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Can Orthodox believer be democratic standard-bearer?


The quiet Orthodoxy of Grigory Yavlinsky
by Ilia Maksakov
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 3 March 1999

The religious image of a politician in our country generally remains a sealed secret, and when it ceases to be such then it seems it would have been better had the party leader not allowed it.  Thus, when the father of the Russian market reform, Egor Gaidar, was in Yakutsk and answered without hesitation a question about his religious confession:  "Don't you see, I am an agnostic. . ."  The supporters of the leader of the party of "Democratic Choice of Russia" were seriously frightened by the exotic word and specified:  "What is this, some kind of sect?"  It is said that Gaidar shrugged his shoulders in confusion and did not begin to explain. Now his statement has been spread throughout Russia by word of mouth, supplemented by extremely caustic remarks and by anyone who is able to confirm that the famous economist's scholarly approach to life has been understood correctly.

The leader of "Yabloko,"  who also is an academic economist, a kandidat of sciences, although he has been for many years an opponent of Gaidar, naturally is assumed to be of the same stripe.  Otherwise, it would seem, what would be the argument?

After all, what kind of person is Egor Timoruvich?  The grandson of two splendid grandfathers who both were writers; on his father's side he descends from Arkady Gaidar; on his mother's from Pavel Bazhov.  He is the son of a famous war reporter of the Pravda newspaper, who lived abroad with his family for a long time in Yugoslavia, under Tito, and in Cuba, under Castro,  and who was a classic representative of soviet "golden youth."  He was the favorite disciple of academic Stanislav Shatalin of the economics faculty of MGU, who had made a successful nomenklatura academic career, but who had a dissident passion for western monetarist theories that were not available to everyone..

What kind of person is Grigory Alexeevich?  The son of an inmate of the Makarenko colony and a teacher of a provincial institute, who grew up in the working class of postwar Lvov and who left the regular soviet school after the ninth grade in order to get a year's work experience before matriculation at an institute in the capital.  Graduating from a school that was not very prestigious professionally, the ambitious genius miraculously took hold in Moscow and literally built his career that climaxed in the post of deputy prime minister for economic reform in the first government of Boris Yeltsin.  In accordance with all world monetarist theories, knowing directly the situation in Russia, he instinctively adapted them to Russian reality.  When Yavlinsky emerged at the height of the still essentially soviet and party elite with his celebrated "500 days", the young economist gave the impression of a young upstart, although (and this is what is strange) in everything he did one felt a confidence in the justice of what he was doing and a readiness to find a common language.  To explain, to argue the truth, however appropriate, to proclaim....    Possibly it is this readiness to perform a spiritual deed, as well as the ability not simply to listen to his counterpart but also to select the individual keys to the heart of each person and to take into account the interests of the partner, that gave birth to that incomparable spirit of command of the epicenter, which permitted Grigory Alexeevich to support those who agreed with him within his gravitational orbit for almost ten years.  This, without question, is a gift from God.

The difference in four years from the "Chicago kids" who entered politics, as it seemed, once and for all, also is significant.  These people really are agnostics with regard to faith and cynics in their life.  Many, for example the recent head of the state tax service and repeated vice premier Boris Fedorov (who incidentally worked at one time in the brigade of the "500 days"), consider "Yabloko" a sectarian organization.  Or a marginal party--with all the consequences deriving therefrom.

Now Yavlinsky remains in domestic politics as the creator of the "bicycle law": his universal rule that reform "in that country" (regarding which he now says only "in my country") can succeed only when one alternates the movement toward liberalization of the economy with measures of social adaptation of the population to the changing circumstances, irrespective of who is turning the pedals.

The leader of Yabloko asked his spiritual confessor for permission to participate in the presidential elections of 1996.  In accordance with his established habit, Grigory Yavlinsky makes daily visits to the church of Ioann the Warrior on Bolshoi Yakimanka, where he makes confession and communion.  In a conversation with a  NG correspondent, the leader of Yabloko confirmed that he was baptized by his grandmother in Lvov (his parents were faithful communists and consequently atheists), and that he regularly met with his confessor and that he asked the priest for his blessing for entering the elections for head of state.  He received this blessing and thus competed for victory with an intensity that, it seemed, transcended reasonable limits.  His slogan of "No war, no peace" seemed at the time very out-of-date and, even more, inappropriate.  The whole country feared a return of power to the communists and many of Yavlinsky's potential voters willingly gave their votes to the "lesser evil" in the person of the incumbent president.  Grigory Alexeevich then joked:  "If you vote with your heart, then store up ___" and thereby he practically predicted the subsequent problems of the impotent first person.

However, it was necessary not only to push the right pedal of the bicycle, which was done by the "young reformers" under Chernomyrdin, but also the left pedal.  Otherwise the whole construct simply was doomed to perish, buried beneath its own wreckage of the irregular approach.  On 17 August 1998 the bicycle, that had been neglected by Gaidar and his team at the beginning of 1992 and the administrative system which had several times been transferred from hand to hand, finally collapsed.  It is simply amazing how patient our former soviet people has been in the experiment to the end.  The longsuffering of Grigory Yavlinsky, who abruptly refused to join the new government of Evgeny Primakov personally, was suspected by many because he demanded for his team twelve key positions in the macroeconomic bloc, and no fewer.

The cynicism of the man who promised to come later (when?) and to set everything right, apparently, figured in the rules of the great political game.  However, his profoundly Christian essence nevertheless did not permit him to accept the subsequent rejection--his heart did not hold out and he had a heart attack.  Emerging from the hospital, Grigory Yavlinsky understood that "one pays such a price only to become president." This is a statement of one who profoundly believes that he is predestined.  The spiritual achievement of Yabloko's leader is not upset even by the forecasts of astrologers who found a "cross" in his horoscope, which should prevent his ascent to power.  In his own country.  He is doing what he should.  Let be, what will be. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 6 March 1999)

Siberian Pentecostals disavowed by federal unions

by Vitaly Romanov
Segodnia, 3 March 1999

Sectarians who seized building of district administration over money demand resettlement

For two days, people calling themselves members of the sect of Evangelical Pentecostals have not left the corridors of the adminstration building of the Aldan district of the republic of Sakha-Yakutiia.  At first demanding that they be paid for their work in the timber industry, they then asked that the authorities immediately review the question of their resettlement, threatening to kill their children if there were an attempt to dislodge them from the building.

Many children are in the corridors:  of the 65 occupiers located in the halls, 40 are between the ages of three months and seven years.  After the adults gave officials their conditions, they began to sing prayers, stomping their feet on the floor.  Then, according to workers of the administration, they began to issue irrational shouts affirming that in this way they were communicating "in the tongues of paradise."

The director of the Aldan administation, Sergei Litvinenkov, with whom our reporter talked, said that the uninvited guests immediately paralyzed the work of the institution and thus he was  forced to call for help from the police.  But as soon as the sectarians caught sight of the police they began to threaten suicide.  They were extremely decisive:  many of them took out knives and raised their infants to the opened windows and then began to say their farewells to each other.  In this situation the police officers decided not to take any action and thus for two days the situation has remained unresolved.

On Monday morning the administration found the money which had been demanded in order to pay members of the sect for their earlier timber deliveries.  Although, in the opinion of Sergei Litvinenkov, they were not obliged to do this since in drawing up the orders for the work the sentarians had refused, for reasons of religious conviction, to sign any documents and they agreed to accept groceries, fuel, and clothing for their work.  One official said that after receiving all of this from the authorities, the evangelicals noted philosophically:  "God has sent this."  And now, several months later, they changed their minds and decided to demand money, displaying themselves to the public of Aldan, and then unexpectedly they began to complain of persecutions they were suffering in Yakutiia.

However it cannot be ruled out that the evangelical Pentecostals simply want to resolve their problems with local residents at state expense.  As the director of the press service of the president of Yakutiia, Tatiana Tarasova, told a Segodnia correspondent, the sectarians arrived in the republic from Amur province at the beginning of the 90s.  Having settled in the Ust-Maisk ulus [a Siberian district, tr.], they worked in forestry and cattle raising, although they were not able to get along with the local population and in 1996 they moved to the village of Kutan of Aldan ulus.  According to Tatiana Tarasova, last year the sectarians suddenly declared that the timber base they had rented was their own property, after which they again began to clash with the local residents, declaring to them:  "Leave our land."  Tarasova considers that the aggressiveness of the congregation is easily explained, if on recalls that it is led by a person named Kozyr, who served fifteen years for murder and is known in certain circles by the nickname "One-eye."  Our correspondent has not been able to find out what the evangelical Pentecostals themselves think about all of this; having settled themselves in the corridors, the people flatly refuse any contacts with the press.

At the present time the Union of Christian of Evangelical Faith--Pentecostals (KhVEP) of Russia is one of the most numerous and most widespread Christian demonimations of Russia.  In 1994 the Union of KhVEP was registered with the ministry of justice of RF.  Christians of Evangelical Faith at the present time are officially the fourth largest confession in our country, but this estimate may be low.  On 4 March 1998 the Union of KhVEP in Russia comprised 46 regional departments, 1155 churches, and around 900 Sunday schools.  Pentecostals give special attention to preaching the imminance of the second coming, the end of the world, and also obedience to the commandment "do not kill," with which is tied their strictly negative attitude toward war and military service.  (tr. by PDS)

by Vitaly Romanov
Segodnia, 4 March 1999

Instead of the requested shooting, the leader of Aldan Pentecostals is threatened with administrative punishment

The stand-off between the authorities and members of the congregation of evangelical Pentecostals, who seized on Monday the administration building of Aldan district in Yakutiia, was resolved yesterday afternoon as a result of a police operation.  It began yesterday at 18:05 local time and took, according to its director, the deputy minister of internal affairs of Yakutiia, Anatoly Dzivitsky, no more than five minutes.  There were no casualties except for one policeman who received a heavy blow on the head from one of the believers.

When three of the instigators of the disorders were taken to the police investigative center, medics immediately began examination of the women and children, among whom was an infant five days old (he had to be sent in critical condition for recovery).  Upon examination of the children, physicians noted on them traces of beatings and scars.  The frightened children, who agreed to talk only when they were separated from their parents, told how they frequently were punished by father Vitaly as well as by their own mothers for not knowing the prayers.  "Father Vitaly" himself along with two aides by this time already had given statements at the police station.

According to the press secretary of the president of Yakutiia, Tatiana Tarasova, 65 believers, who from 1 March had settled themselves in the corridors of the district adminsitration building, on the second day of their demonstration refused any contacts with authorities, although they had prepared 250,000 rubles as pay for earlier timber delivers from the evangelicals.  The sectarians turned away all attempts to begin talks with them and then began singing.  Even when an expert psychologist flew to Aldan from Yakutsk and began gradually to call women from the sect for conversation, the leader of the group, "Father Vitaly" (Vitaly Kozyr) interrupted them, bellowing to the "sisters": "Sing."

Yesterday morning Kozyr nevertheless made a short statement, apparently in response to the decision of the Aldan people's court of 2 March accusing the Pentecostals of violation of the requirements of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious association" regarding obligatory registration.  The leader of the congregation stated that he and his brothers "forgive" the president of Yakutiia, the government of Russia, and their neighbors from the village of Kutan for the unjust attitude toward them and he asked that all members of the congregation be shot.  But this request, naturally, will not be satisfied:  as was stated at the police station, the maximum with which they are threatened is administrative punishment.

But in order to establish punishment, the police must clarify the motives of the actions of the Aldan Pentecostals.  It is suggested that behind all of this incident there may stand the simple desire to get resettlement to a place with a more mild climate at the expense of the government.  The brothers and sisters of "father Vitaly" are generally characterized by an urge for moving:  they came to Yakutia from Amur province and at first found residence in Ust-Maisk district, but they did not get along with the local gold miners, who did not want to share with them the principle that "everything around has been given by God."  This applied not to the natural wealth but to the structures of the economy and cattle, even those of others.  After several conflicts the group of believers resettled to Aldan district, where they also were not able to get along peacefully with the local population.

Incidentally, yesterday the leaders of all Russian associations of Pentecostals declared that the "Aldan Group" did not belong to their faith.  As  was recounted at the Christian Legal Center, it has been established for certain that they are not members of the Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith--Pentecostals (KhVEP), nor of the Russian Associated Union of KhVEP, nor of the Association of the Missions of KhVEP.  Indeed, in general, according the Evangelical-Pentecostals, a threat to depart from life voluntarily is not compatible with their faith.  The director of the administration on questions of internal policies of the administration of the president of RF, Andrei Loginov, told a Segodnia correspondent that this group of believers had not received registration and thus cannot legally participate in civil-juridical relations, which led to this conflict.  Nevertheless, the administration of the president is concerned about what happened and suggests that the true cause of the conflict is the lack of regulation in social and economic problems and "local authorities' not always having a correct understanding of the law on freedom of conscience."  (tr. by PDS)

Russian text


 YAKUTSK, March 5 (Itar-Tass) - Women belonging to the religious sect of Pentacostalists who were accommodated in a hospital in the settlement of Leninsky in the Aldan region refuse to take food, demanding that they be allowed to join their " brothers" from the sect who face criminal charges for illegal intrusion into the building of the local administration of the Aldan region. The" brothers " will be kept at a detention center for ten more days yet.

 The women from the sect are reluctant to contact any outsiders. If someone attempts to speak to them they turn their back on the intruder or begin singing prayers in chorus. There is a 17-year-old youngster staying with the women who seem to forget about the existence of their children.

 The results of a medical examination of the children belonging to the sect showed that they had been severely beaten up. Many of them are suffering from cold. They have numerous scars on the backs which were seen by doctors who believe that the children were either birched or pricked with sharp-edged things.

 All the children could do was to give first names of their torturers. Some of them do not know even their own names. A baby who is barely a week old, who was first thought dead when the doctors found him, has been put to an intensive care unit and the condition of the child was reported to improve.

 Chief of the Administration of the Aldan region Sergei Litvinenko has filed a lawsuit against the sect, demanding to strip them of the right of parenthood.

(posted 6 March 1999)

Religion law used to outlaw sect

by Nick Wadhams
Associated Press, 3 March 1999

MOSCOW (AP) -- A  Russian court has used a controversial religion  law to ban the Pentecostalist Church from a  town in eastern Siberia, a news report said  today.

 Under Russian law, courts have the right to  outlaw religious groups that are found to be  inciting hatred or intolerant behavior. The law  has been used against several groups recently.

 A judge in the Siberian town of Aldan ruled  Tuesday that the Pentecostalists had violated  the law because they refused medical aid for  ailing members of the group. The court also  said the Pentecostalists had preached  intolerance by teaching their children at home,  the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

 The religion law, passed in 1997, recognizes the  Russian Orthodox Church as the nation's  leading faith and pledges to respect Islam,  Judaism and Buddhism. But other  denominations face a host of restrictions and  have to prove they've had a presence in Russia  for at least 15 years before they're permitted  full legal status.

 The court's ruling came at a time when the city  and the Pentecostalists were involved in  another confrontation in Aldan, about 3,000  miles east of Moscow.

 A group of 60 Pentecostalists took over the  city's administration building Sunday and  demanded that the city pay them for work they  performed when severe flooding hit the region  last spring, ITAR-Tass said. City leaders say  they repaid the church members with food,  clothing and fuel.

 Authorities removed the Pentecostalists from  the building today, taking the women and  children to a hospital, while the men were  placed in a detention center, the Interfax news  agency said.

 Human rights groups have protested Russia's  religion law as a violation of the Russian  constitution, which permits freedom of  religion. However, authorities have acted  against several religious groups recently.

 Last month, 400 Pentecostalists in the eastern  coastal city of Magadan applied for asylum in  the United States after alleging they were  harassed by local officials.

 In other high-profile cases, prosecutors in  Moscow are seeking to ban the Jehovah's  Witnesses from the Russian capital in a trial  that currently underway.

 And tax police last week raided the Moscow  offices of the Church of Scientology,  confiscating documents and questioning  leaders.

(posted 4 March 1999)

RFE/RL WATCHLIST Vol. 1, No. 9, 12 March 1999

On March 2 a judge in the Siberian town of Aldan banned a Pentecostal church for violating the Russian law on religion that has been criticized by human rights groups as anti-constitutional. According to ITAR-TASS, the Aldan ban resulted from church members refusing medical help and preaching intolerance by insisting on home schooling for their children. ITAR-TASS quoted Vladimir Murza, identified as "the man who oversees Russia's Pentecostalists," as denying any connection to the Aldan church and suggesting that the case formed part of a conspiracy to discredit Pentecostals and to justify a crackdown. ITAR-TASS noted that the ruling coincided with a takeover of Aldan's municipal building by 60 Pentecostals who demanded payment for flood relief work they had done last spring. According to the Associated Press, police drove out the protesters on March 3, arresting four and taking the women and children to hospitals.
(posted 15 March 1999)

Police-sectarian standoffs in Siberia


 MOSCOW, Mar. 03, 1999 -- (Reuters) Members of a religious sect caught in a standoff with police in a remote Siberian town have asked police to shoot them dead, Ekho Moskvy radio said on Wednesday. It quoted the leader of the group, Vitaly Kozyr, as saying the sect of evangelical Christians would "forgive" the police and the local authorities in Russia's vast Yakutia province for any injustices committed against them.

 It was the latest twist in a bizarre saga that began on Sunday night when about 60 people, a third of them children, locked themselves in an administrative building demanding compensation for timber they had provided for local residents. But the group subsequently rejected offers of money, broke off negotiations with the police and began singing and praying, officials said.

 A ruling by a local court on Tuesday that the group was a bona fide religious organization also failed to sway them.

 Interfax news agency said police were expected to take unspecified measures later on Wednesday to end the siege.

 Evangelical Christians and other religious groups have experienced a revival in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union brought an end to 70 years of official atheism. But both the secular authorities and Russia's own 1,000-year-old Orthodox Church have often expressed skepticism toward less conventional religious movements.

 In a separate standoff with police, dozens of pupils and some parents and teachers have occupied their evangelical religious school in Russia's second city, St Petersburg, since last week. City authorities there say they have suspended the group's rent-free lease and won a court order to evict them, but the school's supporters say they are entitled to remain.

(c) 1999 Reuters


MOSCOW, March 3 (Reuters) - Police on Wednesday ended their siege of a building in a remote Siberian town where about 60 members of a religious sect had been holed up for three days and had asked to be shot dead, officials said.

``The standoff ended peacefully. The members of the sect offered no resistance when police entered the building,'' said Sergei Litvinenko, head of the local administration in the Aldanskaya region of Russia's vast eastern Yakutia province.

He told Reuters by telephone that the women and children in the group had been taken to hospital for checks and that the men were being questioned by police.

The group, which earlier on Wednesday has asked police to shoot them dead saying the police would be forgiven, was not officially registered, Litvinenko said.

The group of evangelical Christians locked themselves in the administrative building on Sunday evening demanding compensation for timber they had provided for local residents.

But they subsequently rejected offers of money, broke off negotiations with the police and began singing and praying.

Evangelical Christians and other religious groups have experienced a revival in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union brought an end to 70 years of official atheism.

But both the secular authorities and Russia's own 1,000-year-old Orthodox Church have often expressed scepticism toward less conventional religious movements.

Speaking in Moscow on Wednesday, Patriarch Alexiy, head of the influential Orthodox Church, criticised the activities of minority religious sects.

``Russia has been flooded by sects of a destructive nature which often cripple people's souls,'' he told reporters.

The Orthodox Church strongly supports a controversial religion law which imposes curbs on minority religious groups and has been condemned as discriminatory by human rights groups.

Under the 1997 law, Moscow prosecutors are seeking to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses in a court case that is being monitored closely by human rights groups.

Last week police raided the Moscow offices of the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology.

RFE/RL, 3 March 1999

Members of the evangelical Christian group that seized a public building in Aldan Raion in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) on 28 February have asked police to shoot them, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 March. They promised they would forgive the police and others for any "injustices" perpetrated against them. According to Reuters, the group has rejected offers of money and broken off negotiations with the police. In a statement released to the press, the group added that in addition to wanting the police to shoot them, they also would like the Sakha government to recognize financial debts owed the group, according to ITAR-TASS. The agency also reported that the leader of the group, Pastor Yevgenii, has served a 13-year prison sentence for killing his wife. JAC

ITAR-TASS, 3 March 1999

YAKUTSK, March 3 (Itar-Tass) - Members of a religious sect of Evangelist Christians or the sect of  "Pentacostalists" who had occupied a building of the city administration in Aldan in Yakutia three days before, expressed a wish to make a statement for the press in which they make two main demands on the authorities: first, that the government and the president of Yakutia acknowledge financial debts they owe to the sect and a second demand, which puzzled the authorities, that leaders of Yakutia should kill members of the sect by firing squad.

 The community of the religious sect who had been working in a timber processing complex in a place called Billyakh since 1994, turned to the administration of the Aldan region, asking for pay. No wages had been paid to the sect earlier and the community sufficed with foodstuffs provided by the local administration with no money paid. Finally, members of the community went to Aldan to demand a fair pay for their work. The administration of the Aldan region has counted how much work the sect did last summer and figured out a round sum of 250,000 roubles. The money was offered to head of the religious community, Vitaly Kozarj, but the latter refused, demanding that administration order "to shoot down members of the sect."

 Attempts made by the local administration to grasp the meaning of suicidal demands made by the sect have been to no avail yet since the sect refused to answer questions. Nevertheless, the administration is still hoping that in the long run, their dialogue with the religious community will take a civilized turn.

 Meanwhile, the community is making itself comfortable in the office building, bringing in kitchen utensils and household appliances, and drying up waddling clothes belonging to their 20 children, including a new born child.

 The sect of Evangelist Christians appeared in Russia at the beginning of the XXth century and several different varieties of the sect were registered.

 According to statistics reports released last March, the total number of Evangelist Christians in Russia was around 73,000 and they owned over 1,000 churches.

Related articles:  "Russian police harass sectarians"

(posted 4 March 1999)

Public authority of Alexis II


The seventieth birthday of the primate of the Russian Orthodox church as an element of the political life of the country

by Maksim Shevchenko
Nexavisimaia gazeta--religii, 3 March 1999

In the last week before the Great Fast, not only the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs) but also a substantial part of secular Russian society gave their best wishes to Patriarch Alexis II on his seventieth birthday.  The president awarded the primate of RPTs the order of Saint Andrew the First-called.  One hundred twenty bishops, who had come to Moscow, celebrated a festive liturgy; the political and part of the cultural beau monde gathered in the Bolshoy Theatre for a concert specially arranged for the occasion.  All television channels, without exception, carried broadcasts about the patriarch, and just about all the significant print press devoted articles to the anniversary or even published interviews with him.  The longest, incidentally, came out in abridged form in NG on 18.02.99, and in full in NG-Religii, 24.02.99.

It is possible that since the time of the election of Patriarch Tikhon by the all-Russian council of 1917 no single patriarch has ever found himself the center of public attention to such a degree.  And most amazing in the current situation for RPTs is that its last primate of the twentieth century is organically linked with that Tikhonite epoch of Russian Orthodoxy.

The patriarch is a unique (among the major Russian public leaders and among the bishops of RPTs) person with his non-soviet education.  Having been born in "bourgeois" Estonia, he grew up among the first emigration which had lived during the time of the Russian empire.  The ecclesiastical  views of the patriarch were formed under the invluence of the fesidents of the Valaam monastery, which had preserved the traditions of prerevolutionary Orthodoxy.  Alexis II first clashed with the soviet regime at the age of 14, and he became a soviet citizen in fact only at the time of the liberation of Estonia from the Germans by the soviet army in 1944, when he already was 18 and had been formed as an adult person.

And although the patriarch does not consider himself a politician, in today's "non-soviet" Russia he is the only genuine "non-soviet" public figure of world status.  At the same time, that the patriarch is a "non-soviet" has not been displayed in the declarations and the public denunciations of his personal past--he simply is "different," organically alien to the soviet and especially post-soviet naive and frenzied ecclesiastical ways.  He has a European-style cultural tolerance toward different opinions and an ability to enter dialogue (we recall his speech to the New York synagogue which evoked a heart-rending screem from the "convervatives," and his good relation with the heads of the other Russian confessions) which clearly transcends the boundaries of the diplomacy of which a great man is capable.  It has become clear why in the present rush of aggressive fundamentalism within the church the advocates of the harsh antiecumenical, xenophobic line still have not won in the church--the patriarch himself has blocked them.  Its seems, politicians of all stripes are trying to make overtures to the patriarch.  In the run-up to the next elections, both parliamentary and principally the presidential, the factor of "special closeness" to a person whose public authority is virtually indisputable, has become extremely important.

For a number of understandable reasons (the patriarch is the bishop of Moscow and permanently resides on its territory) closest of all to him should be the Moscow mayer, Yury Luzhkov.  But despite the patriarchate's great financial dependence on the Moscow mayor or people connected with him, there remains the feeling that the patriarch is cautious about supporting the presidential ambitions of Luzhkov.  We recall that Alexis II was one of three people (along with Evgeny Primakov and Nikolai Bordiuzha) who toasted President Yeltsin in his residence on his birthday.  Obviously, the relations that have developed between the patriarch and Boris Yeltsin transcend the bounds of the official;;after all, if Primakov and Bordiuzha were present at the president's as state officials of high rank, the patriarch, who is not a state official, could be present at this meeting only as a private person.  But a private person having status in the eyes of the president commensurate with the status of a prime minister, the second person in the state.  Possibly, with the patriarch's birthday, they somewhat overdid it; citizens of Russian of non-Orthodox confessions frequently raised the issue that the birthday of the head of one of the Russian confessions actually was observed on a general governmental level.

But we recall again that Patriarch Alexis II is not simply the head of RPTs.  He is the symbol of that country which had been lost by those movie directors who were born and bred in USSR, the country whose image attracts so strongly the current Russian nomenklatura, who are trying to expel from themselves every drop of former membership in CPSU, along with the entire postsoviet society that is trying to renounce its past.  We dare to predict that not only the fate of the church but also the fate of Russia as a whole depends on whether the patriarch survives this pressure that derives from all of this complex cultural torment.  (tr. by PDS)

Alexis II holds press conference

ITAR-TASS, 3 March 1999

MOSCOW, March 3 (Itar-Tass) - Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia said law and order measures to protect Russians from totalitarian sects roaming the county are vital.  He said at a press conference in his Moscow's working residence in Chisty Pereulok of Wednesday that legal actions like the criminal proceeding against Jehovah's Witnesses, now in progress, and the recent search in the grounds of a scientology centre in St. Petersburg seek "to sort out what these sects are bringing into souls of people - good, peace or confusion and evil".

Alexy said this was also the logic behind Russia's recently passed law on religious associations which stipulates a 15-year period to take proselytising groups out of Russia's mainstream religions for final registration.

A district court in Yakutia on Wednesday used the law to ban a Pentecost sect on the grounds that it eluded registration and barred its converts from medical care and school education.

Many of the sects cripple human souls, as is witnessed by multiple letters to the Moscow Patriarchy from mothers whose children ended up in the sects and by the experience of the rehabilitation centre for victims of spiritual mutilation which works at Moscow's Transfiguration Church, Alexy said.

He said the centre works to return people into the fold of the mother Church.

"These people are in a very hard situation. All has been seized from them - the apartment, valuables, money. The rehabilitation period is compounded by the fact that they have no roof over their heads, nor work, nor material means," the patriarch said.

He said the Church and the state must cooperate in the difficult task of rehabilitation.

Alexy II said satanic cults are especially wicked. He said he knew evidence of their setting to fire numerous Orthodox churches, leaving satanic signs at the crime scene.

"Is there not enough evil in our country to multiply it on a religious basis?" he said.

(courtesy of Ray Prigodich)

ITAR-TASS, 3 March 1999

MOSCOW, March 3 (Itar-Tass) - Alexy II Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia addressed children's suicide among other subjects at a press conference in his Moscow residence which followed the ceremony of awarding him a breastplate of honour by a regional club of newspapers.

Alexy said facts of suicide of children are explainable by vulnerability of their souls pained by stepped up propaganda of the idea that human life costs little.

The patriarch said ethical void is characteristic of the present-day education of teenagers, who find its formative surrogates in get-together set in entry lobbies of houses, archways, garrets and discotheques or derive them from television.

Views of the Soviet-era Young Communist, or Komsomol, and pioneer leagues can vary, but they did attend to leisure of children, now left to their own devices, Alexy said. And the void of soul is always filled in by surrogates, he said.

He cited as an example the all-pervading Western action movies. What can they teach by their fare of up to 20 murders that go with impunity, Alexy asked.

He said he had visited a penal colony in Vitebsk, where he found 13-14-year- old serving their time for murders.

Alexy went on to say that numbers of orphanages are increasing in Russia. Statistics report an abundance of cases of children fleeing from their alcoholic and drug addict parents and hell of their lives home.

He recalled how the Russian Children's Fund introduced him to a family which adopted ten children of different ethnicities from orphanages. Alexy said such facts speak volumes of Russia's soul and of its being more than a country of rampant crime pictured by the media.

The patriarch cited the missionary work of Orthodox priests in military units, where they saved many downcast soldiers headed for fatality.

Alexy said his frequent visits to Sunday schools left him with the belief that their pupils will not be lost for the future. This prompts the crucial importance of returning to spiritual and ethical beginnings, he said.

Russia with its 1000-year history should not borrow the alien experience but should look to its own traditions, Alexy said.

His summary of the suicide topic was in a way of a soft-spoken aside, given that succumbing to despondency and suicide are defined by the Russian Orthodox Church as two gravest sins.

"One must not commit suicide from despondency. One should try out all of possible ways out and, what is more, to appeal for help to people who are carriers of spiritual principles," Alexy said.

from Johnson's Russia List

(posted 4 March 1999)

Bookburning bishop disciplines renegade priest

Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 3 March 1999

By his decree of 2 February 1999 Bishop Nikon of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursk banned from ministry the priest of the church of the Protection in the village of Pokrovskoe, Artemov district, Alexander Zheltukhin, on the basis of apostolic canons 25 and 72.

The Ekaterinburg "Pravoslavnaia gazeta", no 4 for 1999, explained the reason for this canonical punishment.  Father Alexander was ordained 7 December 1996. He had worked before this as a stoker in the boilerroom of the local adminstration and after he became a priest he paid a visit to the head of the village adminstration and demanded that an apartment and car be placed at his disposal.  After the treasurer of the church left, Fr Alexander appointed his own mother to this position, who became at the same time the seller of candles in the church kiosk.  Attempts by the auditing commission that was elected by the parish meeting to follow procedures were cut off by him. It is not surprising that in a short time the rector of the village church acquired through his father two buildings in the neighboring village.  With all this concern for his own well-being, of course, the priest was not much concerned for parish activity.  It goes without saying that in these two years there never was created in the parish either a parish library or a Sunday school.  Fr Alexander's activity drew the attention, after phone calls, of the diocesan adminstration of parishes and of the village adminisration, with a request for an audit.  By a decision of the ecclesiastical consistory such an examination was made in the village of Pokrovskoe.  How did Fr Alexander Zheltukhin react to the conduct of an audit of his activity?  He began saying all over the place that he was being "subjected to persecution" and that he did not know "whether he would live."

He even delivered such sermons from the church pulpit.  The parishioners merely wised that the priest would quickly amend the shortcomings to which the diocesan commision had pointed.  On 8 February the diocesan administration received a "notification" from Fr Alexander sent to Bishop Nikon regarding the"termination of canonical fellowship with the Moscow patriarchate and transfer under the omophor of the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, because it has become impossible to share in the Sergian lie and the apostasy from Orthodoxy."  However Fr Alexander begain his activity in the new capacity with visits to the directors of several commercial banks.

In recent years several priests of the Ekaterinburg diocese have committed similar actions that are schismatic.  Among them the priest Anatoly Kuznetsov, who split the flock entrusted to him on political views during the presidential election, desecrating the body and blood of Christ by denying communion to those who voted for a different candidate.  Now Fr Anatoly "defends the purity of Orthodoxy" in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.    And will the priest Alexander Zheltukhin be proclaimed to be, not the extremely fallible priest but the "ideological opponent of the Moscow patriachate"? (tr. by PDS)

Related items:  Bookburning; Bishop Nikon

(posted 4 March 1999)

Ukrainian identification system still troublesome

Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 3 March 1999

President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma authorized the prime minister of Ukraine, Valery Pustovoitenko and the head of the State Tax Administration, Nikolai Azarov, to review the suggestions of religious organizations regarding introduction of a system of records of taxpayers that would be an alternative to identification numbers.  Leonid Kuchma's decision was evoked by a recent request from the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, Vladimir Sabodan, to find an alternative to the identification codes and also by the daily demonstrations by Orthodox believers in front of the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine with similar demands.  However, in the opinion of Nikolai Azarov, "the suggestions of religious organizations bear a declarative character and they do not propose a concrete mechanism for records of taxpayers."  The suggestions of believers consist not only in the impermissibility of the combination of three sixes in the identification code, but also in the rejection of a numerical record of citizens in general. (tr. by PDS)

previous story

(posted 4 March 1999)

Witnesses' trial intensifies as end nears

from Watch Tower Public Affairs Office, 3 March 1999

A notorious critic of minority faiths and a well-know professor of religion will testify tomorrow in what is expected to be the final day of testimony in the Moscow human rights trial of Jehovah's Witnesses.  The defense expects Friday to end with another long adjournment. A. L. Dvorkin, director of the anti-cult Center of Iraneus of Lyon, will appear for the prosecution, and N. S. Gordienko, Professor of the Religious Studies and Doctor of Philosophy, will testify for the defense.  These are the final two witnesses scheduled to appear.  At the close of the session, Jehovah's Witnesses will hold a brief press conference at the courthouse.  Court is scheduled to end at 2 p.m.

"We understand that the judge is in a difficult position," said Vasilii Kalin, director of the Witnesses' Administrative Center in St.?Petersburg.  "She has seen no evidence to support the charges, but the political climate makes it difficult for her to render judgment in our favor.  We expect another delay."

Human rights groups are concerned about the implications of the trial on others.  Human rights leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva, president of the International Helsinki Federation, said that she will testify on Thursday because she is concerned about the precedent the trial may set.  "This trial is not just about the rights of a minority religion, but of all Russians," said Alekseyeva.  "First it is Jehovah's Witnesses, next will be the human rights groups, then will come the trade unions and opposing political groups.  We've seen it all before."

The trial of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow was instigated by a complaint from the Committee for the Rescue of Youth, first filed in 1996.  The prosecution is using the 1997 religion law as the basis for this trial. A summary of each day's court proceedings can be found at, along with detailed background information on the trial and on Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.  The text of this release is posted on  For more information on Jehovah's Witnesses, visit

from Watch Tower Public Affairs Office, 1 March 1999

Today's events at the trial against Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow show that opposition to religious freedom has spread to a higher level in the city administration than previously thought, according to trial observers.

After months of silence, the Moscow Department of Justice today took a position against freedom of religion by publicly supporting three of the five charges against Jehovah's Witnesses. Until now, only the local prosecutor had taken a position against the religion. Human rights advocates expressed concern over the new development. "The Moscow Department of Justice has officially called for the banning of Jehovah's Witnesses," said Lyudmila Alekseyeva, president of the International Helsinki Federation, which monitors human rights. "If you look at the history of this process, there is no other answer than that the administration of Moscow is supporting this."

In December Alekseyeva told Reuters that the campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses was politically motivated and had much wider implications for individual freedoms in Russia. In the past, Moscow city officials have publicly stated that they oppose religious intolerance. Defense attorney John Burns said he was glad to get a straight answer from the Department of Justice. "They finally came out of the woodwork and showed their true colors," he said. "Now we know exactly what we are up against. It's too bad the department is retreating from its previous support of Jehovah's Witnesses and of religious freedom."

Regulations require the Justice Department to give written warnings before taking action to ban a religion. The attorney admitted that no warnings had been issued to Jehovah's Witnesses and that the department had not investigated the religion.

The Justice Department granted registration to the Moscow Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1993. In September 1998, the defense made a motion to add the department as a party to the case in an effort to force the department to take a public position.
Under questioning, the Justice Department attorney said she was aware that Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted during the Communist regime. However, she admitted that she did not know that they were fully rehabilitated as victims of political oppression.

(posted 4 March 1999)

Another explanation of Dukhobors' move

by Svetlana Stepanenko
Radiotserkov, 1 March 1999

After 150 of residence on the territory of Georgia, a Russian religious society of "Dukhobors", 400 descendants of resettlers, returned to their homeland.  Adherents of this faith consider themnselves an ethnic group of protestant Christians.  They do not recognize the forms of worship and attributes which, in their opinion, stand between God and the individual.  The word "Dukhobor," according the the explanation of members of the society, signifies a struggle for spiritual perfection within one's self and for freedom of the spirit from the church, or a party of any other kind of organization.

The tsarist government began to expel Dukhobors in the seventeenth century for their inability to get along with people of the church and refusal to take an oath of loyalty.  When they located on the remote reaches of the empire, they did not feel themselves a "repressed people."  The faith of these people did not encourage lengthy idleness, drunkenness, dissipation, and celebration, and thus Dukhobors labored every day voluntarily, without drawing a distinction between individual and collective economy.  Thanks to this the society lived prosperously for many decades.

In recent years the well-to-do Russian society began to attract impoverished residents of Georgian and Armenian villages.  They arrived with weapons and plundered the estates since almost every family had a small enterprise, a bakery or small factory for producing butter, cheese, sausage, soft drinks, as well as dozens of head of cattle and fowl, vehicles and agricultural machinery.  The communal economy consisted of herds, textile factory, and a flour mill.

Failing to reach agreement with local residents and to find support from law enforcement agencies, as well as being left without light and water, the Dukhobors wrote a letter to Boris Yeltsin.  Russia extended the hand of assistance and the Russian society moved to the villate of Mirny, which is located in southwest Briansk province.  Here it members had to start everything from nothing inasmuch as everything that they had acquired over long years was confiscated at Georgian customs.  And the inadequate village, in which originally it was intended to resettle people from the radioactive zone following the Chernobyl accident, was only three-quarters built.  The Dukhobors are convinced that with time they will get their life in order.  The main thing is that their homeland has welcomed them cordially. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

related story

(posted 3 March 1999)


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