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Implementing the law

by Dmitry Suslov, Radiotserkov

KAZAN, 1 April. All Russian Pentecostals have great joy. On 30 March 1998 the new Russian United Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) underwent state reregistration in accordance with the rules established by the new law on freedom of conscience. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 2 April 1998)

Ministry of Justice issues temporary guidelines



Concerning practical questions on implementation of the federal law

On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations

For use in the practical implementation of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" we send:

--a commentary on the law prepared by the deputy president of the commission on question of religious associations of the government of the Russian federation A.E. Sebentsov; [Russian text of this commentary is available at Pravoslavie v Rossii. See also "The law is about freedom for all."]

--methodological recommendations for execution by agencies of justice of the oversight functions with regard to religious organizations prepared by the department on affairs of public and religious associations;

--methodological recommendations for the application by agencies of justice of several provisions of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," prepared by the department on affairs of public and religious associations on the basis of questions submitted by agencies of justice.

--rules for review of applications for state registration of religious organizations with agencies of justice, have been worked out and will be sent after their state registration. Normative legal acts of the government of the Russian federation (on procedures for registration of representations of foreign religious organizations and on the conduct of state religious academic expert analysis) will be officially published after their adoption.

At the same time we remind you of the necessity of submission to the department on affairs of public and religious associations of information about state registration of religious organizations in 1997 in accordance with the previous sent form by 20 January 1998.

First deputy minister P. Krasheninikov

24 December 1997

Russian text

(posted 2 April 1998)

Analysis from Keston News Service: "Justice ministry guidelines soften interpretation of new religion law"


by Beverly Nickles in Moscow
Christianity Today, April 6, 1998 Vol. 42, No. 4, Page 20

Recent legislation that limited religious practice in Russia may not be fully enforced because of unresolved constitutional issues. But some local Russian leaders, citing provisions in the new measure, have sought to inhibit minority religious groups.

Official guidelines sent throughout Russia recommend a soft approach in dealing with religious organizations. Some of the clauses of the official advisory stand in sharp contrast to the controversial law passed last fall (CT, Nov. 17, 1997, p. 66).

In the meantime, however, the new law provides a ready means for discrimination against minority religious groups, including most Christian groups that are not Russian Orthodox. According to World Churches Handbook, there are about 23 million Russian Orthodox believers among Russia's 147 million people. However, research by Anatoly Rudenko, head of the Russian Bible Society, projects that at best there are 3.3 million practicing Christians, including Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONFLICT: The temporary guidelines openly state that the new law contradicts the Russian Constitution by taking away citizens' rights. The new law requires annual re-enrollment of already registered religious entities that have existed in Russia fewer than 15 years. Specifying a time frame violates the federal constitution, which bans retroactive legislation. During the 15-year period, new religious groups operate with limited rights. The temporary guidelines suggest that for reregistration a religious group need only inform local authorities of its intent to continue. But they fail to protect underground churches, most of which have existed for more than 15 years but were never registered during the repressive Soviet era.

It is unclear if the final guidelines on the religion law will reflect the perspective of the temporary guidelines. So far, officials call the temporary guidelines an "internal document" without legal standing.

Also, the law does not provide for legal re-establishment of congregations disbanded by the Soviets following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

RESTRICTIONS IMPLEMENTED: Some Russian officials have taken advantage of the ambiguity, demanding that certain religious groups be shut down.

For example, in Jaroslavl, about 150 miles northeast of Moscow, local authorities have repeatedly threatened to close the Christian Center of the New Generation, a Pentecostal group, even though it conducts its activities in accordance with the new law. Church leaders have been told that, until reregistration, they must cease publishing their newspaper and producing audiotapes. They cannot purchase or distribute religious literature, and they cannot send missionaries.

Established by ten people in 1991, New Generation today has 1,500 members and eight congregations.

In addition to threats, some municipal officials are finding other ways to put pressure on non-Russian Orthodox churches.

In the city of Klin, about 40 miles north of Moscow, evangelical Baptist church pastor Anatoly Sokolov says the government increased his church's annual tax bill threefold. Failure to pay taxes could result in confiscation of church property. According to Sokolov, Orthodox churches are required to pay only 40 percent of their assessed taxes.

Another common method of hindering ministries is to raise the rent beyond a church's ability to pay. Most non-Orthodox congregations meet in rented facilities because construction costs are prohibitive or they have been denied permission to build. Other tactics include charging exorbitant permit fees and demanding bribes.

In the past, Moscow itself has been fairly immune from abuses of religious freedom. But current events in the capital point to increased hardship.

Local policy toward religion became clearer after Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov in recent months issued a series of decrees. A strong contender for the next presidential election, Luzhkov openly supports a more powerful role for the Moscow patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Luzhkov created a hierarchy of religious confessions. Russian Orthodoxy, Muslims, and Jews are considered "highly esteemed." Representatives from these groups make up an official council to decide all religious issues, placing minority groups at a distinct disadvantage. Luzhkov also gave the Moscow patriarchate preferential treatment by exempting it from paying taxes on any of its buildings and lands.

NEW WARNINGS: Western leaders and Russian activists have not abandoned efforts to ensure full religious freedom in Russia.

In January, a delegation of religious-freedom advocates arrived in Moscow for face-to-face meetings with Russian officials. According to U.S. Rep. Chris H. Smith (R-N.J.), the delegation made it clear that abuses of religious rights would damage financial and diplomatic relations between Russia and the West.

Soon after, a group of high-ranking Russian officials attended a Heritage Foundation event in Washington, D.C., where they repeated reassurances that they intended to use the regulatory process to avoid implementing unconstitutional provisions in the law.

But Anatoly Pchelintsev, director of the Institute of Religion and Law in Moscow, accuses Russian officials of "saying one thing in America and another in Russia." On Voice of America, Pchelintsev said, "I believe that if we don't defend freedom of religion now in Russia we will not have a democracy." Pchelintsev warned that once the regulations are implemented, there will be "massive violations of human rights and freedom of religion."

There are more than 80 U.S.-based Protestant mission agencies operating in the Russian federation, with more than 1,100 personnel serving in the country.

Copyright(c) 1998 by the author or Christianity Today, Inc./Christianity Today magazine.

Yeltsin's nominee has sectarian ties

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 31 March. Acting first vice premier Boris Nemtsov is not surprised that a political campaign has been devised against the candidate for the post of premier, Sergei Kirienko and that, in particular, he has been accused of ties with the American religious sect "Church of Scientology," also known as "Hubbard College." "I expected something like this. It is simply that now Sergei Kirienko is in such a position where such information had to come out. He probably expected it and is hardly surprised," Nemtsov told reporters today.

According to information from the German paper Berliner Zeitung, three years ago Kirienko, at the time the head of a bank in Nizhny Novgorod, participated in a week-long seminar of the Church of Scientology, which was officially registered in Russia. Such participation is "not forbidden," Alexander Dvorkin, head of the Holy Martyr Ireneus of Lyons Center of the Moscow patriarchate, told an ITAR-TASS reporter today. The center deals with matters of religious sects. However, Dvorkin stated, "this sect is considered extremely aggressive and dangerous and all its members are united in complete loyalty to the ideals of the sect. In Germany the sect has been placed under surveillance of the secret police. It is considered to be not a religious but a commercial organization whose goal is wealth and power. In Greece is was prohibited at the beginning of this year."

The name of the organization comes from the name of the American fiction writer Lafayette Ron Hubbard, who suffers from paranoia and has declared war against the "world conspiracy of psychiatrists." Thus, in particular, he has asserted that the mass extermination of Jews by Adolf Hitler was not organized by the Nazi regime but by a "secret union of German psychiatrists." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 1 April 1998)

Symbol of atheist era exorcised

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

ST. PETERSBURG, 30 March. A ceremony of complete consecration of the Kazan cathedral was conducted by Metropolitan Vladimir of St. Petersburg and Ladoga. After the resumption in 1991 of divine services in the State Museum of the History of Religion (GMIR) until the present, divine liturgies were performed on a portable antimensium.

The church was consecrated the first time in 1811 in the imperial presence of Emperor Alexander I. The handiwork of the architect Voronikhin was called the cathedral of Russian Military Glory. It was erected before the beginning of the Patriotic War with Napoleon and became a monument of victory. In its left chapel Field Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov was buried. Within the church the captured French banners, standards, and keys to occupied cities were stored. In tsarist times a heavy silver iconostasic was efected.

The church was seized during the "confiscation of church valuables" and was closed in 1932. Until the present it has been occupied by GMIR and has not been turned over to the jurisdiction of the St. Petersburg diocese, since the matter of the relocation of the museum to a new building on Post Office street has not been resolved. The central nave is occupied by museum exhibits and the library and vault have not been vacated. Similarly the question of giving to the building the status of the diocesan see has not been resolved, an idea that was proposed by the ruling bishop immediately after he assumed the position in 1996. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 1 April 1998)

Lutheran mission problems

by Yuri Kolsenikov, Radiotserkov

NOVOSIBIRSK, 27 March. In his letter to the head of the mission, junior counselor of justice R.E. Chugunekov charged that the showing of Christian films, educating children in the basics of the faith, and contacts with foreign citizens is illegal activity, on the basis that such activity is a violation of the "Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" in the case of organizations that do not have a certificate showing their registration for more than fifteen years within the region.

The director of the west Siberian Christian Mission in Novosibirsk, Fr Vsevolod Lytkin, also received from the Shirin procurator an official notice requiring amendment of the charter of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in Khakasiia which was extremely amazing. As Fr Vsevolod told the Radiotserkov reporter, actually several years ago Pavel Zaiakin was sent to this district of the republic of Khakasiia as a missionary from the west Siberian Christian mission. However, from the time of the registration of ELM, it was a legally independent organization. From the point of view of the director of the west Siberian mission, the procurator's demand for immediate cessation of the activity of ELM as illegal, is itself illegal, since the mission conducts this activity in accordance with its charter, and the law defers the reregistration of that charter for at least a year and a half. At the present, said Fr Vsevolod, work is going on to change the charter, and Mr. Chugunekov was informed of this.

Vsevolod Lytkin evaluates the present situation for ELM in Khakasiia as "strange." "I do not understand what these people need," he said, referring to the Shirin procurator. "This letter is quite strange, completely absurd, and obviously is simply a manifestation of the activity of the district procurator." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiosterkov

(posted 31 March 1998)

State support of church has potential for good or harm

by Vadim Akentiev, Radiotserkov

KEMEROVO, 29 March. In the latest issue of the newspaper Golden Domes, which is published by the Kemerovo diocese of RPTs, there appeared an agreement concluded quite recently on cooperation between the administration of Kemerovo region and the diocese, which will come into force by the year 2000. The agreement contains fifteen articles, several of which are general, while others are more specific. For example, in the second article it is recommended "to departments of social protection of the population, education, . . . culture, administration of internal affairs, and defense of the administrative complex of the region to work out in cooperation with the Kemerovo diocese planned programs of cooperation." Article five proposes "to cooperate in the sphere of creating favorable conditions in public schools for conducting classes on the history of the fatherland, Russian literature and culture, morals and ethics, history of religion in the tradition of Russian spirituality, and the history of Christianity." The administration of Kuzbass and Kemerovo diocese also agreed on cooperation "in giving religious organiztions of the Kemerovo diocese the possibility of teaching children religion outside the framework of the state curriculum. . .," and in the eighth article they agreed "to cooperate in the creation of conditions for the clergy of Kemerovo diocese to conduct religious rituals and ceremonies upon request of citizens" who are in hospitals, children's homes, prisons, and other such institutions.

Apparently one of the most significant articles of the agreement is the ninth, which specifically recommended "to government agencies, agencies of local administration, financial, banking, and enterprise institutions to provide cooperation and support for charitable activity of religious organizations of Kemerovo diocese, as well as the carrying out by them of socially significant cultural and educational programs and activities."

There is no question, today, when in society problems are increasing, each more fearsome than the other, that such an agreement could be extremely timely. Who of us does not share the concern of the agreement's participants "for the spiritual and moral condition of society," as the preamble states? Many of us agree with them that "civil peace and the political and economic development of the region are impossible without an adequate spiritual potential." And it would be quite good "to unite the efforts of secular and religious authorities in the creation of a spiritually strong and morally healthy society, and the achievement of harmony and peace, including interreligious," as is said in the very first article of the document.

However, without great explanatory work in the countryside, I think this document could become, among other things, the occasion not for peace but for conflict among confessions and the increase, even without this, of great social tensions. Even for the uninitiated it can be easily shown that the point of the agreement is the confirmation of a certain religious priority and the restriction of the rights of non-Orthodox confessions, and if such can actually be produced in practice by the agreement, then the document will not be predicated upon the constitution of Russia and the law "On Freedom of Conscience. . .," as is declared in the preamble, but will be in defiance of these as well as many international laws in this area. I think these dangers are only intensified by the commentary of the secretary of the diocesan administration, Fr Dionisy Kandrawhin, who declared that "in Kuzbass our Orthodox church has received the supplementary rights and legal prospects of conducting our mission, . . ." and ". . .in the countryside the activity of parishes will cease to depend upon the personal prejudices of state officials, and their momentary good will or, alternatively, ill will."

Thus, according to the priest, it turns out that in Kizbass a unique document has been created which promises to give significant privileges to the Russian Orthodox church within the region. At least, it has received a kind of official authorization to the extent that it holds a document, signed by the governor, and it will be a great mistake to consider that it is of a purely advisory character. For example, article eight, which speaks of cooperation in the creation of conditions for Orthodox priests to work in hospitals, children's homes, prisons, etc., contains the specific provision: "Appropriate administrators should assign special premises for conduct of the rituals." This immediately raises many questions: if the chief physician of some hospital refuses to do this for an Orthodox priest, will he be threatened with employment problems? Or if he acts in favor of protestants, will this double his guilt as an undeniable manifestation of "personal prejudices"?

It is known that where there are many questions the situation promises to be unpredictable and fraught with possible complications. May God grant that this agreement on cooperation of the administration of Kemerovo region and Kemerovo diocese will serve only as a good investment in the mission of the church, as was said by one of those from the state side who developmed the document, the president of the department for relations with the public, Nadezhda Kriukova. She said: "Today it is impossible not to see the obvious: for many Russians faith is the saving link of life. In church people find not only consolation and protection and reach moral equilibrium, but they receive the possibility of looking within themselves to sense whether everything is right in their own souls. . . . Society today is seriously concerned for the future of the children. If the state strives in joint efforts with the church to achieve religious education for them, then the young generation will survive and achieve healthy results. The same holds true for people who are suffering in this very contradictory world. Religious confessions frequently help them. We must walk hand in hand and surmount the spiritual crisis." (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 31 March 1998)

Siberian protestants criticized

by Evgeny Sarapulov, Radiotserkov

CHITA, 30 March. In January 1998 the trans-Baikal newspaper "Daurskoe News" published an article titled "Deceit on the Road to God." Its author was a certain D. Ivashkeev, resident of the city of Borz, Chita region, who in his article advanced a mass of accusations against the local Borz church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.

Ivashkeev accused Baptists of sectarianism, claiming that the celebration of the 130th anniversary of the beginning of the Baptist movement in Russia was a lie. However, the most serious accusation was that "while proclaiming religious purposes, the church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists sharply separates itself from all traditional confessions. It often draws people into its midst by illegal means and devices that are non-Orthodox. It distorts Biblical teaching and interprets it in its own way. It opposes the holy sacraments, prayers for the dead, veneration of icons, fasts, monasticism, and many other things. In other words, everything that for centuries has served to unite and consolidate peoples and societies, to form Christian morality in them, and to make people benevolent, decent, tolerant, generous, happy, and pure before God and their own nation."

In a word, there were many accusations and they were rather serious. As for the facts, in the time of its existence the local Baptist church in Borz has not soiled itself in any way. In 1997 it marked its fiftieth anniversary. Citizens of the city have seen in practice that Christians-Baptists are proper and God-fearing believers. However, someone wants to slander the church.

The presbyter of the Borz church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, V. Miskevich, wrote a response article and proposed the broadcast of a round table on the local TV stateion dealing with problems of sectarianism and faith to which Orthodox priests would be invited. But for some unknown reasons this event was postponed indefinitely. In March another accusatory article against the Baptists appeared. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 31 March 1998)

American religious broadcasting in Russia

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

New York, 27 March. An agreement for broadcast into Russia, in Russian, of the weekly broadcasts of news about religious life in the world was concluded by the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) and the company "International Russian Radio and TV." The CBN statement declares that the informational program "World Christian News" was shown in translation in countries of the former Soviet Union for the first time at the end of 1997, relayed for its viewers over 270 television channels. Now the weekly broadcast of news will be transmitted not in translation but with the use of announcers and reporters speaking Russian.

The program World Christian News was established in 1994. It includes reporting exclusively on the subject of religious life throughout the world, especially in such regions as eastern Europe, central Africa, Latin America, and the New East. This informational program is an off-shoot of the CBN company, which was founded in 1960 by teleevangelist Pat Robertson. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 31 March 1998)

Orthodox favored in state support of charitable work

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW 27 March. Initial experience of the implementation of the provision of the new law on freedom of conscience that pertains to state support of the charitable activity of religious organizations was shared by representatives of federal agencies at a session of the Commission on Matters of Religious Associations under the government of RF.

"This question is new for the government," noted the leader of the session, vice president of the commission Andrei Sebentsov, "but it is a direct result of the enactment of the law on freedom of conscience that genuine joint activity of federal agencies with religious organizations in the business of aid to the socially unfortunate categories of the population has become possible." What's new in the problem is that hitherto religious organizations went to state agencies with suggestions for cooperation. The new law paints the problem differently--the initiative should come from state agencies themselves.

In particular, the Ministry of Health of RF has had productive experience from the signing of a cooperation agreement with the Moscow patriarchate in 1996. Help for those suffering from drug addiction and alcoholism is most critical. Thus, the approach of the Orthodox church of the Inexhaustible Cup in Serpukhov is widely known, where the clergy has worked intensively with psychiatrists and drug specialists to help those who have fallen into alcohol dependency. One of the delightful incidents, in the health ministry's opinion, is the opening of a chapel and the cooperation of the church with physicians in the Alexeev Psychiatric Hospital of Moscow.

As a representative of the Ministry of Health noted, there also is information of a negative type: in Samara region, for example, it has been necessary to suppress attempts of several religious sects, whose activity is harmful to health, to gain entrance to hospitals. In particular, after visits by such "spiritual healers," numerous cases of depression, and even suicide, have been reported.

Representatives of the ministry of labor, health, federal migration services, and state committee of youth noted in the first place the joint activity with the Russian Orthodox church, which submitted itself to state agencies a suggestion about cooperation. Although, as state officials noted, the ministries are open to joint work with all confessions. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 31 March 1998)

Hasty burial of tsar criticized

by Alexander Muzykantsky
Izvestiia, 26 March 1998

The commission for the study of questions regarding investigation and reburial of remains of Emperor Nicholas II and members of his family (of which I am a member) held its final session at the end of January. The government of RF, having assembled at a special session by order of the president, approved the conclusion of the commission and decided that the burial of the remains will be 17 July 1998 in the Peter and Paul cathedral of St. Petersburg, on the eightieth anniversary of the shooting of the royal family. It seemed that the final period had been placed on the question which had roiled the Russian and world publics for many years and we were close to a resolution which would promote the harmony and reconciliation of our society which were so desired.

But all of this is only the initial and superficial appearance. Reality is much more complex. Literally on the eve of the session of the government, the synod of the Russian Orthodox church made a decision which many observers managed to call "unexpected," and "returning the matter to the starting point." The synod noted that "the conclusion of the state commission on identification of the remains found near Ekaterinburg, that they belonged to the family of Emperor Nicholas II, has evoked serious doubts and even conflicts within the church and society," and it recommended burial of the remains in a symbolic grave-monument.

We have two different approaches. Lets try to get at the causes.

First, the decision of the synod, for those who are acquainted with the situation regarding the fate of the remains, was not at all unexpected. This was stated by the leader of the Nobles' Assembly, A.K. Golitsyn, and the writer E.S. Radzinsky, both members of the commission, in their teleinterview.

Further, we must agree with the synod's opinion about the doubts and conflicts produced in society by the decisions of the commission on identification. The issue here is not that fuddy-duddies of the synod do not trust the conclusions of experts because they can't understand what a chromosome is. The cause is much more profound. It is rooted in our history.

Over the course of seventy years everything relating to the shooting of the royal family was a most important state secret. And it is not at all surprising that in the complete absence of official information, rumors developed and the murder of the tsar was overgrown with myths and legends. They became parts of the public consciousness for a substantial portion of the population, especially for people who were associated with the Russian emigration and for believers. Substantial influence on the formation of public opinion was exerted also by the materials of the investigation of 1918-1924, conducted while the "tracks were fresh" by the investigator Sokolov. Thus the state commission faced several tasks. Besides the criminological, genetic, and other studies, associated directly with the identification, it was necessary to elucidate all circumstances of the shooting, suppression of evidence, concealment of the place of burial, etc. It was necessary to be concerned about publication and distribution of the conclusions of the study to assure that the old notions were replaced by historical facts unearthed by the exhaustive efforts of the state agencies.

Unfortunately, the commission was completely unable to cope with the last two tasks. Five years of work, with four different versions contending with one another, were conducted against a background of a barrage of publications that kept posing new questions and calling into doubt the tentative conclusions and presenting their own versions. The commission thought it not worthwhile to respond to them so it did not deal with them before the publication of its own conclusions. Instead of a dull, laborious explanation to those who did not understand and persuasion of those who were doubting, the commission took a different course of action at the concluding stage. A month before its last session the leader of the staff of advisors of B. Nemtsov, Viktor Aksiuchits, published in Nezavisimaia gazeta the programmatic article: "The president must make a resolute decision." The point can be summarized in a single sentence: close up shop; it is necessary to bury.

In light of everything that has been said, the decision of the synod of the Russian Orthodox church to bury the remains in a symbolic grave-monument probably is appropriate for the situation as it has evolved. This decision preserves the possibility of burying the remains in accordance with the traditions of the state of which present-day Russia is the heir and legal successor, after the publication of materials which will allow the final doubts to be removed. At the same time the erection of a symbolic grave-monument to all victims of the terror is an act which could help society move on to a new stage and harmony to grow.

Unfortunately, the government contains advocates of the firm decision.

An analogy with the position of the church on the matter of another symbolic grave presents itself. Our press already has managed to reprimand the patriarch for his statement about the reburial of Lenin's body. A year ago the patriarch literally stated the following: "At the present time this action is undesirable inasmuch as it could produce schism and conflict within society." That's the same approach: avoid steps that lead to a confrontation. Respecting the convictions of people who are sure that Lenin was "the most humane human," and avoiding actions which could lead to the growth of tension within society, the patriarch counsels not to rush into the reburial of Lenin. Judging by everything, the president and the government agree with the patriarch on this matter and do not intend to make a "firm decision" for the time being.

Unfortunately, in the case of the remains of Nicholas II another approach prevailed. The government did not simply make a firm decision but blatantly ignored the synod's opinion.

So what do we now have? On the one hand, preparation of the procedures of reburial is going forward in accordance with the decision of the government. On the other hand, demonstrations, protests, petitions to the patriarch demanding that he take part in the ceremony, and, finally, the synod's decision. This leads to the reburial of the emperor's remains without the church's participation and without the patriarch's participation. Do we want this? Are we ready for it?

Did things have to turn out this way? Was this the reason the special commission was formed five years ago (incidentally, after an appeal from the patriarch to the president)? We all recall what efforts were required several months ago to surmount the crisis in relations between the state authority and the Russian Orthodox church, which the president's veto of the law on freedom of conscience evoked. It seemed that everyone then understood that a desirable and mutually respectful development of relations between state and church was probably one of the most significant attainments of the recent years and one of the keystones guaranteed the stability of the development of society. So here again is a situation, fraught with growing conflict, threatening to resurrect conflict between state and church, but this time for no purpose. At bottom this is simply a wish to "close the question" as quickly as possible.

The leader of the department of culture and information of the government of RF, I Shabdurasulov, expresed the hope that the church will find an appropriate form for participation in the upcoming ceremony. One should hope that the president and government also will find the appropriate means for harmonizing the positions of state and church. There still is time. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 27 March 1998)

Controversy over Mormon abduction

by Michael Nakoryakov
The Salt Lake Tribune, Monday, March 23, 1998

When two young Mormon missionaries, Andrew Lee Propst and Travis Robert Tuttle, were abducted in the southeastern Russian city of Saratov last week, most officials and commentators in Russia and the United States agreed that, most likely, the kidnapping had nothing to do with politics or religion.

Amid Saratov's widespread poverty and apathy toward the political battles that rage in faraway Moscow, the likely scenario was some small-time criminals tried to make a quick buck by grabbing the two well-dressed, well-fed and supposedly well-off Americans.

But when, after only a few days, the kidnappers suddenly let the hostages go unharmed and without waiting for the $300,000 ransom they demanded, that version of events began to appear unbelievable.

Anatoly Pchelintsev, head of the Institute of Religion and Law of Moscow's Christian Legal Center, doesn't buy the "local hoods" version. He did not believe it in the first place, he said on Sunday.

"There is no question in my mind that it was a provocation by those in the country who refuse to accept freedom of belief and civilized coexistence of different religious denominations," Pchelintsev said from Moscow.

"Did you hear what [Saratov region's governor Dmitri] Ayatskov said on television when those boys were kidnapped? He said the Mormons had no business in his region anyway, and he'll make sure ďall those missionaries and sects' are kicked out of there in the nearest future," he said.

Pchelintsev's institute, created to monitor the religion-related laws produced by the Russian Parliament and local elected bodies for compliance with the country's constitution, has been involved for years in an uphill battle with Moscow lawmakers.

For instance, Pchelintsev sees the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations -- approved by both chambers of the Russian Parliament and signed by President Boris Yeltsin last summer -- as one of his 7-year-old institute's major defeats.

"You don't need to be a lawyer to see that a law that severely restricts the activities of most non-Orthodox denominations directly contradicts the Russian Constitution's guarantee of freedom of conscience," Pchelintsev said.

"[The Parliament] couldn't send KGB officers to arrest the missionaries in the middle of the night -- the times have changed since Stalin. So they opted to send a signal through provocations like the one in the Volga area," he said.

Not everybody in Russia agrees with Pchelintsev. The Russian Parliament may contain a significant number of Communist lawmakers, but in the case of the Freedom of Conscience bill, only a small Parliament faction -- the semi-liberal Yabloko -- voted against it.

The legislation received solid support among all the lawmakers, from communists and conservatives to liberals and nationalists.

"Claiming the abduction of the Mormons was part of a broad conspiracy to get rid of foreign missionaries is ridiculous," police reporter Andrei Shabarshov said from Moscow.

"All that happened was those [kidnappers] probably didn't realize at first what they were dealing with," he said.

"Then they saw the governor on TV, and heard about the FBI sending their agents here to help Russian cops investigate, just got frightened and decided to let the boys go rather than mess around with all that.

"Russians just love conspiracies," he said.

That might be true, Pchelintsev said, but how can one explain a strange coincidence -- only a few days ago, the usually tight-lipped Russian Interior Ministry announced through all major news media that somebody had threatened to mark the anniversary of Aum Shinri Kyo's gassing of the Tokyo subway with the release of a poisonous gas in the Moscow subway.

"That was spectacular -- we had hundreds of cops guarding every subway station, there were announcements on the radio, really scary stuff," he said.

"For two days, people were afraid to use the subway, and everybody was talking of the need to ban ďall those sects.' . . . Then, of course, nothing happened. And then -- Saratov. I just can't believe that was coincidental."

With numerous foreign and domestic sects and cults present in Russia these days, many people fail to make a distinction between established religions that have been accepted worldwide and violent doomsday cults like Aum Shinri Kyo.

But it may not be time for the missionaries to leave Russia yet, Pchelintsev said. No matter how much the authorities, together with the Orthodox Patriarchy, would like to see all of them gone, the game is not over yet.

"My message is, don't panic. I am convinced that there is a good chance we will successfully appeal the Freedom of Conscience law in the Constitutional Court of Russia. As a matter of fact, I can say right now that will happen in the fall," he said.

"So time to start packing has not come yet."

(courtesy of Ray Prigodich, Denver Serminary)

(posted 25 March 1998)

Ukraine leader wants Orthodox unified

ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii

KIEV. 21 March. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma "would like to see a united Ukrainian Orthodox chruch in the country." Speaking today at the first meeting of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, the head of state said that "the church should become a united force in Ukraine." Leonid Kuchma, it is true, did not specify under whose leadership this unification should take place. In Ukraine there now exist the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Kiev patriarchate, Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocehpalous church. The president emphasized that the "state does not interfere in the affairs of religion, but it cannot be indifferent what the church divides people into different corners." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 23 March 1998)

Emperor Paul remembered

ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii

ST. PETERSBURG, 23 March. The 23rd of March (11 March, old style) is remembered in the history of Russia for a tragic event: on this day in 1801 a group of conspirators suffocated the Emperor Paul I (1754-1801) in the Michael's palace. His death continued the line of Russian autocrats who died violent deaths. A prayer service for Emperor Paul I was conducted today at his grave in the cathedral of the Peter and Paul fortress. Representatives of the monarchist public of the city laid flowers on his grave. Monarchists have attempted to change the image of Emperor Paul Petrovich as a short-sighted and tyrannical ruler that was created by soviet historians and took root in popular consciousness. A prayer for the pious sovereign which emerged among the Russian emigration has become widely known. An evening in his memory was held in the club of "Factory ATI" in which the editorial staff of "Orthodox Radio of St. Petersburg" participated. Church historians and the famous Moscow priest Artemy Vladimirov made speeches. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravsolavie v Rossii

(posted 23 March 1998)

Mormon hostages released

New York Times, 23 March 1998

MOSCOW (Reuters)- Two U.S. Mormon Church missionaries abducted in Russia's Saratov region were freed Sunday with only minor injuries, although no ransom was paid, officials said.

"The hostages have been freed. They are feeling all right," said a spokesman for the local Federal Security Service, a successor to the Soviet KGB.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said the two men, abducted Thursday, had been slightly hurt.

"Travis Robert Tuttle and Andrew Lee Propst were taken immediately to the police station to be debriefed and are at this time still in Saratov helping the police with their investigation," it said in a statement.

"Both men are in good condition, with only minor injuries."

The Federal Security Service spokesman confirmed the pair had been freed without the payment of a ransom but declined to give further details. The abductors reportedly had asked for a $300,000 ransom.

"We have no reason to believe that any ransom was paid," U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Hoagland said.

The hostage-takers drove to the outskirts of Saratov, the regional capital, and released the two men there, a local police duty officer said.

Tuttle, 21, of Gilbert, Arizona, and Propst, also 21, of Lebanon, Oregon, were working for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southern Russia.

In the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, Tuttle's father, Roy, called the release of the two men "a miracle" brought about by faith in God.

He said he learned of their release at 4 a.m. MST (6 a.m. EST) through a telephone call from church officials in Salt Lake City. Six hours later, Tuttle and his wife, Mary, had a three- to four-minute phone conversation with their son.

"He was absolutely ecstatic to be in safe hands," Tuttle told reporters. "He was in good spirits. He was thrilled beyond comprehension to know that he was alive."

(posted 23 March 1998)

Patriarch repeats his positions

ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 18 March. Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus rejected accusations of some of the mass media that the new law "On Freedom of Conscience" is discriminatory. He made this declaration today during a meeting with the ambassador of Japan to Russia, Takehiro Togo, in the monastery of Saint Daniel.

The most holy patriarch stated that the new law regulates the activity of sects, including the sect Aum Sinrikyo, which is notorious in both Japan and Russia. "Unfortunately," his holiness noted, "in Russia there are three times as many followers of this sect as in Japan." He suggested further, " If it had not been for the tragedy in the Tokyo subway, it would have flourished as before in our country."

His holiness again declared that the church is not trying to receive the status of a state church. "I am convinced that the church must be separate from the state, but it must not be separate from society," he said. Clarifying this position, the most holy patriarch said: "The church must have the right to evaluate from ethical positions what is happening in the country. And sometimes this evaluation will not agree with the state's." Thus, for example, he said that this had happened at the time of the armed conflict in Chechnya. His holiness recalled that the Russian Orthodox church at that time frequently spoke against military actions, calling for an end to the bloodshed and beginning of negotiations. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

Reuters, 19 March 1998

MOSCOW -- The head of Russia's Orthodox Church on Wednesday steered a wary course through the controversial issue of whether remains due for a royal burial actually belonged to the last czar and his family.

In a rare public statement on the remains, Patriarch Alexiy (pictured) said it differed with the government, which has declared the remains genuine, but did not insist they were the wrong ones.

"In relation to the remains, the positions of the state and the church have diverged, but this is not an outright contradiction," the patriarch told Japan's ambassador to Moscow in a meeting witnessed by a small group of reporters.

The church has found itself in a dilemma over the burial since the government set a July 17 date for a state funeral last month, after declaring bones found in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg belonged to the Romanovs, shot there in 1918.

On the one hand the church must clarify its position before conducting the funeral. On the other, it does not want to upset believers and others who are convinced the bones found in 1991 are not those of Nicholas II, his wife and children.

The government's announcement followed seven years of deliberation, and was based on intensive scientific research, but the patriarch said not all the issues had been resolved.

"We must clarify and weigh up all the issues regarding the Yekaterinburg remains, otherwise they might provoke misunderstandings and conflict in society," he said.

He laid blame for the continuing controversy at the door of the government commission chaired by reformist First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, which investigated the bones.

"The (conflicting) opinions have arisen from the fact that the work of the state commission was closed to the public," the patriarch said.

He noted that there were two competing views: first, that the bodies were cut up and destroyed, as in one account given shortly after the murders in 1918; second, the contemporary view that the bones remained intact.

"To assert that they are false remains and not to counterbalance both versions would be a mistake," said Alexiy, clearly intent on avoiding a clash with the government.

"It is not in the church's remit to give an opinion on the authenticity of the remains. This remains up to the conscience of specialists," he said.

The government has issued instructions to various departments to prepare for the burial, which will take place in the St. Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia's imperial capital.

But an official from the Moscow patriarchy said a date had not yet been set for a church meeting to decide how it will conduct the ceremony.

Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, said last week there would be an extraordinary meeting of top church officials in 2000 to decide whether to canonize Nicholas II.

Metropolitan Yuvenaly, who represented the church at the government meeting which decided on the burial, said the church was worried that if the remains turned out not to belong to the czar, people would be "worshipping false relics."

Some clerics have privately explained the delay in the decision on declaring Nicholas II a saint by saying the church had doubts about canonizing an autocrat who is still a controversial figure for many Russians. (Reuters)

(posted 20 March 1998)

Two Mormons kidnapped in Samara


By The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Two young Mormon missionaries were abducted from their post in Russia, the church said.

Andrew Lee Propst, 20, of Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle, 20, of Gilbert, Ariz., lived and traveled together.

They were serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Russia Samara Mission about 500 miles southeast of Moscow on the Volga River, church spokesman Don LeFevre said Thursday. He gave few other details.

A ransom note demanding $300,000 was left on the doorstep of a church member after the men were abducted Wednesday, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

LeFevre said the church has taken steps to ensure the safety of the other 60 to 100 missionaries in the Samara Mission, but he would not elaborate.

Russia's Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, and the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the police force, have set up a joint investigative team to search for the two men.

Police in Samara refused to comment.

``All we can do is rely on faith that they're going to come home to us in safety and that our savior is by their side at this time,'' said Roy Tuttle, Travis' father.

The Propst family expressed pride in Andrew's decision to serve the mission and said his letters over the past year ``have testified to his deep commitment.''

The church has about 57,000 full-time missionaries worldwide and six missions in Russia with 600 to 800 missionaries and more than 5,000 members.

Last year, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a proclamation declaring Russian Orthodoxy his country's pre-eminent faith and sharply limiting the practice of some religions until they had been established for at least 15 years.

c. Associated Press


WASHINGTON -- Two 20-year-old U.S. Mormon Church missionaries have been abducted in Russia, the church said on Thursday.

In a statement issued through the State Department, the church identified the kidnapped men as Travis Robert Tuttle of Gilbert, Arizona, and Andrew Propst of Lebanon, Oregon. But it gave no details of the circumstances of their abduction.

"Following news reports, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirmed today that two missionaries in the Russian Samara mission have been abducted," the statement said.

The statement quoted a church spokesman as saying that "for reasons of safety of all missionaries, no other information about the abduction could be made available at this time."

The church said it had taken immediate steps to ensure the safety of other missionaries in the Samara mission. Samara is a region of Russia about 500 miles (800 kilometers) southeast of Moscow.

The State Department said the U.S. embassy in Moscow had taken "every appropriate step" in connection with the abduction and was monitoring the situation closely.

"This is a very grave matter and to avoid jeopardizing the safety of the individuals who have been abducted, we are not going to make any further comment at this time," a spokesman said. He did not say when the kidnapping took place or who might be behind it. (Reuters)

(posted 20 March 1998)

Defense of ecumenical activity

by Sergei Chapnin
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 18 March 1998

"The question of the participation of the church in the ecumenical movement remains open," according to Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin.

We continue the discussion of the problems connected with the ecumenical contacts of the Russian Orthodox church. In the previous issue of NG-Religions (18.02.98) the opposing points of view of the chief editor of Rus Pravoslanvaia, Konstantin Dushenov, and the director of the secretariat on inter-Christian relations of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, monastic priest Ilarion Alfeev, were presented. The conversation continues with Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin, teacher of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and leading specialist on canon law in the Russian Orthodox church.

--Father Vladislav, recently in the church press the broad polemic about ecumenism has grown. Many Orthodox participants in inter-Christian contacts, including bishops, have openly been called heretics. Should the Russian Orthodox church participate in the activity of the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical organizations, or not?

--The question of our participation in WCC now and in the near future is not one of the grand questions of the existence and fate of our church, but rather whether this participation is beneficial or not. As regards the accusations of heresy against representatives of the Russian Orthodox church within WCC, I am sure that not one of the official representatives of our church has made declarations which could be labeled as heretical. But I can admit that the personal theological views of some participants of the ecumenical forums may be doubtful to a certain extent. There is the adage: you are known by the company you keep. It is possible that someone has not stood fast and has adopted non-Orthodox views, but when official declarations are made in the name of the church, they fully conform to Orthodox doctrine.

Sometimes misunderstanding arises: documents of WCC may, of course, contradict Orthodox doctrine and tradition. From this one could deduce that inasmuch as the Russian Orthodox church is a part of WCC it bears responsibility for these documents. This, however, is not the case. In WCC there is no right of veto, and if some decision is adopted, that does not by any means mean that all churches that participate in WCC support it and thus take responsibilty for it. Decisions are adopted by a majority of participants and do not have binding force obligating the member churches of WCC. It is well known at the same time that the majority of documents are composed primarily under the overwhelming influence of protestant theology, since the greater part of the WCC participants are protestants. Thus our church is now posing the question of a change in the forms of participation of churches in WCC.

--Which arguments "for" and "against" participation of Orthodox in the ecumenical movement do you consider most weighty?

--As regards arguments "against" I would say: for a long time we participated in ecumenical contacts, as it was represented to me, with the single main idea of having protection from WCC during the time of the communist regime. Now circumstances have changed. This, of course, is not an argument "against" in the proper sense, but a loss of the former significance which was a very strong factor pushing us toward participation in WCC. Another argument. We have declared and continue to declare that our participation has the goal of drawing that part of the Christian world that thinks differently to embrace the truths of Orthodoxy. We must frankly acknowledge that we have not succeeded notably in this. Locally, perhaps, the experience of the Orthodox churches has gotten a response, but this response has not assumed a substantive character for protestant churches that draws them toward Orthodoxy.

There is another conception. WCC has entered a crisis stage. Obviously this is connected with the general political situation in the world. Interest in WCC on the part of influential political circles has notably decreased. Nevertheless we should not undertake hasty steps for withdrawal from WCC. First, because various Orthodox churches view participation in WCC differently. I am sure that the more united and consistent the position of the Orthodox churches is on the matter of participation in WCC, the better. Unilateral actions by any of the local churches can evoke complications within the Orthodox church itself.

Further, we should nevertheless recall that although we have made little progress in witnessing for Orthodoxy to those who think differently, the church always retains the task of witnessing about the truth of Christ to the whole world, and this means about the truth of Orthodoxy to Christians who think differently, and it is possible to do this in particular through WCC. Finally, WCC is one of those forms of fellowship with other churches which does not bind us very much. Although, of course, there are phenomena in individual protestant churches who are members of WCC that were not imaginable twenty years ago and these, to put it mildly, evoke confusion and legitimate objections.

--In the Russian church press the extreme antiecumenical position is most widely represented.

--In newspapers there can be various publications, but I would not begin to generalize. Extreme antiecumenical statements frequently have not a specifically theoglogical, but an ideological and even overtly political motivation. Sharp politicized statements seem to me inappropriate in church publications. The point is not that the church should be indifferent to the life of society, including the political life, but it is called to judge what is happening in the world in the light of the gospel and not from the point of view of separate groups, classes, and social strata, and not from the point of view of political benefit. The harsh political position of church publicists, for example in Rus Pravoslavnaia, is inappropriate because, in expressing it, the writers willy-nilly are drawn into the political struggle. The church does not approve political struggle and sees in it one of the dark but inescapable aspects of our life.

--It is interesting that you consider politicization to be the chief characteristic of Rus Pravoslavnaia. Does that mean that everything else is playing a subsidiary role? And if so, what can be the goal of such publications?

--It is difficult for me to answer a question about the goals of such publications, but as a reader I must say that I am disturbed by reading various issues of this newspaper. I don't know whether the writers wish it or not, but they can cause disorders in the minds of those church readers who are still not very firmly established on church soil, for example, new converts, that is, those who have been drawn into the church and are not yet freed from political inclinations. In the articles of the chief editor of Rus Pravoslavnaia, Konstantin Duchenov, there is an attempt to evaluate the activity of the bishops and hierarchy of the church. It seems to me that Dushenov sometimes does this to arrogantly. It becomes quite evident that he is trying to set some bishops over against others. Indeed, there can be disagreements among bishops on particular matters, but to set out in his articles the struggle of the camps, to take the side of one camp, and to fight against the other--this is not the church's approach.

--Sharply criticizing the participation of Orthodox in the ecumenical movement, Konstantin Dushenov appeals to church canons. You are one of the few specialists in canon law. How persuasive are Dushenov's conclusions?

--The canonical argument in Dushenov's articles, at least in those I know, bears a too diffuse and inexact character. He brands ecumenism as heresy, and the canons, it seems, condemn heresy. It is necessary first of all to establish what kind of ecumenism we are talking about. This term has various, incommensurate meanings. In one of its meanings ecumenism may be called heresy. It would be undoubted ecclesiological heresy to claim that none of the churches now represent the church of the Creed, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and that the true church is not a given but an unknown quantity. To be sure, the Orthodox church firmly believers that it is the church of the Creed, but I do not know a single case when an official representative of our church--bishop, clergyman, layman--using the word "ecumenism" in a positive context would assign it this significance. In references to ecumenism in official documents, RPTs invariable understands as ecumenism the textimony to the truth of Orthodox to Christians who think differently with the goal of leading them through dialogue into a recognition of the truth. As far as I know, the official position of RPTs, participating in WCC and other ecumenical contacts, is precisely this. In this there is nothing that is dubious from a canonical point of view. To categorize such a position as heretical means either to commit deliberate slander or to be in profound delusion. It is possible to evaluate the fruits of our participation in WCC and other ecumenical organizations in various ways, optimistically or critically, but to hurl an accusation that any kind of ecumenism is betrayal of the church and heresy is an unsubstantiated and absurd position. It is too insubstantial to be seriously discussed. However it is not hard to understand the origin of such a mood. What's hard is something else: to separate out what in the Orthodox publications of this type in the theological and church terminology is essentially concealing other, obviously political, goals.

--Doesn't it seem to you that there are too few official documents dealing with the problems of ecumenism? Given the shortage of materials various interpretations become possible.

--I am sure that there simply are no secret materials on ecumenism which our church has at its disposal. Ther are materials, in process, but practically all of them dealing with this subject have been published in the church press, if not in full at least in reliable form. There is no sense in looking for a false bottom, some kind of secret, which the Orthodox church has covered up. I do not think that there is a shortage of material that prevents a correct orientation to this problem. Besides, this is a special question which it would be appropriate for someone who knows its essence to deal with. Serious analysis obviously requires competence. However, as regards a secret plan, actually there has been one for a rather extended period. But this is not a matter of secret documents but of such things on which documents are silent but which are real. Nowhere in the church press has there been a mention of what really was the chief motivation for our participation in ecumenical contacts. Overtly or covertly the church sought in them protection from the hostile state power. A multitude of cases are known where representatives of other churches saved church buildings and monasteries from closure. This started from the very beginning of the Russian church's membership in WCC and continued to the end of the communist epoch.

--Do you consider antiecumenical attitudes to be dominant today in the church?

--Church people have a rather healthy attitude not to engage in this polemic of extreme positions. Our church even in church political questions has not been subject to variability depending upon ephemeral circumstances of the present. I think the question of our further participation in WCC can be considered open, but whether contacts with other churches will continue I figure is not an issue. Contacts will continue in some form. I would add that in order to keep our flock steadfast with respect to intrigues of those who are trying to sow suspicion, we must have the most complete, logical, and frequent explanations of the position of our church on matters of contacts with the world of those who believe differently that are possible, and we must show persuasively that our Orthodox church and its hierarchy stand on the position of strict, pure Orthodoxy. Then there will be no opportunities for those who are looking for occasions to disturb the flock. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text

Related article: "Doubts about ecumenical activity"

(posted 3 March 1998)

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