years ago he began a ministry in the premises of a former club where had stood, before the revolution, the Kukhterin church, which a merchant built. Beginning from nothing, the rector of the revived church created a community of around 200 people. Fr Alexander's church was the only one in the city where people were baptized for free and by the entire ritual. Believers from all over the city and region came here to worship. To the present Fr Alexander's flock, or at least the majority of it, morally supports their father. Of German nationality, Fr Alexander converted to Orthodoxy when he had grown and the new convert devoted himself to God's service ardently. He is ready to stand without hesitation against everything that violates his understanding of church piety.

Master Arkady has been in the clergy four decades. He has seen very much, but it is not known whether the bishop has had dealings with the likes of Fr Alexander. And so their paths have crossed. Their conflict quickly changed from being personal and ethical to one of principle. The position of his holiness is based, in particular, on the 39th apostolic canon: "Presbyters and deacons should do nothing without permission of the bishop. For the Lord's people have been entrusted to him and he will answer for their souls. If anyone dares to do this, let him be unfrocked." Fr Alexander recognizes this canon, but he considers it inseparable from other canons which say how a bishop should act. For example, he appeals to the general epistle of St. Peter (5. 2,3): "Tend God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers, not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be, not greedy, not lording it over God's inheritance, but setting an example for the flock." "If any clergyman vexes the bishop, let him be unfrocked," the master quotes, censuring the priest's disobedience. Fr Alexander adduces the words of the apostle Paul: "Do not participate in the unfruitful works of darkness, but reprove." The priest considers that covering up the sins of the clergy is worse for the church than exposing them.

The bishop is persuaded that a bishop is not answerable to the flock. "The flock is the church," Fr Alexander counters, "and the bishop is answerable to the church." Thus, the conflict has gone beyond the bounds of life within the church. It seems the flock is tens of thousands of Tomskites, who occasionally attend the church of God. Now the topic of dispute is the relationship of church and society. We see two views on one and the same question and are free to choose between them.

"Open Letter from Tomskites to Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus and members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church" (abridged from material in the newspaper Tomsk Vestnik, 9 January 1998)

Your most holiness, from the time of the creation of the Tomsk diocese in 1995, Tomskites anticipated the appointment of a bishop, a devout and wise pastor of all Orthodox people of the city and region. In October 1997 this long-awaited event finally occurred. But the first months of residence in Tomsk land of Bishop Arkady have shown that we were deceived in our expectations. We received a bishop who, it seems, is crude and uneducated and acts openly hostile toward the devout and enlightened people, of whom fortunately there are many in our city.

The church teaches that overcoming difficulties is beneficial and tests genuine faith. But in Russia the time of persecution of the church has already passed. The time for the creation and regeneration of the spiritual life of society has come. Thus we do not have the right to remain silent when before our eyes that which with great labors, love, and fervent zeal was created in the past years is being rapidly destroyed.

The bishop has the right to appoint to parishes priests who are devoted to him, and we do not dare to contest that right. But the appointments and transfers that have happened in just the two months of Bishop Arkady's occupancy of the Tomsk see have shocked the Tomsk flock. In a short time hundreds of parishioners have been deprived of their pastors and father confessors. Why is the new Tomsk bishop not concerned for the parishioners? Is he trying to keep the Tomsk priests, clergy, and parishioners in fear of his actions?

Fr Leonid Kharaim, dean of the Tomsk churches, rector of the great Peter and Paul cathedral, and prorector of the Tomsk ecclesiastical seminary, was removed from all responsibilities and appointed rector of the church of Peter and Paul on the outskirts of the city. Fr Peter Vasiliev, confessor of the clergy of the entire Tomsk diocese, who ministered in the Trinity church of Tomsk for 17 years, and who enjoyed special love of the parishioners, was forced by the acts of the new bishop to leave the diocese, with his family. The same fate befell the family of Deacon Ioann Anopu, who had served 15 years in Trinity church. His wife, Tatiana, and son Dmitry were famous in Tomsk as directors of church choirs. Fr Sviatoslav Zulin, who was appointed rector in one of the most famous Tomsk churches, the church of the Resurrection, which for many years was closed, was able to do a great deal in a short time by way of repairing it and to create a strong community; he was sent by decree of our new Tomsk bishop to the settlement of Moriakovka. Fr Andrei Gusev, who served as second priest in the church of Peter and Paul at the match factory, received appointment to the northern Bakcharsk district. Fr Tikhon Smokotin, rector of the parish of Seversk, was appointed by the bishop to this church.

The actions of the bishop with respect to Fr Alexander Klassen seem illogical. He has been the rector of the church of Peter and Paul at the match factory for five years and he regenerated this church after its destruction by the atheists in the twenties. Fr Alexander managed to create a large community of youth and the city's only Orthodox school. By decision of Bishop Arkady, Fr Alexander Klassen was removed from his responsibilities as director of the missionary department of the diocese and dean, to which the bishop himself had appointed him and he was demoted from rector of the church of Peter and Paul to the position of second priest. The bishop undertook the attempt to forbid the ministry of this priest who is very popular with the youth and intelligentsia.

The young deacon Roman Shtaudinger, who served in the Resurrection church and enjoys special love among the parishioners, was banned from ministry without any reason and expelled from the diocese. It is strange for us to hear that the humble and mild Fr Roman is accused of gross slander against the bishop. Fr Vladimir Lamzin, who served in the church of the regional hospital clinic, was transferred to Seversk. The priest of the Resurrection church, Fr Semen Gaim, refused to sign the slanderous letter against Fr Roman Shtaudinger, who had been subjected to improper advances by the bishop, and was exiled to the northern village of Alexandrovskoe. There have been incidents of the unnatural inclination of the priest also toward other young priests and parishioners. We are disturbed by the bishop's intention to conduct a massive tonsuring of Tomsk seminarists as monks, which he is beginning to carry out. It is well known that even people inside of monasteries spend years in preparation.

Members of the families of priests have been subjected to rude demands by the bishop. Many parishioners and even ordinary Tomskites are disturbed by the personal conduct of Bishop Arkady, who indulges in crude language, lavish banquets, and excessive drinking on the grounds of the Trinity church.

It seems strange to hear the bishop's declarations that "everything has been neglected" in the spiritual life of Tomsk and that he came here "to establish order." Bishop Arkady's extreme attitude, with which he arrived in our city, evokes serious alarm. He talks much about the harm of totalitarian sects and he is ready to struggle against them actively. But, fortunately, such sects are not characteristic of the spiritual life of Tomsk. It seems to us that no totalitarian sect causes as much harm as the personal conduct of the bishop. It is well known that a monk's preaching achieves its goal only when his conduct agrees with his words. Here we see something entirely different.

It is distasteful to us that the bishop constantly stirs up the city's public with his declarations about his personal ties with the powers of this world, Prime Minister V. Chernomyrdin and R. Viakhirev, the president of Gazprom. Does the new Tomsk bishop really expect to win the respect and love of Tomskites by the authority of these respected government people?

Your most holiness, we do not have the right to condemn an Orthodox bishop, but it seems to us that by his own actions in Tomsk land he has brought irreparable damage to the spiritual life of the city, to public moralith, and to the authority of the Russian Orthodox church. And thus, in the name of love for the truth, we cannot be silent and hold ourselves aloof from the events that are happening in Tomsk diocese.

200 signatures,
24 December 1997

(tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 15 January 1998)

True Orthodox Christians in Ukraine

by Svetlana Stepanenko, Radiotserkov

SLAVIANSK. 13 January. A parish of the True Orthodox Church, also known as the "catacomb church," appeared in the Sumi region at the end of 1997. The center of True Orthodoxy in the region is the Lavlenka settlement of Yampol district, which immigrants from the Russian federation have settled. They constituted the basis for the new community.

True Orthodox Christians are no different from ordinary Orthodox in their religious ritual. The history of these Christians begins in 1927, when Metropolitan Sergius of the Russian Orthodox church issued a declaration in which he called believers of that church to a loyal attitude toward the Soviet state. Disagreeing with Sergius' position and remaining true to Patriarch Tikhon, a portion of the episcopate and clergy withdrew from the Russian Orthodox church. For them, the church that is "True Orthodox" is the one that existed before 1917. On the spiritual level the True Orthodox have contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which also exists in opposition to the present Orthodox church headed by Patriarch Alexis.

The community that appeared recently in Sumi region still has no intention to register its activity inasmuch as its size in insignificant and unstable. Father Serafim Medvedev said in a meeting with the assistant director of the department for religious affairs of Sumi region that his flock will respect the laws of Ukraine, particularly those which regulate relation of church and state. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 15 January 1998)

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