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Officials use law to make difficulties for non-Orthodox

by Yury Kolesnikov, Radiotserkov

NOVOSIBIRSK, 11 August. As reported to a Radiotserkov correspondent by Aleksei Strizhkov, an attorney specializing in the area of state-church relations, the Administration of Justice for Novosibirsk region reviewed the first application for reregistration of a local religious organization received here in connection with the requirement in the new law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." The application was submitted by the Novosibirsk Christian church of Church Mennonites, which has been registered back in 1970.

At the present time the charter submitted for reregistration has been returned to the Mennonites. Among a whole list of reasons put forward by the Administration of Justice there is also the requirement of inclusion in it of a provision regarding the territory of its sphere of activity. Aleksei Strizhkov says that the primary complication in the procedure of reregistration consists "in bringing the charter into conformity with the requirements of the law 'On freedom of conscience and religious associations,' which is internally contradictory." For example, point two of article ten of the new law, in contrast to article nineteen of the old law "On freedom of religious profession," does not contain the requirement of including in the charter of a religious organization the provision regarding the territorial sphere of activity. This means that the agencies of justice do not have the right to require inclusion of this item in the charter. At the same time the head of the department on registration of the Administration of Justice for Novosibirsk region, Lidiia Kuzmina, citing points two, three, and seven of the eighth article of the new law, has made this requirement. Besides this, some difficulty is caused by the charter provision regarding membership in the church. Thus the canonical understanding of joining the church at the moment of baptism conflicts with the position of the civil code (article 21), which states that persons who may enjoy all rights and bear any obligations provided by the charter of a public organization must be adults. And although this does not pertain to religious organizations, nevertheless on the basis of this the registering agency has demanded that the Novosibirsk Mennonites include in their charter the provision that one cannot become a member earlier than eighteen years of age.

Strizhkov sees a way out of this situation in a formal inclusion in the charter of a provision which would separate the moment of acquiring the rights of receiving baptism from the moment of acquiring the rights and obligations of membership in a religious organization. As regards the Mennonites, at the present time they have agreed to insert a point about the territorial sphere of activity in their charter and they hope to receive certification of reregistration soon. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 12 August 1998)

Renowned Orthodox scholar on Russian church problems

by Nikita Struve
Vestnik RKhD, no. 177

"To suffer for the church doesn't mean much, but to suffer from the church is really something." Georges Bernanos

From Russia comes disturbing news about a whole series of conflicts upsetting the Russian church. The time has arrived when the church, finding freedom after seventy years of fierce persecution or burdensome captivity, has risen from under the ruble in union and company with all Russia. Now already the time has come not of restoration but of creation, and along this road the church, because of its disrupted tradition and shortages of hastily prepared personnel, has encountered many difficulties, not to say temptations, which, God willing, with time it will manage to overcome in the spirit of evangelical love and freedom.

The guiding star in the administration of the church should be the council of 1917, the only free expression of church will in many decades, if not centuries. Carefully prepared, it drew the church in an optimal way to its ecclesiological roots, devoting central place to the elective principle, transforming the parish charter, and the like. But, unfortunately, a return to the decisions of the council of 1917 has not been observed. The canonization of Patriarch Tikhon was not followed by an embrace of his heritage: in our days hasn't there been a distancing from the spirit of that prelate--which was free, broad, open to the world, and able to distinguish the essential from the secondary and to overcome national and political narrowness with a universal perspective. Will not the future historian say that on the eve of the third millennium, instead of confidently stepping forward to meet the present, the Russian church turned its gaze backward, to the synodal system, when so frequently everything that was vital and valuable was forbidden and persecuted: it is enough merely to mention the fate of the Bible society and the names of Makary Glukharev, Fedor Bukharev, who was pursued by Askochensky, the forbidden religious-philosophical meetings, the paralysis of the church (as Dostoevsky significantly phrased it), and the like. However, the self-persecution within the church existed even in ancient Rus, both in the pre-Mongol period and in the Muscovite: St. Avraamy of Smolensk was accused by priests and monks of heresy and was under ban for long years (he was made a saint three centuries later by one of Metr. Makary's councils), and Maxim the Greek who now is glorified was imprisoned in a monastery and excommunicated from the church and for more than twelve years was denied the mysteries. To this theme--self-persecution within the church--we shall return later. But the enumerated names already permit us to say that self-persecution always arose on the basis of a conflict between conservatives, including obscurantist groups, and individual enlightened leaders who transcended their times.

The case of Fr Georgy Kochetkov. A great alarm was elicited not only in Russia but also throughout the Orthodox world by the ban that was placed in June 1997 and has lasted almost a year already on the priest Georgy Kochetkov and twelve (twelve!) laypersons of his parish. A zealous evangelist and catechizer, who turned hundreds of people to Christianity, Fr Georgy Kochetkov, inspired by the liturgical practice of Orthodox parishes in the West, conducted the liturgy in the Russian language, trying to recover several aspects of the original sense of the ritual. Perhaps he did this with excess zeal, too systematically, but nevertheless everyone who has been in his church cannot help but be struck by the vitality of his large parish (around 1000, but sometimes even more people, who are mostly young and new converts). No less worthy of praise and respect is the activity of the Saint Filaret Higher Theological School which he created (its board of trustees includes such pillars of contemporary Orthodoxy as Metropolitan Antony Blume and Archbishop Mikhail Mudiugin). The persecution of Fr Georgy Kochetkov began several years ago on the part of a whole series of conservative priests and the monstrous organization "Radonezh," but it would seem that they ran into opposition on the part of the patriarch. The appointment of a second priest, Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky, who was young and inexperienced as well as an opponent of the parish's liturgical innovations, was, by all signs, inspired by those who wanted to destroy the missionary activity of Fr Georgy by any means. As shown by the videotape which was taken at the time when the disturbance broke out in June of last year and which was used by the Radonezh society for exposing Fr Georgy, Fr Mikhail Dubovitsky clearly was in an acute psychological state: he threw himself on the floor, tried to run from the church in vestments, shouted that he was being killed, etc. The subsequent hospitalization of Fr Mikhail, on the basis of the statement of the physician who was summoned, became the reason for banning Fr Georgy and his assistants before a clarification of the precise circumstances of the affair: both the medical commission and police officers fully exonerated Fr Georgy Kochetkov of all accusations directed against him. Fr Georgy and his assistants nevertheless as a whole were subjected to the decision of the church hierarchy, and they confessed humbly twice, as they were ordered to do, before the confessor of the diocese, but alas they asked his holiness to remove the harsh prohibition in vain. The Radonezh newspaper, which is supposed to be Christian, is characterized by a spirit of frenzied anger (quite in the style of the erstwhile soviet press) and has not relented: in April it printed a deliberately false report that on Easter Fr Georgy Kochetkov violated the ban and received communion so as to demand the superfluous unfrocking of Fr Georgy.

In the meantime Fr Georgy's parish has been broken up. The new rector who was appointed serves an almost empty church. . . . [Fr Georgy was defended in letters by the Paris Orthodox public, Professor Dimitry Pospielovsky, and Academician Sergei Averintsev--summary of omitted material, tr.]

Along with the banning of Fr Georgy, alarm is evoked also by the investigation to which the Moscow priest Fr Vladimir Lapsin was subjected. Leaders of the Moscow diocese demanded from him that he recant two opinions that he expressed over the radio: 1) that there is the possibility of repentance even after death (this area is not a matter of dogma and thus the question remains open); 2) that the feast of the Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God in the temple has more symbolic than properly historical meaning (according to biblical studies). Father Vladimir legitimately responded that he did not have the right in conscience to recant widely shared opinion in a nondogmatic area.

Incidents in the Latvian, Tomsk, and Ekaterinburg dioceses. The time of troubles has begun. Practice is forbidden without investigation and the ruling is extended even to other dioceses of the Russian church. In the Latvian diocese Fr Vladimir Vilbert was banned for ideological reasons. He was a student of the famous elder Fr Tavrion Batozsky (under ban he is serving as a psalmist in the hermitage of the late Fr Tavrion).

Without any basis, the Tomsk bishop (actually in order to conceal his own criminal act) banned from ministry two clergymen, one young deacon and one priest, sons-in-law of the famous rights defender V. Fast (brother of only of the most educated priests of the neighboring Krasnoiarsk diocese). Numerous letters of protest to the patriarchate brought action: by decree of his holiness the bishop revoked the ban, but it remained in force within the diocese (which was equivalent to expulsion of the young families of the clergymen from the diocese).

In Ekaterinburg diocese, in May of this year, Bishop Nikon summoned three priests and demanded that they renounce the teaching and books of fathers Alexander Men, John Meyendorff, and Alexander Schmemann, under oath and threat of banning. Two of them complied, and the third refused and was subjected to life-long ban. On the same day, by order of the bishop, a public auto-da-fe (burning) of books of the above-named theologians was conducted in the church school. This borders on insanity.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, member of the synod, expressed the hope that the crisis associated with Fr Georgy Kochetkov, will soon be healed. God grant that the ban that is so harsh in its length will be lifted. But as incidents in other dioceses show, the question should be dealt with more radically. Now that the church has acquired external freedom, the time has come for it to protect internal freedom as well and to renounce the authoritarianism (which leads, as we see, to arbitrariness) of the synodal and soviet eras and, inspired by the spirit of the council of 1917, and by the words, deeds, and example of Patriarch Tikhon, to return to the canonical structure that guarantees intrachurch freedom and justice to the maximum.

Letter of members of the editorial board of the Vestnik, to Patriarch Alexis II and members of the Holy Sunod

1 July 1998

Your Supreme Holiness

Your Holinesses, members of the Holy Synod

We consider it our duty before God and before the memory of the greatly esteemed and universally known theologians to express our pain and our extreme amazement in connection with events that happened in Ekaterinburg diocese: the burning of books by the murdered archpriest Alexander Men and archpresbyters Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff, on order of the local bishop, and also the uncanonical lifetime ban of Fr Oleg Vakhmianin, without a trial, for his refusal to denounce newly appearing (but not specified) heresies which supposedly are contained in these books (decree of Bishop Nikon of 6 May 1998).

May God grant that this insane deed of Bishop Nikon, recalling the worst times of the inquisition, is unique, and we do not doubt that it will be condemned by the church hierarchy. But, alas, even from other places news reaches us that the great achievements of Orthodox theology of the twentieth century (particularly in emigration) are being subjected to suspicion if not condemnation.

We beseech you, your supreme holiness and blessed masters, do everything possible to put an end to this quenching of the spirit threatening to suppress the creative forces of the church. Asking the prayers of your holinesses:

Hegumen Ignaty Krekshin, abbot of the Mother of God-Nativity Bobren monastery;
Sergei Averintsev, professor of Moscow and Vienna universities, corresponding member of Russian Academy of Science;
Nikita Struve, professor of a Paris university

(tr. by PDS)

Russian text at St. Filaret's School

(posted 12 August 1998)

Judicial harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses continues

Human Rights without Frontiers, 11 August 1998

On August 6, the Regional Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia was officially informed that the Golovinsky Interregional People's Court of the City of Moscow had accepted the application of A.V. Viktorov, Prosecutor of the Northern Administrative District of Moscow, concerning "the liquidation of the Association of Jehovah's Witnesses of the City of Moscow" and the banning of its activity on the basis of the Russian Federation law "On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations."

"We are deeply concerned that the prosecutor's unjust action against Jehovah's Witnesses may be the beginning of the religious persecution feared by many when the new law on religious associations was passed," declared V. M. Kalin, Coordinator of the Witnesses' Administrative Center in St. Petersburg.

Prosecutor Viktorov bases his demands on the accusations of the criminal suit instigated by the anti-cult social organization called "The Committee for the Rescue of Youth."

The prosecutor has been investigating the charges by the "Committee for the Rescue of Youth" for two years. During this time, the original criminal suit, which had been closed for lack of evidence, was reopened three times "due to inadequate investigation." Each time the suit was reopened at the direction of higher authorities but was closed for lack of any facts supporting the accusations against Jehovah's Witnesses.

On December 28, 1997, the criminal investigation was closed for the third time. At that time, the investigator submitted a report that systematically considered all points of the accusation. This report concluded that both the activity and the administration of the religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses were in full agreement with the Constitution and with the present legislative system of the Russian Federation.

Now the suit is again being sent back to the investigative body for further investigation. On April 13, 1998, E. A. Solomatina, investigator for the Prosecutor of Critical Affairs of the Northern Administrative Region of the City of Moscow, submitted a resolution to close the criminal suit for the fourth time. This resolution concludes with a strikingly contradictory statement: "The religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses is in violation of the international laws on human rights, and of Russian is in violation of the statutes of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, although concrete facts concerning the criminal acts committed by members of this organization have not been brought to light, for which reason it is impossible to bring them to justice for concrete violations of human rights."

In spite of the absence of any substantiating facts, E. A. Solomatina nonetheless recommends that the decision concerning the denial of registration for the given organization be sent for resolution to the Golovinsky Court of the City of Moscow.

"Although repeated and painstaking investigation of the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses has not uncovered any facts as to their having violated Russian law, the legal precedents that have recently been established in the resolution of issues relating to freedom of conscience dictate that the present legal case must be viewed with the utmost seriousness," said V. M. Kalin. He added, "It is especially important that Russian society and the international community be informed of the facts concerning the present attempts in Russia to instigate persecution of groups of different religious persuasions."

Source: Public Affairs Office / Regional Center of Jehovah's Witnesses / Russia
Direct Inquiries to: Aleksei Nazarichev, Director of Public Affairs

(courtesy of Ray Prigodich)

(posted 12 August 1998)

Catholic growth in south Russia

by Vadim Akentiev, Radiotserkov

KEMEROVO, 11 August. In Kemerovo region two Catholic communities have been added to the previous seven. These are churches which have already received registration and are operating permanently.

A large portion of the communities which have been formed is the fruit of the activity of Catholic priests Darius and Antony. In Kuzbass they have worked two years; one of them came from Poland and the other from Irland. Today they are serving masses in several cities of the region. To be sure, the services are not being conducted in church building, which Catholic here still do not have, but in houses of culture or in apartments.

Fr Darius' plans for the near future include the regeneration of a Catholic community in the city of Mariinsk, which had existed here after 1902. Among the local population Catholic constituted four percent, which was about 80 persons. To be sure, today no traces of the community remain. Mariinsk itself was founded in the first half of the eighteenth century and was named in honor of Empress Maria Fedorovna Romanov. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 11 August 1998)

New Uzbek restrictions on religion take effect

by Felix Corley

In Uzbekistan, religious believers of all faiths are waiting in trepidation as the 15 August deadline for their communities to lodge re-registration applications with the Ministry of Justice approaches. Under registration regulations issued in a 20 June decree of the Council of Ministers, religious communities (such as mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples) have to provide extensive documentation to back up their applications, which the ministry must process within three months. Even for those with documentation that meets the strict new requirements set out under the revised law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, adopted by parliament on 1 May, it is by no means certain that the Ministry of Justice will grant registration.

The government and, in particular, President Islam Karimov have made clear their dislike of Muslims outside the control of the government- sponsored Muslim Board. Karimov has made frequent verbal attacks on such Muslims, whom he routinely dubs "Wahhabi fundamentalists," regardless of whether they have any links with the form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Karimov cited the presence of such Muslims in Uzbekistan as the justification for the adoption of the harsh new law. During debates in the parliament, Karimov blamed such Muslims for instability in the country and declared that "such people must be shot in the head". But many religious communities in Uzbekistan--even some that now have state registration--will not be eligible to apply for re-registration, as they have fewer than the 100 adult members required under the new law.

In what is being seen as a test case, the prosecutor-general of the Zheleznodorozhny district of Samarkand ruled on 25 June that a local community of Jehovah's Witnesses was functioning illegally without registration and that, with only 30 to 40 members, the community would be unable to gain registration under the new law.

Uzbekistan's new law on freedom of conscience, which amends legislation first adopted in June 1991, is the harshest in the former Soviet Union. Registration is compulsory for all religious groups, whether local or national, and groups need the approval of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs before they can apply for registration with the Ministry of Justice. All unregistered religious activity is illegal, as is proselytism or any kind of missionary activity. Only central religious administrations have the right to publish religious literature, and all imported religious literature must be censored by the state. Under the same law, only centralized religious administrations can set up schools "to train clergy and other religious personnel". All other forms of religious education, even in private, are illegal. Religious political parties and social movements are banned. And only clerics may walk the streets in religious garb.

The law specifies that those conducting "any illegal religious activity" will be subject to prosecution, as will religious leaders who evade state registration and officials who allow unregistered religious groups to function. Amendments to the administrative and criminal codes adopted by the parliament on 1 May spell out the penalties for the new offenses. First offenses are generally punishable by fines or short-term imprisonment of up to two weeks. Second- time offenders risk up to three years in prison for proselytism, for holding youth meetings, for teaching religion without permission, or for encouraging others to take part in illegal religious groups. For repeat offenses, organizers of illegal religious groups risk a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.

Crimes of violence with a religious coloring attract heavier penalties. Many of the provisions of the new law on freedom of conscience clearly violate Uzbekistan's human rights commitments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Uzbekistan acceded to those two covenants in September 1995), as well as commitments enshrined in successive OSCE documents. The Uzbek government argues that tight restrictions are necessary to prevent religious-related conflict from spreading to Uzbekistan from neighboring Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

President Islam Karimov conjures up bloodcurdling images of what would happen if Islamists came to power in Uzbekistan. But the system of control over all religious activity enshrined in the new law and backed up by the criminal code and the registration regulations goes far beyond the temporary derogations from international human rights commitments permitted in times of "public emergency." The Uzbek authorities are clearly sensitive on the subject of religion.

On 1 August, Russian journalists Vitalii Ponomarev and Nikolai Mitrokhin were assaulted and beaten in the center of Tashkent by unknown attackers following their meeting with Marat Zakhidov, a well-known Uzbek human rights activist. The Glasnost Defense Foundation in Moscow believed the assault was connected with the journalists' investigation into "repression against religious organizations". The two had already visited the Fergana valley, a region with a strong Islamist presence. In one of the first responses to the new law, the local union of Baptists complained to President Karimov at the end of May that "the new law turns Baptists from peaceful citizens who obey the law into criminals". However, it is not just Baptists who will be subject to the full weight of the new legislation. How numerous these "criminals" turn out to be and how far Uzbekistan is prepared to go in flouting its international commitments will soon be seen.

The author writes on religious liberty issues in the former Soviet Union.

Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

(posted 9 August 1998)

Politicians and churchmen

East/West: Analysis From Washington

By Paul Goble

Washington, 7 August 1998 (RFE/RL) - Political leaders in post-communist countries increasingly are exploiting religion to build up their own authority and to legitimize new and more democratic political systems.

-Complete Report-

(posted 9 August 1998)

Orthodox theologian regrets Russian church's shortcomings

by Olivier Clement,
Russkaia mysl, 18-24 June 1998

The Paris newspaper Le Monde in its 10 June issue published an article of the well known French Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement, a professor at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, which was written under the fresh impression of his recently completed visit to Russia. We commend to the attention of our readers the text of this article in Russian translation with small abridgments. We think that if the information that the author has produced were known to the Russian reader in general and the reader of RM in particular, then its illumination by a western Orthodox theologian, much less on the pages of the most influential French newspaper, could not but evoke interest on the part of readers. [RM]

In the period of "perestroika" the Russian Orthodox church, emerging from persecutions, seemed to be a great force of cultural and ethical inspiration. Adults by the tens of thousands requested baptism, although it is necessary to note that the baptism more often was for them a sign of national affiliation than an expression of devotion to real faith. There were created brotherhoods of laity whose goal was to render aid to a society that had fallen into poverty and to restore a multitude of churches which the state returned to the church, in most cases in decrepit condition.

A mighty movement of spiritual rebirth led to the growth of the number of monasteries from dozens (the number at the end of the period of captivity) to 450, which is the approximate figure currently. In large editions the works of great Christian thinkers of the beginning of the century and their successors and continuers in exile were produced. The newly elected Patriarch Alexis II declared the independence of the church and vigorously condemned antisemitism, the vestige of the past which still lies as a weight on the Russian church. On the initiative of separate individuals and with the approval of the patriarch there arose in the country, especially in Moscow, remarkable theological institutes, among which were the Biblical-Theological Institute of St. Andrew the Apostle, which operated in cooperation with protestants and Jews.

In subsequent years in the face of the aggressiveness of some Catholic associations, and particularly of American sects, and in view of the effects of western culture (the "rotten West," as the Slavophiles sensed it) on the masses there arose a tendency to assert the native national essence in the face of what was contemporary. The Russian church, in a tragic way, was divided. Conservatives wanted to "freeze" liturgical practice and joined forces for the preservation of the Church Slavonic language, whose roots we find in the preaching of the Byzantine apostles to the Slavs in the ninth century. This language is magnificent and it is the progenitor of the classical Russian language, and thus it is very dear to the heart of many people of high culture. As regards the common believers, it is necessary to recall that in the time of persecutions they began to consider sacred what cannot be considered in any way pertinent to the liturgical life of the church. At the same time moderate and rational reformers appeared who wanted cautiously and sensitively to "russify" the Slavonic language and to read sacred scriptures in the churches in Russian and to make it possible for believers to participate in the liturgy by making it less "clerical."

Conservatives maintained that the fathers of the church had said everything and it was sufficient merely to repeat their words. But reformers experienced a lively interest in the vigorous and prophetic creativity of the great religious thinkers of the beginning of the century, including Nikolai Berdiaev. Conservatives were adherents of an Orthodoxy that was closed and suspicious; reformers wanted to introduce Orthodoxy into worldwide Christianity by means of a loyal dialogue with other confessions.

The great witness Archpriest Alexander Men managed to transcend these divisions. Back under the totalitarian system he performed enormous work in creatively answering the challenges that the contemporary world posed. He came from a Jewish family; his mother converted to Orthodoxy and he was baptised when he was about two years old. In 1990 he was killed at the hand of murderers who still are unknown.

For a rather long time the patriarchate, it seemed, tried to maintain a position equally balanced between conservatives and reformers. But in the last two years its position has changed. It has persecuted reformers openly . Father Georgy Kochetkov created in the heart of Moscow a model parish with two thousand or more parishioners, with genuine, systematic preparation of people for baptism, while at the same time many other churches were baptizing hastily and generally without any preparation. Everything here (in the parish of Fr Georgy) was directed toward a free and conscious faith, which was personal while at the same time profoundly linked with the community. There were many difficulties in Fr Georgy's parish in recent years, and last summer, by employing absolutely soviet methods, the final blow was provoked against him. He was given an associate priest who conscientiously fulfilled his role in the attack. In all likelihood the priest was a psychopath. On the appointed day in the presence of designated witnesses and people with videocameras this priest began to shout that he was being beaten and killed. Following this Fr Georgy was banned from the ministry and twelve of his coworkers were excommunicated.

Father Zinon, a monk who was a native of Pskov region and the greatest icon painter in Russia (his splendid frescos decorate the Saint Danial's monastery in Moscow where now the patriarchate is located), during a trip to western Europe learned that in the Catholic world there was a profound Christian life. When Italian friends visited his cloister he let them conduct a liturgy according to the Latin rite in the church building, which had just been completed, and he consented to take communion from the hand of one of these priests. He was reported and he too fell under a ban.

A young philosopher who had become a monk in order to testify among the intelligentsia, Fr Ignaty Krekshin, organized a small monastic community in the vicinity of Kolomna, in which the liturgy was celebrated in its true dignity and three monastic priests were able to hear people and give them spiritual help. This drew crowds of people to the monastery. There were both peasants and city folk, local residents and Muscovite intellectuals. This priest was aman of peace and harmony, radiating light. He was persecuted. He was deprived of all possibility of working within the patriarchate, specifically in the publishing area, and he now is threatened with confiscation of his monastery. What is he accused of? That he protested against the Chechen war and that he received foreign guests and has worked with the radio "Sophia," a radio station which every day gives an hour of air time to Catholics. To these repressions must be added--and this is more horrible--the demand that he lie. Father Georgy Kochetkov, as well as Father Zinon and their coworkers, are told that they will be "forgiven" if they will perform "absolute repentance": first they must admit that they beat the priest assigned to them, and this is a lie; second, that the Catholic Eucharist has no meaning, nor content, and this Father Zinon in conscience cannot say.

And so we see: in this church there is no concept of a dialogue; there is no respect for others; there is no possibility to appeal an unjust decision, although canon law provides for such appeal.

And finally the most scandalous episode. On 5 May of this year the young bishop of Ekaterinburg, Nikon, seized from the students of the theological academy and ordered the burning of the books of Fr Alexander Men, Fr John Meyendorff, and Fr Alexander Schmemann. One priest, Fr Oleg Vokhmianin, who protested this decision, was banned from clerical ministry. Fr. Alexander Men had breathed life, firm and strong as before, into the movement of ecumenical openness and of the Christian life of reason. Fr John Meyendorff and Fr Alexander Schmemann initially taught in Paris at the Saint Sergius Institute, and then were professors of Saint Vladimir's in New York; they were theologians of world renown and were especially esteemed in Russia and, in the words of the patriarch himself, were profoundly respected. Reformers often cited them, but Fr Alexander Schmemann, in studies of the truth of tradition, had criticized some distortions that had crept into the practice of the Russian church. That is why it already had happened that his books had been burned in some especially conspiratorial monasteries (which comprise, however, a majority), but this was done covertly.

The Ekaterinburg incident acquired completely different scale. The patriarchate tried to deny it, but there was a multitude of witnesses, including the son of the late Fr Alexander Schmemann, Sergei, who is a famous and influential reporter, a long time correspondent of the New York Times in Moscow and winner of the Pulitizer Prize, and this scandal could hardly be hushed up.

So why did the patriarch change his conduct? The extreme right-wing nationalists, antisemites, and neocommunists (it's the last group that in contemporary Russia is expecially inclined to ultranationalistic and antisemitic positions) foist upon society a practically half-witted view of Russia's history: a Jewish-masonic conspiracy, a union of Catholicism and Islam, with a view to destroying Orthodoxy; the demonization of the reformers, who are declared agents of the West. There is a tendency to transform Orthodoxy into an ideology which could replace Marxism. These groups are trying to draw to their side the patriarch and the bishops. They are supported by the former KGB, which by no means is out of business nor has it lost its might.

Bishop Nikon was a pupil of Metropolitan Methodius of Voronezh, of whom the Moscow Times on 3 June wrote that his links with KGB were well known to everyone. So, could it be that KGB has at its disposal some dark secrets from the time of communism which could compromise the patriarch? It is difficult to say, because Russia is rife with various rumors. Or should one guess that many bishops (with the exception of perhaps ten out of the overall number of 120-130) are, frankly speaking, dimwits who are trying to squash everything that is alive and, in their opinion, disturbs their peace?

The church of Russia has lost all of the halo on which it could count within society--I have been convinced of this personally and quite recently. It is becoming all the more separated from society, which is completely indifferent to it and sometimes even hostile. Fifty-five percent of Russians are baptized, but only two percent of the population of Russia is observant. It is a more secularized country than France. On Easter only 48,000 people took communion.

But there is a spark smouldering under the ashes. Young people and intellectuals are alienated from the church as an institution, or rather she, this church, has expelled them, but they are attracted by the treasure of Orthodoxy's wisdom and beauty. There are parishes which are cautiously avoiding the danger and deception of extreme clericalization and not sanctifying that which is not sacred, that is, not transforming religioun into wizzadry. There are responsible people in the patriarchate, who are beginning to understand that conservatism, even paradoxical and aspiring to be cultured, can become a path to suicide.

Whoever sows the wind reaps the whirlwind. The Ekaterinburg scandal, perhaps, will remind the bishops of this church that Russia really is a field of activity that needs missionaries and is awaiting evangelistic preaching and testimony. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at St. Filaret's Institute

(posted 9 August 1998)

Cossack violence against protestants

Adventist News Network

Anapa, Russia ... [ANN] The beating of a Seventh-day Adventist in the Black Sea city of Anapa on July 23 is indicative of the local impact of the new law restricting religious minorities, according to John Graz, secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA).

Yury Salov, part of an outreach team selling religious books in Anapa, was "arrested" by two uniformed men of the national organization of Cossacks. They took him to their headquarters where he was interrogated and beaten with metal-tipped whips. Salov was accused of betraying the Orthodox church, and his books were confiscated.

Salov reacted by saying that if his beating brought glory to Christ then he was not sorry for all the pain he suffered.

"This incident reflects the situation at the local level, which has been made more difficult by the passage of the law in 1997 restricting religious liberty," said Graz. "While there are no major problems on a national level, locally religious minorities are on the defensive. It is as if the new law has legitimated discrimination against those not of the majority faith."

Attempts to challenge the 1997 law are ongoing, with lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky leading an appeal to the Constitutional Court in Moscow. The law "contradicts both the Russian constitution and all Western legal norms on human rights," according to Ryakhovsky.

Fellow lawyer Yekaterina Smislova concurs. "Russia is now a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, so this law has attracted great interest abroad. Russias credentials as a free, open society that respects basic human rights are what is at stake here."

According to Graz, the IRLA is supporting the legal challenge to the new law. "IRLAs Russian chapter is actively involved in the attempt to have the law ruled unconstitutional. It is discriminatory, restrictive of religious liberty, and contrary to agreed human rights." [Jonathan Gallagher]

(posted 7 August 1998)

Bitter relations between Ukrainian Orthodox and government

from Ukrainian Orthodox Church

KIEV, 27 JULY. On the eve of the holiday of Grand Prince Vladimir, equal to the apostles, it would be hoped that there would be some evidence that our governing authority had received a fraction of the wisdom of the great saintly ruler, who after coming to Christ changed not only his life but also the life of the nation and state entrusted to him. Unfortunately, such evidence is absent in our land.

Quite the contrary. Last week Metropolitan Vladimir, primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, recieved a letter from the National Television Company of Ukraine(NTKU). The letter was a response to a request to allot air time for a broadcast of the holiday liturgy on the day of commemoration of Saint Prince Vladimir:

"The National Television Company of Ukraine as a state institution is governed in its activity by existing legislation of Ukraine, by which the church, as you know, is separated from the state (article 35 of constitution of Ukraine). Besides we are obliged by the right of parity in the satisfaction of the needs of believers in regard to information of religious contents. As to your request for alotting air time for broadcast of the divine liturgy on the day of commemoration of Prince Volodimir, equal to the apostles, then with regret the National Television Company of Ukraine is unable to satisfy it. The saint does not have state rank and the expense of the broadcast cannot be covered out of the state budget.

With respect
Acting chairman of NTKU, V.O. Dolganov"

We leave on Vadim Dolganov's conscience the use of "church" with lower case letters, although, if not from elementary respect, then at least in order to distinguish the concepts of church as a building and the church as an organization he should renounce the atheistic customs. But in this letter there is the more remarkable expression about "the right of parity of the satisfaction of the needs of believers in regard to information of religious contents." In the dictionary the word "parity" is defined as "equality, equivalent position, equal rights of parties." Consequently, NTKU is obliged to show the life of churches existing in Ukraine on an equal-rights basis.

Equality of rights should be based on the quantity of believers of these churches. This is evident, since both the events within churches with a greater number of parishes happen more often and those wishing to learn about these events also are more numerous than in small religious organizations.

According to data of the Committee on Religious Affairs of Ukraine, on 1 January 1998 in our country there were 7386 societies of the Ukrainian Orthodox church and 1901 societies of the UPTs-KP, a political organization headed by the falsely named "patriarch" Filaret Denisenko. Consequently, the number of parishes of UPTs is 3.88 times that of the UPTs-KP. This does not take into account that the greater part of the parishes of UPTs-IP are only "on paper," that is, registered but without any parishioners. Thus, NTKU should, in accordance with what Mr. Dolganov called "parity," show the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox church almost four times as often as it shows the life of UPTs-KP.

Alas, we do not see the promised "parity" on the television screen nor, unfortunately, in state policy as well. Last week, the holy of holies of the Ukrainian state, the constitutional court, was "consecrated" by Filaret Denisenko, who had been unfrocked and anathematized for crimes against the church. A man who shows contempt for the law of God "consecrated" the place where the law of the state, which should be based on the law of God, is supposed to be supreme. What is this, the ignorance of state officials or criminal politics? Unfortunately, it more likely is the latter. For such a conclusion it is sufficient to recall that the flag of the Ukrainian navy was "consecrated" by Filaret and that "priests" of this organization are the most frequent guests in military units and state institutions. Last week is was a "filaretite priest" who served a prayer service at the oath-taking ceremony for young soldiers in the Center of Culture, sanctifying also the oath of the armed forces of Ukraine. If one has only an ouce of faith, then there should be fear for the fate of our soldiers, our navy, and our state if they have received not God's blessing from the true church but a curse from a criminal cursed by the church.

Filaret recently awarded the president of Ukraine his "church's" order of Saint Prince Vladimir, which is naturally counterfeit. He still has not bestowed it on the president, but our president has to decide whether to take upon himself and his nation the consequences of the anathema or to refuse. Should this medal, a sign of schism and betrayal, hang next to the great cross of the ancient and holy order of Orthodox crusaders, awarded him in 1996 by the patriarch of Jerusalem? (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Ukrainian Orthodox Church

(posted 6 August 1998)

Impediments against foreign missionaries

by The Associated Press, 6 August 1998

MOSCOW (AP) -- Foreign religious workers are only allowed to stay in Russia for three months at a time under a new government regulation, religious groups said Thursday.

Most foreigners in Russia can have their visas renewed for a year without leaving the country. But now, when foreign religious workers go to renew their visas they are told they must go to a Russian Embassy or consulate abroad for a renewal four times a year.

Russia came under international criticism last year for a law that places limits on foreign religious groups, and the latest regulation could further complicate the work of missionaries and churches that come from abroad.

``It will make it all much more expensive,'' said Donald Jarvis, head of the Mormon Church's Yekaterinburg mission in central Russia.

Jarvis runs a mission with more than 100 missionaries, most from the United States. He said they may have to travel to Mongolia or some other country every three months to renew their visas.

Some see the new regulation as an outgrowth of last year's law on religion that enshrined the Russian Orthodox Church as the country's predominant religion and curtailed the rights of many other churches.

``This step has been indirectly inspired by the new law,'' said Mikhail Osadchev, an official of the Russian parliament's Committee on Public and Religious Organizations. The parliament, which is controlled by Communists, has been harshly critical of President Boris Yeltsin's policies.

Osadchev called the directive ``another move against religious rights and freedoms and another unfriendly act in relation to foreign religious organizations.''

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has said that American aid to Russia should be cut if the religious restrictions were implemented. But the Russian government has not strictly enforced last year's law, and religious organizations say they generally have been able to operate as before.

The foreign religious groups, including many Christian denominations from the United States, started coming to Russia in 1991 after the Soviet breakup ended many of the communist-era restrictions.

(posted 6 August 1998)

Scripture distributors confront opposition

by Vadimn Akentiev, Radiotserkov

KEMEROVO, 1 August. The Christian missionary society "Gideon Brotherhood" sent a letter to His Holiness Archbishop Sofrony with a request to clear up a misunderstanding. The issue is that recently a display containing information about various churches, sects, and societies, including those who have "heretical teaching," appeared in the cathedral church of the Presentation. Among the latter was also the missionary society "Gideon Brotherhood." The notice about it stated that this mission is a "sect with masonic origins," and that the "character of its organization is semimilitary," and its "presumed goal is seizure of power."

The letter to the arbishop was sent by the director of the Gideon mission for the eastern European region, Viktor Goncharenko. He wrote, in particular: "I view your position and work in the Lord's field, as well as your sincere desire to protect from heresy the purity of biblical doctrine, with great respect and reverence." Further he notes that the information on the display is false. The Gideons mission, according to Viktor Goncharenko, bears to people only the Holy New Testament, proclaiming tolerance and sincere regard for the Orthodox faith, which which all of Russian history is associated. This Christian society included people of the most diverse professions, age, and nationalities who love God and which to serve him in the work of evangelism." Gideon missionaries summon people "to repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ alone. If after coming to faith they become parishioners of the Orthodox church, then praise the Lord."

In the near future the director of the Kemerovo division of the mission, Evgeny Arkel, will meet with the archbishop in order to reach mutual understanding. He will describe the work of his organization in Kemerovo region and show the necessary documents.

Russian text at Radiotserkov

by Vadimn Akentiev, Radiotserkov

NOVOKUZNETSK, 28 July. In Novokuznetsk cooperation has been established between the regional division of the Christian international mission society of the "Gideons" and one of the city hospitals. At the hospital missionaries, who are ministers of churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith and Christian-Baptists, have already distributed free copies of the New Testament. Now the ministers will conduct regular conversations with patients at times convenient to them.

However, it appears that the minister of the "Gideons" will be confined to patients even though their charter says they may also visit educational institutions. The cause of this is a recent conference in the city administration. At it the mayor of the city, Sergei Martin, gathered the administrators of all educational institutions of the city. According to Viktor Prokopchuk, pastor of one of the evangelical churches, Sergei Martin sternly ordered that evangelical believers not be permitted into the schools.

The Gideons learned of this decision by chance the day after the Novokuznetsk division of the mission was formed. They had planned to give away New Testaments to pupils of four schools but not a single director would agree to permit the preachers to enter the schools. They did not cover up the reason: they feared losing their jobs. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 3 August 1998)

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