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Moscow patriarchate threatens WCC

ORTHODOX ULTIMATUM

World Council of Churches faces threat of liquidation


by Maxim Shevchenko
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 6 May 1998

In the middle of November last year Patriarch Alexis II appealed to representatives of all local Orthodox church to discuss problems that had arisen in connection with participation of Orthodox in the world ecumenical movement and specifically in the personification of this movement, the World Council of Churches. A pan-Orthodox conference on this matter was held 30 April to 2 May in Thessalonika, Greece. At it a document was adopted which can reasonably be considered historic. Its full text, by consent of participants, may be made public no earlier than 9 May.

Detailed information about the course of the conference and its final document will be published in the supplement "NG-religiia," which will come out 20 May. A NG reporter was admitted to all sessions, conducted behind closed doors in an atmosphere of tense conflict, sometimes casting doubt on Orthodox unity. In the course of the discussion on the second day, when specifically the final document was adopted, the word "schism" resounded in the auditorium, and representatives of the ecumenical patriarchate actually stated their readiness to go into schism if their demands were not accepted.

The delegation of RPTs, headed by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, seemed to be alone in presenting a serious theological basis for their position, stating in general terms their insistence on a radical reorganization of WCC and attention to the needs of Orthodox. If this does not happen the participation in the work of this organization will become impossible for the Russian church. In particular the Russian delegation suggested a complete boycott of Orthodox participation in the work of the Eighth Assembly of WCC which is planned for December of this year in Harare, Zimbabwe.

WCC is one of the most influential international organizations that has at its disposal enormous financial and political possibilities. Orthodox churches represent a minority within it.

The final document emphasized that within certain protestant members of the council there exist tendencies that are reflected in discussions within WCC and which are viewed by Orthodox as unacceptable. In many meetings of WCC Orthodox were forced to participate in discussions of questions which are completely alien to their tradition. At the seventh assembly in Canbera in 1991 and at the time of the meetings of the central committee of WCC Orthodox delegates took a sharply negative position with regard to joint participation (intercommunion) with non-Orthodox, "inclusive" language in the Holy Scriptures, ordination of women, rights of sexual minorities, and several tendencies that relate to religious syncretism. Their declaration on these subjects always were taken as declarations of the minority and as such could not exert any influence on the procedures and general spirit of WCC.

After a century of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and fifty years in WCC participants at the Thessalonika conference concluded that there was a lack of sufficient progress in multilateral theological discussions among Christians. On the contrary, in their opinion, the gulf between Orthodox and protestants has become wider to the extent that the above mentioned tendencies within protestant denominations have intensified.

In addition the document contains the unanimous pan-Orthodox stern condemnation of schismatics and extremist groups within the local Orthodox churches themselves, which are using the subject of ecumenism in order to criticize church leadership and to undermine its authority, trying to create divisions and schisms within the church. It was emphasized that in support of their unjust criticism these groups use unreliable materials and disinformation.

It can be considered a substantial victory for Orthodox unity that the declaration stated that in the course of decades of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement Orthodoxy was never betrayed by a single one of the representatives of a local Orthodox church and that these representatives always were completely faithful and obedient to their church authorities and acted in complete accordance with the canonical rules, teachings of the ecumenical councils, fathers of the church, and the sacred traditions of the Orthodox church.

In the end, the local Orthodox churches, through the participants in the conference, nevertheless recommended sending delegates to the Eighth Assembly of WCC with the goal of expressing their concern about the situation as it has developed. The RPTs delegation succeeded in winning the point that the Orthodox delegates at Harare actually will constitute a single delegation. Orthodox delegates will not participate in ecumenical services, prayers, liturgies, and other religious ceremonies at the assembly and will not particiate in voting, except in a few cases which deal with problems of Orthodoxy or are matters of general consent.

By unanimous agreement of the participants of the conference, the pan-Orthodox ultimatum will remain effective until a radical reorganization of WCC has been completed, which will permit Orthodox to participate appropriately in the activity of this organization.

The document ends with the declaration that if the structure of WCC is not radically changed, then other Orthodox churches will withdraw from WCC as the Georgian Orthodox church has done.

After the Thessalonika conference, WCC and its leader, Pastor Konrad Raiser, face a critical choice. If they accept the Orthodox conditions, then they will surrender the initiative to them and will actually agree to the liquidation of the council. If they do not, then without the participation of the Orthodox, WCC will be transformed into a rich and influential, but a purely protestant world league. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Ultimatum pravoslavnykh

(posted 12 May 1998)


Orthodox churches hold WCC at arms' length

AN INTER-ORTHODOX MEETING ON RELATIONS WITH THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
from Department for External Church Relations of Moscow patriarchate
5 May 1998

A pan-Orthodox conference that took place from April 29 to May 2, 1998, at Thessaloniki, Greece, was devoted to relations between Orthodoxy and the ecumenical movement - a topic which has caused concern among very many people not only in the Russian but also other Local Orthodox Churches. . . .

During the conference, the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church made a proposal that only observers rather than official delegations should be sent to the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches to take place in December 1998 in Harare, Zimbabwe. After a prolonged discussion a compromise was reached whereby each Local Orthodox Church will send delegates for the Assembly in Harare not to participate in the essential work of the Assembly but only to testify before the non-Orthodox participants to their concern for the processes taking place in the WCC and to demand its restructuring. Nor the Orthodox delegates will participate in prayers and other religious celebrations or voting and discussions (except specially fixed occasions).

Participants expressed their views in a Communique that was released by the Moscow patriarchate on 5 May. The final document of the meeting was released by the patriarchate on 8 May. The following is an English translation of parts of that final document that do not duplicate text in the English translation of the Communique.

FINAL DOCUMENT

. . . 6. Participants are unanimous in their understanding of the need for continued participation in various forms of inter-Christian activity.

7. We do not have the right to renounce the mission laid upon us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the mission of testimony to the truth before the non-Orthodox world. We should not disrupt relations with Christians of other confessions who are ready to cooperate with us.

8. In reality, WCC has been and continues to be a forum at which the faith of the Orthodox church and its mission and thinking on a number of questions such as peace, justice, development and ecology have become widely known to the non-Orthodox world. Fruitful cooperation has been established with other members of the council in response to the challenges of contemporary civilization. Proselytism has been condemned and the Orthodox church have received aide in difficult circumstances, which gave the the possiblity to fulfill their mission further. Orthodox interests frequently have been defneded, especially where Orthodox have been subjected to discrimination as minorities. Orthodox opinion has been expressed on the process of politica., economic, and cultural integration and the Orthodox contribution has been added in relations with other confessions. Schismatic groups and protestant groups of so-called renovation were not admitted to membership in the council in accordance with Orthodox requests.

9. However at the same time there exist certain tendencies within several protestant members of the countil which find their expression in WCC debates but which are unacceptable for Orthodox. At many sessions of WCC Orthodox have been forced to participation in discussions on question that are completely alien to their tradition. At the seventh assembly in Canbera in 1991 and at the sessions of the central committee since 1992 Orthodox delegates dook a decisive stand against intercommunion with non-Orthodox, against inclusive language, ordination of women, rights of sexual minorities, and certain tendencies toward church syncretism. Their declarations on these matters have been considered minority declarations and as such were unable to exert an impact upon the procedure and moral character of WCC.

10. After one hundred years of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and fifty years in WCC we do not see sufficient progress in the multilaterial theological discussions among Christians. On the contrary, the division between Orthodox and progestants has become ever wider to the extent that in certain protestant denominations the above mentioned tendencies have intensified.

11. In the many decades of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement not a single one of the representatives of any local Orthodos church has ever betrayed Orthodoxy. On the contrary, these representatives always maintained complete fidelity and obedience to their church authorities and acted in complete harmony with the canonical rules, the doctrine of the ecumenical councils and fathers of the church, and with the holy tradition of the Orthodox church.

12. We have decided to make suggestions for a radical restructuring of WCC in order to create the possiblity of more acceptable participation of Orthodox. Many Orthodox churches have raised the question of the final criteria for membership of the church in a wider organization such as WCC. These same questions arise in regard to membership of the Orthodox church in the council. Nevertheless, the subject of criteria for membership remains one of the basic requests of Orthodoxy. . . .

And so, we declare that the present forms of Orthodox membership in WCC do not satisfy us. If the structures of WCC are not changed radically, other Orthodox churches also will withdraw from WCC, as the Georgian Orthodox church did. Besides, Orthodox delegates at the Eighth General Assembly in Harare in December 1998 will be forced to protest if representatives of sexual minorities are admitted to substantive participation in the assembly.

Finally, the delegates emphasized that important decisions in regard to participation of Orthodox churches in the ecumenical movement must conform with resolutions of all Orthodox churches and must be adopted by each local Orthodox church in consultation with all other local Orthodox churches. . . .

May the Risen Lord direct our steps to the fulfillment of his will and to the glory of his divine name. (tr. by PDS)

Thessalonika, 1 May 1998

(posted 12 May 1998)


Patriarch and president confer

MEETING OF MOST HOLY PATRIARCH ALEXIS II AND PRESIDENT OF RUSSIAN FEDERATION

MOSCOW, 8 MAY. Today in the working residence of the mosy holy patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus, Alexis II his meeting with the president of the Russian federation, Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin, was held. In the days while the ongoing celebration of the glorious resurrection of Christ, the head of the Russian government warmly expressed greetings to the primate of the Russian Orthodox church both for Holy Easter and the upcoming national holiday, Victory Day. Most Holy Patriarch Alexis II also expressed greetings to the president of Russia for the Resurrection of Christ and Victory Day, which occurred in 1945 during Eastertide. Then his most holiness and President Yeltsin had a personal conversation. (tr. by PDS)

from Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate

YELTSIN MEETS PATRIARCH ALEXIY ON HOLIDAY EVE

MOSCOW -- (Reuters) President Boris Yeltsin on Friday paid a rare courtesy call on Patriarch Alexiy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and said he found such meetings useful.

Yeltsin took time out from making final appointments to Russia's new government and from honoring the country's war dead on the eve of Saturday's Victory Day, which commemorates the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

"I greet you as the Supreme Commander (of Russia's armed forces)," the robed, bearded patriarch told Yeltsin, who earlier had laid a wreath at Moscow's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"And I greet you as the Supreme Commander of religious forces," Yeltsin joked in reply. Yeltsin told reporters before the meeting he met the patriarch regularly to discuss secular and religious issues. "Such meetings are very useful," he said.

Though he has never professed any personal religious belief, Yeltsin -- a former Communist official -- has courted the church assiduously in recent years, seeing it as a powerful symbol of Russian identity and continuity at a time of wrenching change.

Last year Yeltsin gave in to pressure from the Orthodox Church and signed a controversial law on religion, which opponents worldwide, including the president of the United States, say discriminates against other religious groups.

The patriarch's presence is sought at the planned burial of the remains of Russia's last Czar Nicholas II and his family executed by revolutionary Bolsheviks in 1918.

The Kremlin wants the burial, due to take place on July 17 in St. Petersburg, to be a symbolic gesture of repentance, hoping it will bring peace and stability to the society.

Although the two men did not talk about the issue this time, Yeltsin may try to convince the church head to take part in the funeral.

A special government commission ruled earlier this year after seven years of research that the bones found near the city of Yekaterinburg where the family had been killed belonged to Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their children and servants.

But the church says it still has doubts about the authenticity of the bones. It has yet to decide on its participation at the ceremony.

Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's adviser, who headed the commission, said the patriarch was unlikely to take part in the burial, which meant Yeltsin would not attend either.

"If the patriarch is not going there, there is no reason why the president should," Victor Aksyuchits told Ekho Moskvy radio. "However, the decision is not final and the patriarch still may participate."

On July 16 the bones will be transported to St. Petersburg by plane after a ceremony in Yekaterinburg.

The following day the bones will be buried after a service in the presence of relatives and official delegates, Aksyuchits said, adding that "nothing but a flood" could stop the ceremony from taking place.

During Friday's meeting Yeltsin presented the patriarch with a china replica of the Christ the Savior Cathedral as a gift.

The cathedral, a huge edifice rebuilt over the past few years after being demolished in Soviet times and used as a swimming pool, is the most visible evidence of the Orthodox Church's reviving fortunes.

The patriarch gave Yeltsin a 15-centimeter (six-inch) high golden egg.

(c) 1998 Reuters

(posted 12 May 1998)


Russian Muslims suffer soviet-style practices

ISLAM IN TATARSTAN
by Geoffrey York
The Globe and Mail (Canada), May 5, 1998

KAZAN, Russia -- In the ancient heart of Islam's most northern outpost, a giant new mosque is slowly rising toward the sky. Turkish construction workers are clambering over the half-built brick minarets, just a few metres from government offices in a historic Russian fortress near the Volga River.

The massive mosque is a symbol of Russia's Islamic revival. More than 400 years ago, a legendary old mosque on the same site was destroyed by Ivan the Terrible during his brutal conquest of the Tatar khanate at Kazan. Today an Islamic crescent is displayed on the tallest tower in the fortress, signalling the rebirth of the religion.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, pundits warned that the Islamic revival could pose a formidable challenge to Russia's political leaders. The Tatars, the second-biggest ethnic group in Russia, were seen as one of the most likely challengers. Their oil-rich republic, about 700 kilometres east of Moscow, occupies a strategic territory in the Russian heartland. But in the confrontation between secular and religious authorities in Tatarstan, the Islamists have suffered a crushing defeat. While their mosques are expanding, their political influence is weakening. They have proved no match for the authoritarian tactics of the shrewd ex-Communist leaders who still control this region. "We lost, and the state has won this game," says Gabdoulla Galioullin, the former head of the Tatarstan Muslims.

Mr. Galioullin, a fiercely independent mufti, was elected the leader of the region's estimated one million Muslims in 1992. He often clashed with the Tatarstan government. But in February the government called a meeting of the Muslims, stacked it with handpicked delegates and paid for their travel expenses. The delegates obediently voted to depose the mufti and replace him with a pro-government loyalist. "I was not considered politically reliable to the state," the mufti said in an interview in his office in a nineteenth-century mosque in the centre of Kazan.

The defeat of the Islamists is a testament to the power of Russia's regional chieftains. Tatarstan's president is Mintimir Shaimiyev, a veteran Communist Party functionary who served as the Communist boss of this region when the Soviet Union was still alive. Like many other governors and presidents across the country, Mr. Shaimiyev rules his region with an iron fist, brooking little opposition from any independent political or religious groups. In 1995, dozens of militant Muslim students threw a scare into the president when they stormed and seized a former Islamic college in Kazan and occupied it for five days, defying the armed riot police who surrounded the building.

The students insisted that the building must be converted to a madrasa, as it was before the 1917 revolution. "It was like a revolt, a political bomb," Mr. Galioullin said. "It was a shock to the state. It was the first time since 1917 that anyone had taken this kind of action." The Muslims won the skirmish, and the building became an Islamic college again. But the rebellion prompted Mr. Shaimiyev to launch a crackdown on the Islamic movement. Their leader, Mr. Galioullin, was subjected to criminal charges and lengthy police interrogations. He was prohibited from leaving the city for eight months. Since then, the pressure has tightened.

Of the 22 mosques in Kazan, only nine are considered to be independent of government control. The region's secret police, a former branch of the Soviet KGB, closely monitors the activities of the independent mosques. The police wiretap their telephones and recruit informers in the mosques. Only the most loyal imams are allowed access to broadcast time on the local television channels. The independent mosques are plagued by financial problems. Their newspaper was forced to close last summer because of a shortage of money. There is still no Islamic university in Kazan, so the imams must travel to Uzbekistan for their religious training. Friday prayers are often led by visiting Muslim clerics from Turkey. "In the villages and remote areas, the salary of the imams and the heating and electricity is all paid by the state," Mr. Galioullin said. "That might be why they can control us."

Mr. Shaimiyev, meanwhile, has consolidated his power as the dominant figure in Tatarstan. When he ran for re-election in 1996, not a single candidate dared to oppose him. He won a Soviet-style victory with 97.5 per cent of the vote. Shortly afterward, the Tatarstan constitution was amended to allow him to seek a third term in office in 2001. After his election triumph, Mr. Shaimiyev issued a presidential decree making it illegal for the media to insult him. Fines of up to $8,500 can be levied against anyone who insults him in public. Such incidents are unlikely. The president maintains tight control over all of the local media. Last week, the sole remaining opposition newspaper in Tatarstan was forcibly shut down. A local court ordered the paper to be closed because of an obscure technical violation -- it was registered as a Tatar-language publication, yet it was publishing in both Russian and Tatar. The biweekly newspaper, Golden Horde, was published by the main Tatar nationalist group, known as Ittifak.

Once a major rival of the president, the Tatar group has been forced to the sidelines. "I can't even hold a meeting of our members because we don't have a building," said Bernard Kasimov, chairman of the Kazan branch of the 4,000-member association. "We had a building, but it was taken away from us. Then our bank account was closed because we have no office. They're trying to destroy all opposition."

The Muslims are philosophical about their fate. Unlike the more militant Islamic separatists of Chechnya, the Tatar Muslims are isolated in the centre of Russia, thousands of kilometres away from the nearest Islamic nation. They have intermarried with their Russian neighbours for centuries. After more than 70 years of official atheism in the Soviet era, they see the Islamic revival as a slow and gradual movement. It will take many years for Tatarstan to achieve political and religious freedom, Mr. Galioullin said. "This was a totalitarian state," he said. "We were always afraid to express our opinion. It was inborn. And the fear is still inside us."

(from Johnson's Russia List)

(posted 8 May 1998)


More protestants lose rented space

BELEAGUERED CHURCH AWAITS POLICE CLUBS
by Vadim Akentiev,
Radiotsekov, Kemerovo

NOVOKUZNETSK, 7 May. Last Sunday the church of Christians of Evangelical Faith "On the Rock" in Novokuznetsk was forced to hold services outside. The director of the movie theatre cancelled its lease on the basis of an oral directive from the head of the city, Sergei Martin. The latter, besides, somewhat earlier had refused to permit this church to build its own building. According to Pastor Ilia Bantseev, the mayor is persuaded that only the Orthodox church has the right to build in his town, and although he does not oppose the meetings of the Pentecostals, they will not get a parcel of land. The convictions of Sergei Martin caused the church to lose 50 million old rubles that had been spent on preparation of the planning documents. We recall that permission for this preparation had been signed by Sergei Martin three years ago, when he still was acting mayor.

The misfortunes for the "On the Rock" KhVE church, it seems, have just begun inasmuch as its recent services outside may be considered to be administrative violations of law. Although the pastor a month ago submitted an application for conducting such an event, when the threat of eviction was raised, he never got permission from the district authorities. Despite this, the street meeting apparently got heavenly sanction since for the whole two hours two police cars were parked alongside the parishioners but the Sunday meeting come off peacefully. Besides, the Saturday snow and rain were followed the next day by clear, warm weather. And the location had been selected propitiously--the central alley of the district, where usually there are many people strolling. As always, a musical group sang and loudspeakers carried Christian hymns to the distant yards. True, the pastor at the beginning of his sermon had to explain to interested passersby and to those people who were watching from the windows of their homes that the parishioners had assembled here not by their own choice. Overall the commander of the police division was solicitous and did not begin to break up the unsanctioned event, but simply maintained order. Now the members of the church intend to hold such services regularly and they are prepared for the authorities to be quite displeased.

The State Duma has reacted to the events in Novokuznetsk. Valery Borshchev, deputy of the president of the duma committee on affairs of public associations and religious organizations, who also is the president of the chamber on human rights and president of the political consultative council of the presidency of RF, sent a letter to the governor of Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleev. In it Valery Borshchev asks that the Novokuznetsk "On the Rock" KhVE church be granted a parcel for construction. Aman Tuleev commissioned his deputy for construction Viktor Neustroev to deal with this. The latter immediately sent to the duma an extremely vague reply, from which only one thing is clear: "the head of the city of Novokusnetsk is authorized to review the determination of the question of the construction of the church." The head himself received this directive a full month ago. But the mayor's office met with silence all attempts of Pastor Ilia Bantseev to learn whether this has been fulfilled.

As regards those losses which the church bore because of the convictions of the head of the city, Sergei Martin (and we recall the sum runs to 50 million old rubles), the pastor does not want to file suit in court. Although he was advised to do this even in the regional administration, specifically by Nadezhda Kriukova, president of the department on relations with the public, the parishioners hope that the authorities will nevertheless respect their desire to resolve the conflict by peace means. Moreover, since our country, according to Ilia Bantseev, still is far from a government of law, it would hardly be possible to match swords with the mayor but rather they would create new problems for themselves, especially since in a private conversation with the bishop of KhVE churches in western Siberia, Stanislav Savchuk, the mayor of Novokuznetsk warned about the futility of attempts to sue him in court.

However there is no doubt that after several outdoors services the attention of the public will be drawn to the trials of the parishioners. Besides the Moscow program Vremechko is preparing to deal with the persecuted church. So Pastor Ilia Bantseev is writing a new letter to the State Duma to report that in the aftermath of its intervention the situation for the church has become more difficult. It is quite possible that next Sunday the administration of the district will show its diligence and the police will nevertheless be forced to resort to clubs and disperse the parishioners.

Of course, now their prayers are filled with tears. But these still are tears of thanksgiving, thanks to God that he is able to turn even such problems for believers into good. The first street service of the beleaguered church, at which there were 150 of its members, attracted around 15 passersby. They stood through all two hours, although previously they never had been at this church. At the end of the meeting five of them decided to repent and accept Jesus Christ into theri hearts as Lord and Savior. (tr. by PDS)

NEW DETAILS OF EVICTION OF CHURCH IN BARNAUL
by Vadim Akentiev, Radiotserkov

BARNAUL, 6 May. The New Life church of Christians of Evangelical Faith in Barnaul has suddenly become a "bum," as they call people without a definite place of residence. The church has been subjected to eviction from the rented movie theatre Chaika by order of the city department of culture. The parishioners had to surrender the auditorium, office, and room for prayer very quickly, according the Pastor Andrei Saveliev, because the director of Chaika had to shorten the deadline for eviction from two months to four days, under threat of dismissal.

Although finding a new place in such a short time is very difficult, the parishioners until recently had hoped that they would be taken in by the House of Culture of the auto factory, which they had occupied last year. However, despite the readiness of the director of the House of Culture to renew the cooperation, he had to refuse the church. Andrei Saveliev said that the administration of the factory decided this because the mayor's office recommended that they not permit "New Life" in the door. One other possibility remains; the director of still another movie theater offered herself to let the church locate in her place. But this hope also quickly evaporated; the same mayor's office intervened. In sum, next Sunday 300 parishioners of New Life church will hold services under the open sky. Andrei Saveliev tried to meet with the administrator of the same department of culture, but the latter refused to meet. He wasn't able to meet with the directors of the department on relations with religious organizations of the administration of Altai territory. The authorities have been silent in response to letters from the parishioners requesting that the situation be investigated.

The official reason for the eviction of the congregation is known: the Chaika theatre is being converted to a youth recreational center. Incidentally, the pastor of the now homeless church does not oppose this. "Interest group work, choreography, and the like, are all healthy," he said. "Moreover, the theatre is in an area where the situation for children's recreation is complex. But some kind of compromise could be found. . . ." Obviously, not only could it be, but it must be! Especially since the decision to make a youth center in Chaika occurred to the bureaucrats only after the church had recovered this theatre from ruins. It had not been used for three years and was in decrepit conditions and the auditorium was partially destroyed. By agreement with the director of the movie house the parishioners at their own expense made capital repairs to the building, spending on this more than 40 million old rubles. In exchange they got the right to five years rental. But in exchange the church was, as they say, cast to the winds.

It remains to add that this year the church mearks its seventh year. Among its parishioners are people for many different ages and social classes. Physicians and teachers, heroes of socialist labor and former drug addicts. By the way, the church conducts substantial work with the last group. Or it did? For now New Life is a big question mark. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 8 May 1998)


Divisions within Orthodox church abroad

CHURCH ABROAD ON BRINK OF SCHISM

Attempts at dialogue with Moscow patriarchate provoke sharp criticism

by Alexander Soldatov
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religiia, 15 April 1998

The past year has brought many trials to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (RPTsZ), headed by the 88-year-old primate Metropolitan Vitaly Ustinov. RPTsZ lost the Holy Trinity monastery in Hebron, which was turned over by the Palestinian authority to the Russian Orthodox church of the Moscow Patriarch (RPTs MP), and the Saint Nicholas cathedral church in Montreal, in all likelihood torched by unknown antagonists. Archprist Alexander Zharkov, a prominent RPTsZ priest in St. Petersburg, and Iosif Munoz Cortes, the curator of the greatest shrine of the Russian emigration, the Iverian Myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God, perished at the hands of bandits. The icon itself disappeared and its location is unknown. This spring, by decision of Metropolitan Vitaly, Archbishop Mark Arndt of Berlin and Germany was expelled from the bishops' synod of RPTsZ. [Archbishop Mark's response]

It is not surprising that these sad events, viewed by many in RPTsZ as the "end of the world," became the catalyst for processes of internal division among the clergy and flock of the Russian emigration on the question of mutual relations with RPTsMP. It may be strange, but the part of RPTsZ that was most politicized in the past has become the most active advocates of rapprochement and even unification with the Mother church after the fall of USSR and the democratic reforms in Russia. The aging priests in Europe and America and parishioners from among the first and part of the second "wave" of emigration are hoping to live to see the "desired unification." We recall that the distinguished arch-presbyter Alexander Kiselev, a pastor who is extremely authoritative and popular within RPTsZ and the long-time clergyman of the synodal cathedral in New York, has moved toward an open rupture with Metropolitan Vitaly because of his burning love for the motherland and for Patriarch Alexis II personally.

By way of contrast, the new generation, expecially the so-called converts (protestants and Catholics who have transferred into Orthodoxy) speak about the dogmatic and canonical differences between RPTsZ and RPTsMP that prevent unification. But every rule is extremely approximate and reflects reality only relatively. An open protagonist of the process of reconciliation with the Mother church in RPTsZ is the sometime "convert," an ethnic German who converted to Orthodoxy, Archbishop Mark Arndt of Berlin and Germany. In his time Archbishop Mark, an activist in the National Labor Union, was extremely radical in his negative attitude toward USSR and the "soviet church."

Judging by the tendency of the publications of the "Vestnik of the German Diocese," edited by Master Mark, his attitude began to change in 1993. It is obvious that the archbishop suffered profoundly from the failures of RPTsZ in Russia, the alliance of the synodal representative Bishop Varnava with Vasilev's "Pamiat" organization, and conflicts among bishops. These experiences forced him to turn his face toward RPTsMP.

Since 1994, on the initiative of Archbishop Mark, there have been ongoing conversations between the clergy of the German dioceses of RPTsZ and RPTsMP. The bishops themselves led these conversations (from the patriarchal side was Archbishop Feofan). This has given a basis for making a preliminary summary in an official joint declaration, published in the middle of December 1997. The theme of the declaration was the relativity and historical conditioning of the division existing in the one Russian church: "People in Russia and abroad have conducted their church service in completely different circumstances and have assessed the situation differently. Hence diverse paths of the Russian church have appeared."

It is clear that the authors of the declaration are simplifying the historical facts extremely: the line of the church division by no means follows state boundaries. Participants in the conversations declared their full recognition of the validity of one another's sacraments. However in practice such a recognition is absent. Existing precedents of a transfer into RPTsMP of clergy from RPTsZ in Russia (e.g., Oleg Steniaev and Dimitry Goltsev), when they were reordained to the clerical rank (in the case of Steniaev the ordination was performed by the patriarch himself), testify to the nonrecognition of the sacraments of RPTsZ. On the other hand, Metropolitan Vitaly in his letter to Archbishop Mark in December 1996 directly declared that the time had come for a declaration to the world of the "lack of grace in the Moscow patriarchate." It is natural that the publication of this document evoked a storm of responses within RPTsZ and beyond its boundaries. Already in December 1996, when Archbishop Mark met Patriarch Alexis II in Moscow, the most radical opponents of the activity of the German bishop accused him of rapprochement with "Sergians." This included in first place Metropolitan Vitaly himself, who sent to Archbishop Mark an extremely sharp indictment in which he declared that he had fallen into spiritual illness. Archbishop Mark also was indirectly condemned by clergy of the West European diocese, who distributed an open letter against reconciliation with RPTsMP, over the signatures of Bishop Varnava Rokofev of Cannes and 14 priests. No less sharp was the reaction in Russia at the time. Russian parishes of RPTsZ which had just broken with the patriarchate had no desire to admit to error. "We are for unification," wrote, in particular, the Russian members of the brotherhood of Saint Iov of Pochaev, "but not at any price. No price is worth betrayal and contempt for truth." Fr Stefan Krasovitsky, head of the RPTsZ mission in Russia, even sundered prayer fellowship with Archbishop Mark, considering him "in no way better that a Sergian." Archbishop Mark's enthusiastic impressions of Chisty Lane evoked a certain amazement even among the conservative circles of RPTsMP.

As at that time, so in the present case of the publication of the joint declaration Metropolitan Vitaly was the first to respond. In his letter of 6 February of this year he reminded Archbishop Mark that no one had given him authority "to conduct these conversations." The patient primate decided to resort to punishment: he expelled Archbishop Mark from the bishop's synod of RPTsZ.

Archbishop Mark wrote a rather sharp retort, addressed to all bishops of RPTsZ, in which he accused the metropolitan of inability to administer the church and, in essence, called for his removal. The only bishops, besides the metropolitan, who decided to speak openly against Archbishop Mark, who has acquired influence within RPTsZ, was the young bishop of Seattle, Kirill, vicar of the North American diocese, whose voice earlier had not been very much noticed. He delivered a devastating assessment of the joint declaration: "I am profoundly convinced that this declaration is an irresponsible collection of demagogic sentences that do not contain a single healthy idea which would lead to the resolution of the numerous ecclesiastical problems of the Russian Orthodox church at the end of the twentieth century."

And so, the circle of opponents of Archbishop Mark's line in RPTsZ has been approximately set. There is Metropolitan Vitaly, vicar bishops Varnava and Kirill, the conservative clergy of West European diocese, practically all the Russian clergy of RPTsZ and "converts" (mostly Americans). Among the supporters of master Mark no one actively has declared himself so it is possible to draw conclusions only by indirect indicators. Obviously, that number includes several influential synodal bishops, whose support gives the German bishop confidence, the aging liberal Russian clergy (mostly in America and Australia) and, of course, clergy of the German diocese. Between these relative camps a fault line has formed, threatening in the near future to reveal to the world new branches of Russian Orthodoxy. Several observers from among clergy and laity of RPTsZ in Russia confirm that at this council the question of Metropolitan Vitaly's retirement will serve as a cutting edge. [Compare open letter issued by Council of Bishops, 30 April/13 May.] If that is so, then they must be correct who affirm that the extraordinary effort for overcoming the schism, in accordance with the law of the dialectic, will inevitably result in a new schism. (tr by PDS)

Russian text: Zarubezhniki na grane raskola

(posted 7 May 1998)


Implementation of law goes slowly

SIX MONTHS AFTER THE LAW: ACHIEVEMENTS DESPITE SHORTCOMINGS
by Viktor Nikolaevich Kalinin, distinguished jurist of the Russian Federation
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religiia, 15 April 1998

A basis for the realization of the right of freedom of conscience has finally been created in Russia. A half year of the operation in Russia of the new law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" has passed. The disputes and discussions have calmed down in which opponents of the law have frightened its supporters with interreligious wars and revolts by citizens "whose rights have been infringed." Covert requests and supplications have continued to be addressed to the overseas country for defense and simultaneous material aid "for those who are suffering for the faith." The storm of political passions and the sorting out of those whom the new law will benefit and those whom it will harm have interferred with the normal legislative work and, chiefly, with the objective "patterning" of the implementation of the law, which has not had a beneficial effect.

Recently in the government commission on affairs of religious associations, a representative of the administration of Nizhny Novgorod region, reporting on the practical implementation of the law, delicately noted that there is some "unclarity" in the matter. One can agree with this. The process of the legislative regulation of the formation and activity of religious organizations will go on and amendments and additions to the law are inevitable.

Only who will take this up? One wishes to recall that, having abandoned diplomacy and respect for the sovereignty of Russia, various parties have begun to lecture Russia. From the Vatican our president received the directive: "Defend the Catholics of Russia; they cannot survive by the new law." Statesmen of USA have decided to take religious minorities of Russia under their protection against the new law, seeing in it the infringement of freedom of conscience. How easily they surrender to the screems of certain religious leaders for the defense of the sectarian or some such organizations they direct. This same company includes Mrs. Ilovaiskaia-Alberti, who sends into Russia from Paris her "Russkaia mysl," which does not promote interreligious harmony.

The law has been published. But now the question arises: has it begun to operate, engendering troubles and torments? has it changed anything in the religious life of Russia?

For citizens in the church or mosque everything remains without change. They are praying now in the same way they prayed and they do not suspect that their freedom of religious profession is now being determined by a different law. Nothing has changed, if one discounts the temporary pause for the registration of religious organizations, while in the Ministry of Justice they composed the decree of 16 February of this year with an announcement of the rules on state registration of religious organizations. Thus the implementation of the law, in the main essentials, has been postponed until next year. By that time we will discover the public benefit of the new law, when by a judicial process there can be liquidated the religious organizations that arose on the "democratic" wave of the uncontrolled operation of the 1990 law "On Freedom of Religious Profession" that now has become ineffective but which provoked the invasion of thousands of missionaries and preachers who were alien to Russia, which was undoubtedly facilitated by representatives of power structures that are partial to the religious sphere. It is possible that the religious orgy in Russia was ordered by someone and supported by money and, perhaps, these people accordingly tried with all their might to prevent the adoption of the new law, declaring themselves fighters for freedom, hiding behind the shield of the International Organization of Religious Freedom, or some other such assemblages. In the history of this period it remains to investigate objectively and to name persons.

In earlier soviet times it was known that instructions would be added to a law and sometimes even a decision of the central committee regarding fulfillment of the law. Then the officials of the state apparatus (civil servants) began to act. In all of this, behind the government there was oversight from the side of the party apparatus with the right of correcting and even directing, which was substantially stronger than the oversight of the procuracy and sometimes even than court decisions.

At the present time Russian political organizations are seeking contacts and support from the side of the religious organizations and their authoritative representatives. It must be recognized that sometimes they get such help. Somehow this is not noticed. But the constitution and the new law has put these organizations in their places. Religious organizations operate outside the political sphere. The law contains a very definite stipulation on this matter: religious associations do not participate in elections to governmental posts or to offices of local administration and they do not participate in the activity of political parties and movements nor give them help. Prosecutors have not taken note of law violations of this type.

Now by law a religious organization is required to identify its religious profession and its complete name, but pamphlets, booklets, and notices contine to be distributed without the required indicators.

By law the state in certain cases (preservation of buildings, monuments of history and culture, teaching of general educational subjects, charitable, cultural, and educational activity) gives financial and other assistance to religious organizations. The procedure for such assistance must be established by appropriate state agencies. But nothing has been heard about this and arbitrariness reigns at both the federal and local levels. It is quite obvious that in today's Russia there is no general lawabiding, and the government is not fulfilling its obligation to guarantee the observance of law by everyone without exception, including religious associations.

Unfortunately there are cases of complete contempt for the law. I shall cite an example of the resolution of the council of the Russian Orthodox Old Believer church of 22 October 1997 which declared that "the new law will be received for information and will be observed to the extent that it does not violate the law of Christ's church." Then it gives a crudely negative political assessment of the law. So who reacted to this, who called the council to respect the law, which requires that the internal resolutions of religious organizations must not contradict the legislation?

The law clearly defines a maximal right of ownership for religious organizations of property intended for religious purposes and its acquisition free of charge from state and municipal inventories. But no progress at all has been made. There is no instruction, and without it the lower levels of the state bureaucracy takes no action. Don't disturb anyone; the democratic executive authority is asleep. It has enough of its own concerns. While there are some crumbs of solicitiousness by the state toward the charitable, cultural, and educational activity that accompanies religion, there is an enormous layer of the manifestation of unconscious state atheism which arises because the state owns and has at its disposal most of the property that is designed for liturgical and religious purposes and it does not want to part with it. In any Moscow church, whether in Sokolniki or opposite the Kremlin, and in Siberia the picture is the same: the church building and the property intended for religious purposes to this day remain state property. Tell me, please, what does the government need with an Orthodox church, synagogue, or mosque, and why does the state want to remain the owner of icons, fonts, and lamps? is the revolution really still going on? This state atheistic absurdity should have been abolished long ago. The government should be called to abide by the law in both the center and the regions: don't wait for an instruction; fulfill the law; surrender the property to the religious organizations, which should belong to them by right and which they need for its intended purposes. Undo the designs of those organizations and their clergy who in violation of the law are daring to affirm the division of society between believers and nonbelievers and the priority of the former over the latter. There can be no respect aroused for that government which sees a liturgy being performed in front of a church in winter and does not open its gates for those for whom it was intended.

While the new law has shortcomings, it has one great value; it does not contain the concept of atheism, which in the earlier law was granted by the power of the state a position of equality with religion. No legal system of any civilized state provides in law for atheism; finally we have been delievered from this vestige in the law, having overcome the primitive dogma: "atheism is good and religion is bad." Kandidats and doctors of science with state diplomas specializing in scientific atheism are continuing to serve with barely corrected views on the religious problem. The secular state cannot be antireligious, as it was in our country earlier. Nevertheless Russia still has not be delivered from the problems of atheism. There are theorists who despite all laws are affirming the division of citizens into three categories: believers, nonbelievers, and atheists.

Quite recently the Russian Academy of State Service under the presidency published in its information and research bulletin a commentary on the law on freedom of conscience. It was given by the director of the government apparatus, Andrei Sebentsov, who participated from beginning to end in the development of the draft of the law. The publication of a commentary could be welcomed were it not for Sebentsov's article "Russia is building a secular state." We do not have space here to develop the merits and shortcomings of the author's conceptions, but I am extremely bothered by the author's claim that the constitutional principle of freedom of conscience means "equality of rights of believers and nonbelievers," which is "being eroded." I note that the constitution makes no division of citizens on the basis of this conception. That is a ruse of atheism in its active opposition to religion, made by extrapolation from the human right of freedom of choice. Militant atheism, fed by scientific atheism, has departed from our life, but the adherents of scientific atheism have not laid down their weapons, though now they are not military but simply ideological.

It seems to me that at the present stage we should carry out the following project. In the State Duma in the committee on affairs of public associations and religious organizations there should be a consultative body comprising representatives of centralized religious organizations on the federal level and, possibly, adding public religious leaders. The council should have the right to make recommendations on matters of relations between the state and religious organizations and of ways to reach legal and legislative resolutions of actual and principled questions. Such a channel of communication would serve a mutual benefit by bringing religious organizations closer to the legislative initiatives of deputies and serving as a source of first-hand information for the Russian legislative assembly. My further considerations on this question would lead to the suggestion that the joint committee of the State Duma would be divided into two independent bodies, one on public organizations and the other on religious associations. The need for this has long been realized and the conditions have fully evolved.

In recent years progress in the process of state-church relations has been noted and this has had a positive effect upon the condition of public life in Russia. Against this relatively promising background, unfortunately, there are organizations and persons who have inferior legal knowledge or are products of bad education who are trying to gain popularity by openly displaying disrespect for the religious sentiments of citizens and for the clergy by means of petty mockery, outright lies, illiterate analysis of the law, and crude interference in the extremely delicate sphere of the spiritual life of a person, thereby violating the legal right to free profession of faith.

Observing the process underway in Russia of the public and governmental recognition of religion, the gradual normalization of relations of state agencies with religious orgnizations, and the modest, sometimes contradictory, attempts to create a civilized legal regulatory basis for achieving the rights of a person to freedom of conscience and religious profession, one can say with assurance that "the process has gone on." Its rate may be speeded up or slowed down, depending on the public and political circumstances, but it is impossible to stop it. The authority of traditional Russian religious organizations, particularly that of the Russian Orthodox church, and their positive role in the stabilization of the public life of Russia and the spirituality of people are growing. I believe in this glorious path of the participation of the Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, and other religious organizations in the service of the welfare of humanity, peace, accord, and the regeneration of Russia. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Polgoda posle zakona

(posted 7 May 1998)


Disgraced ex-Orthodox clergy continue troublemaking

DENISENKO THREATENS WORLD-WIDE SCHISM

KIEV, 2 May. At the All-Ukrainian Academic Practical conference of chief editors of mass media of Ukraine, Filaret Denisenko, the head of the so-called "Kievan patriarchate," which is not recognized by Orthodox patriarchates, publicly declared for the first time his plans for organizing a parallel structure in opposition to the fifteen Orthodox local churches, which is supposed to lead, in Filaret's words, to the appearance in the world "of two self-sufficient families of Orthodox churches." By the time of the celebration of the second millennium of Christianity it is possible that "twin patriarchs" supported by Filaret will appear on the canonical territories of all local churches.

The first stage already has occurred in Bulgaria where, not without support from Filaret, the false patriarch Pimen was "elected." Filaret actively is trying to collect around himself clergy who have been defrocked in other countries: the old-calendarists of the Greek churches, schismatics in Macedonia, and self-ordained clerics and autocephalists in America and Europe, bestowing on them fatuous titles.

However Filaret's announcement is merely an hysterical reaction to the firm decision of all heads of canonical churches not to give any support or to engage in any conversations with any schismatics within the depths of their local churches. This was unequivocally stated by the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I and the primate of RPTs, the most holy patriarch Alexis II at their Odessa meeting last year. (tr. by PDS)

Pravoslavnaia Sumshchina/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

YAKUNIN THREATENS MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE

LVIV, 2 April. The Lviv newspaper "Express" carried an interview with the infamous Gleb Yakunin, who now is subject to the juristdiction of the anathematized schismatic Filaret Denisenko. Gleb Yakunin maligned "Moscow," Patriarch Alexis II and President Boris Yeltsin, the former for the "absurd idea of canonical territory" for local churches and the latter for "the utopian and harmful idea of defining borders of spiritual security of Russia." In so doing he defended the sectarian slogan "Church without borders and denied that RPTs has the right to exist in a sovereign Ukraine. According to Yakunin, only the "Roman pope occupies a correct and civilized position" on matters of freedom of faith. It seems that "the authority of the pope is feared" in Moscow. "If the pope were to order the destruction of the Moscow patriarchate, I could only welcome that. . . . We'll leave talk about Christian love until later," the former rights defender concluded. (tr. by PDS)

Pravoslavnaia Sumshchina/ Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 6 May 1998)


Implementing the law

RUSSIAN BAPTIST UNION REREGISTERED
by Liliia Solomonova, Alexis Markevich, Radiotserkov

MOSCOW, 2 May. Our reporter has learned from the attorney for the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia, Boris Tanasov, that on 22 April the union underwent official reregistration in the Ministry of Justice. The new charter, adopted recently by the congress of EKhB of Russia, was registered. Such reregistration became necessary as a result of the adopted of the new law on freedom of conscience. At the present time regional EKhB centers are preparing for reregistration. Following them, local churches also will be reregistered. (tr. by PDS)

. . . BUT ONLY ORTHODOX SERVICES PERMITTED IN PRISON
by Yury Kolesnikov, Radiotserkov

NOVOSIBIRSK, 4 May. According to reports from Novokuznetsk, the Evangelical Christians-Baptists churches have been deprived of the right to continue their work among prisoners in the corrective labor colony, no. 16/12, of the administration of internal affairs. Director of the colony, Lt. Korolev, in a private conversation with Alexis Kriukov, the local minister, stated that "an order has been received to admit into the territory for services among prisoners only representatives of the Russian Orthodox church." Asked about what will become of the prayer building that was built here at the expense of the Baptists five years ago, Lt. Korolev advised transferring it to the RPTs parish. Unfortunately, the Radiotserkov reporter still has been unable to make contact with the administration of the colony in order to clarify whether the order came "from above" or the initiative for the "eviction" of Baptists from the territory belongs to the local leadership. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 6 May 1998)


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