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Catholic expansion in Siberia


John Paul II Appoints Apostolic Administrator

VATICAN CITY, May 18 (ZENIT).- The number of Catholics in Siberia has increased to the point where John Paul II has decided to erect a new Apostolic Administration -- the forerunner of a diocese -- in Siberia, with headquarters in the city of Irkutsk.

Two ecclesiastical territories will now exist in Siberia, one in the east and one in the west. The new bishop of East Siberia will be Jerzy Mazur, who had been Siberia's auxiliary bishop.

Siberia is very possibly the world's largest diocese. It is directed by a young bishop, Joseph Werth, and is headquartered in Novosibirsk.

Pope John Paul II entrusted the restructuring of the Church in Siberia to Bishop Werth when he was only 39 years old. The Pope knows Werth personally and has shown his esteem for the bishop publicly on several occasions. Bishop Mazur is a religious from Poland who is a year younger than Bishop Werth.

Out of a total population of 25 million people, one million Catholics live in the two parts of Siberia. The majority are deportees or children of deportees of German, and Ukrainian origin.

(posted 26 May 1999)

Synod's dilemma over Ekaterinburg bishop

by Aleksei Maliutin
Moskovskie novosti, 18-24 May

The dark side of Orthodox fundamentalism

The scandal concerning Bishop Nikon Mironov of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotur  has erupted on the pages of the central Russian press.  The "sodomite sin" of the bishop is treated like an issue of church politics. For the first time the clergy and laity of one of the most important dioceses of Russia have come out against their bishop on a "united front," as if without intending to do so they are restoring to the Russian Orthodox church the conciliarity which had been lost.

Last year Moskovskie novosti reported how books of contemporary Orthodox theologians were burned in the yard of the Ekaterinburg church school of the Russian Orthodox church. From  Nikon's point of view the eminent writers of these books, archpriests Alexander Men, Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, and others, were downright heretics and non-Russian to boot. A year later Bishop Nikon again is at the center of a scandal, this time an ethical and criminal one. Several dozen priests and laity appealed to Patriarch Alexis II and the Holy Synod regarding the "moral degradation" of their bishop. Various details of his financial abuses and "love affairs" have already been spread by local and central mass media for several weeks. Newspapers have published witnesses' testimony and the television has broadcast an interview with victims of the "sodomite passions" of the bishop. Beyond the limits of the articles, whose authors are too enthusiastic about details, there remains the main issue. After seventy years of silence, parish clergy and laity again have declared loudly their right to a voice in the church, reminding the hierarchy that it is they, the church "depths," who constitute the church and they cannot permit "impure bishop" to corrupt and "privatize" it. In its turn, the hierarchy has tried to ignore the great scandal or, worse, has feared the restoration of conciliar, democratic standards to church life according to which it is supposed to take into account the opinion of the "church public."

* * *
Back at the beginning of last year a number of monasteries and parishes of Ekaterinburg diocese objected to the huge taxes which the diocesan bishop imposed on them. Funds needed for restoration were sent off to the diocesan treasury as into an abyss. Bishop Nikon applied the toughest methods of extracting money from the parishes, sending special "auditors" around the diocese.  "Money is the blood of the church," was the way he explained his severe financial policy.

By the end of last year letters had been sent to the synod from Ekaterinburg diocese containing numerous reports of the bishop's unlimited greed and immoral conduct. many of them had the signatures of the most authoritative priests of the diocese, deans, rectors of cathedrals, and heads of monasteries.  Moscow, which usually is indifferent to church opposition that occasionally arises in various dioceses of RPTs, this time was disturbed.

The synod appointed a special commission led by the administrator of affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Sergius Fomin of Solnechnogorsk, who was assigned the task of carefully investigating the events and stifling the conflict by any means.  The commission arrived in Ekaterinburg in March and patiently heard those who had complaints and for a start summoned both sides to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.  In the presence of the administrator of affairs of the patriarchate the sides were reconciled, but, as it turned out, not for long.

* * *

The Ekaterinburg diocese awaited the judicial decision of the synod regarding the conclusions of Metropolitan Sergius' commission's work.  At the beginning of April the synod made a decision:  Bishop Nikon was reprimanded "for negligence in leadership of the diocese and for failing to show the necessary attention to the spiritual life in the monasteries of the diocese, which had led to the difficult situation."

Along with the dismissal of the two leaders of the monastery opposition, hegumens Avraam and Tikhon, the synod's decision seemed strange:  it turned out that Nikon was guilty not of the unnatural sin of Sodom nor of  embezzlement of church funds for personal needs, nor of drunkenness or rudeness in relations with the clergy, but only of letting priests and monasteries "get out of hand" by allowing them to complain to the patriarch and attract the unwanted attention of "outsiders" to the secrets of the churchyard.

Several days after the synod's decision, on the eve of Pascha, 53 (!) priests and 58 influential laypersons of Ekaterinburg diocese signed an open letter to the patriarch in which the tones of discontent resounded:  "We have been forced into publicizing widely the immoral life of Bishop Nikon from the pulpit and in mass media.  We are called schismatics because we have complained.  To whom?  To the most holy patriarch. . . . And this is because we do not wish to be reconciled to the presence of a blasphemer and sodomite in the episcopal see."

Events in the diocese have become all the more alarming.  On Holy Thursday, 15 April, parishioners of the Nizhny Tagil Holy Trinity cathedral set up a picket line at the gates of the church in order to prevent Nikon, who planned to visit Nizhny Tagil that day,  from entering the churchyard.  The parishioners freely gave interviews to numerous reporters:  " We, parishioners, will not let him even get near;" "We will not let him pollute our church;" "Let him go off to the North Pole and create a 'gay' diocese there."  [tr. note:  the Russian word "blue" is used where English uses "gay."]  On 22 April the diocesan council gathered in Ekaterinburg to discuss the critical situation in the diocese.  Bishop Nikon did not show up for the council. On Sunday, 25 April, at the site of the Ipatiev house in the center of Ekaterinburg, ten priests and several hundred laity held a prayer service for the expulsion of the "wolf" from the diocese.  The worshippers held signs in their hands:  "Nikon is a sodomite and heretic," "The earth quakes when it sees such abominable homosexuality."

The parishioners were not so disturbed about the homosexuality itself, which, alas, is not such a rarity among contemporary bishops, but about the openness and cynicism with which Nikon abandoned himself to his love affairs.  In the open letter, 53 clergy of the diocese provided the patriarch extremely vivid testimony.  Bishop Nikon was not satisfied with private "affairs" in his own bedroom; he dreamed of creating a whole den of iniquity with the appearance of an Orthodox monastery. The open letter contained convincing evidence that the Kamensk-Ural monastery of the Savior's Transfiguration was supposed to become a "special" monastery on the bishop's orders where it was intended to assemble suitable "personnel" for the bishop.  The actions of the Ekaterinburg bishop fall under not only church sanctions but also under certain articles of the criminal code:  the bishop forced young men into cohabitation, not only promising them the post of hegumen or financial reward but also threatening physical violence.

* * *

To be sure, in certain circles voices of false piety have resounded in response to the articles exposing Bishop Nikon and the situation which has arisen in Ekaterinburg diocese of RPTs:  they say that reporters again are slandering the Russian church, trying to lure our people away from Orthodoxy.  But with complete certainty it can be said:  among the clergy and laity of Ekaterinburg diocese such voices are not heard. Having dealt with a real wolf in the sheepfold, the Ekaterinburg flock hardly doubts that the greatest harm for RPTs, world Orthodoxy, and the spiritual state of our people comes from such as Nikon; it's people like him, who have lost all moral orientation, who use methods which would make the most inveterate atheists envious.

I recall:  the clergy and laity themselves turned to the press as a last resort, when they lost faith in the possibility of "finding justice" from their own church leadership.  In this case it was by no means the press, thirsting for scandals and hanging out dirty linen, that decided to organize a "mudslinging campaign" against the clean image of RPTs.  On the contrary, the press wants to help RPTs, whose leadership is trying to hide from the public its ulcers and diseases, pushing them into the depths of the church organism.

There is still another aspect to the Ekaterinburg story. It was Bishop Nikon who until recently was known in church circles as an active "patriot" and "fundamentalist," a warrior against heresy and foreigners, and a zealous advocate for the tsarist martyrs who suffered death in Ekaterinburg.  Other Orthodox patriots raised him on their shields, striving to make him the heir and perpetuator of the "great work" of Metropolitan Ioann Snychev of St. Petersburg and Ladoga.  Now many of them have turned from Nikon in shame and disgust. But was it really by chance that this very radical patriotic and fundamentalist rhetoric was combined with the most vile misconduct and financial maneuvers?

* * *

The Holy Synod of RPTs still has not dismissed Nikon from administration of the diocese.  Apparently it does not want to reveal its own weakness and submission to pressure from the press and rank-and-file clergy. However the mass of unrefuted accusations against the bishop has cast a serious shadow over the hierarchy and among the flock Nikon already does not command the least respect. Incidentally, the only organization supporting Nikon is the Urals Society for the Defense of the Rights of Homosexuals which is active in Nizhny Tagil.

It seems that the flaming conflict regarding Bishop Nikon has intensified the conflicts even among the higher church hierarchy.  Metropolitan Kirill Gundiaev in speaking with the press continually recalls that a special commission of the Holy Synod led by Metropolitan Sergius went to the Ekaterinburg diocese and that all complaints should be addressed to that commission.  The Holy Synod is in a difficult situation:  on the one hand Nikon must be removed, but on the other it must find a way to keep this from becoming a contagious example for other dioceses which could lead to undesirable activation of the lower clergy and laity. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 25 May 1999)

Weakness of Orthodox political influence

Russkaia mysl, 6 May 1999

Vera Oleshchuk receives answers from Gleb Yakunin, Valery Borshchev, and Mikhail Men.

Mikhail Men is a deputy of the State Duma (Yabloko fraction), vice chairman of the Committee on Culture, and leader of the All-Russian Christian Union (VKhS).
Gleb Yakunin is the co-chairman of the "Democratic Russia" movement and former member of the Supreme Soviet of RF.
Valery Borshchev is a deputy of the State Duma (Yabloko fraction), chairman of the Permanent Chamber on Human Rights of the Political Consultative Committee of the presidency.

--One gets the impression that Christian Democratic parties have not caught on in Russia.  Why is this? Is this a permanent or simply a temporary failure?

Gleb Yakunin:  Christian parties exist in the Baltic states where democracy already has been established, and even in Ukraine they are represented in parliament.  I have come to the profound and firm conclusion that now, at the present state, it is impossible to create a serious Christian party in Russia.  Moreover, we see that actually we have only a single party, the communist party of the Russian federation (KPRF).  If Yeltsin had consistently carried out reforms at the proper time and banned the communist party in our country, I think that now we would not have any party at all.  And this seems to me to correspond on the whole with the social and political situation in the country.

 However paradoxical, other than "Democratic Russia" all the remaining parties, NDR, Yabloko, LDPR, DVR, and others, in my view are like tadpole parties.  If one imagined that their leaders resigned, these parties simply would disappear.  This is an extremely typical symptom of our time. This is why we in the "Democratic Russia" movement have tried to maintain collective leadership, which in its turn gives us the possibility of maintaining democracy within the movement. Crisis has now struck all political structures.  If one speaks of Christian Democratic parties, all the enumerated causes also apply to them.

One must consider the specifics of Christian democracy.  Its idea arose at the beginning of the century and its founders were Fr Sergei Bulgakov and Ivan Prokhanov.  But real Christian democracy, which triumphed in Europe and the countries of Latin American, began with Father Stursio.  He was a charismatic personality who was endowed with social prophecy.  Such a movement could be created on Catholic or protestant soils.  In those places which Christian parties were created, all churches turned their faces towards the people.  When these churches began to appeal to society and the people, then they succeeded in creating a multitude of structures around themselves, professional, youth, and public organizations. That was how they achieved the incarnation of Christian ideas within the life of each person, including the social and political life. With time such conduct led to the organic inclusion of these ideas among the popular masses.

The essence of today's problems in our country is that Russia never went through a reformation stage.  In our country the main religious organization has remained virtually medieval. That continued right up to the revolution. The so-called Byzantine caesaro-papist model existed.  The church was completely united with the state.  The state helped pursue all of its opponents.  Our new state, unfortunately, has zealously protected the Moscow patriarchate which has initiated persecution of all its competitors.  Thus all other confessions have been constantly engaged in self-preservation.

RPTs itself does not have great influence in society.  Actually our Russian Christianity is more like neopaganism. There is too much obscurantism and ritualism in it. Therefore the Moscow patriarchate exerts no positive influence on society, culture, or politics.  Under such conditions it is necessary to correct a lot and to carry out consistent church reform.  After carrying out reforms, perhaps, these ideas will penetrate society and find their way into the human soul.

For the time I view the creation of a Christian party rather pessimistically. For a start I would suggest that religious freedom must be achieved.  If RPTs were to be really reformed and on that foundation some viable religious organization were to be created, which would have the authority and capacity to affect the atmosphere in society it may be that then only a Christian party would appear.

But it seems to me that there is another model for development.  If RPTs does not reform itself, it will vanish from the historic stage.  Now protestants are working actively, Pentecostals and charismatics.  They have found the model of the reformed church and they have many believers.  Their congregations really are engaged in social activity. On the foundation of such congregations the country could convert to protestantism.  Then, possibly, Christian parties would appear, but on a protestant religious basis.

This course is quite possible. That at present small Christian democratic parties continue to exist I view positively; they can function as experimental organizations.

The situation in society is complex.  There is complete lack of faith and believers constitute only about 2 or 3 percent of the country.  This is the actual flock which follows the Moscow patriarchate. Because it is so small it cannot exert substantial influence on society.  The leadership of the church has forbidden the clergy to engage in political life and this in its turn has a negative impact on an attempt to creation any kind of Christian movement.

Valery Borshchev:  Christian democratic parties rally still have not come to life in Russia, although our religious circles and associations have been a kind of forerunner of these parties.  Then along came Viktor Aksiuchits, Viktor Popkov, Gleb Yakunin, and there were many other people.  It must be said frankly:  we have not grasped quickly the idea of the creation of a Christian democratic party.  Groups in the dissident movement were established on a more religious basis, on the basis of brotherhood and on the ideals of a purely moral order.  Obviously the party introduced an element of discipline and hierarchy.  For a long time I opposed the creation of the party, a very long time.  Even when the Christian Democratic Union (KhDS) was formed and I was a co-chairman, at one congress I still said that such a party was dangerous.  I agreed with Solzhenitsyn, who wrote that the very principle of a party system is incompatible with Russia.  I agree with Alexander Isaevich when he speaks of the dangers that lie within the party spirit.

In this regard Berdiaev has a very good expression.  He sees a great difference between the church and a party.  In the church the center of everything, including conscience, is located in the individual. The human soul deals with God one on one, and all external circumstances, however important they may be, have no significance.  In the church you bear responsibility for yourself.  Christianity in general is a religion of responsibility.  incidentally the main harm of our seven-decades atheism was that this feeling of responsibility was destroyed.

In the party, the center of conscience is the collective, which is the essence of the idea of a party.  Therefore in the party inevitably arises the question of the destruction of personal responsibility, that is, of the very essence of Christianity.  This eventually leads to the washing out of the soul, the washing out of some spiritual substance, and this is dangerous.

Now I recall our circles and seminars of the 1970s; they were constructed on this very feeling of personal moral responsibility. At that time proximity with the spiritual father did not create authority for you; it simply meant that the spiritual father loved you just about more than others and everything and this had no impact upon your worth. But in a party it is just the other way around. There proximity to the leader instantly changes the position of a party member and gives to him great weight and great authority, which inevitably leads within the movement to devices of intrigue and political struggle and in the final analysis it separates the member of the party from the Christian ideal.

Of course, even in "Yabloko" we are subject to this affliction. In essence this is a general illness which some people resist with more success while others with less, or they even cultivate it.  However in Christian democratic parties it becomes immediately obvious.  Taking into account only the conduct of political games is fatal for a Christian party.

Would a Christian democratic party be possible today?  I am afraid not. More realistic I think is another path, the development of a Christian presence within the already existing, "kindred" parties. For example, in the case of Yabloko, praise God, there is such a possibility. The members of the movement themselves, when the issue was the law on freedom of conscience, felt that it was impossible to adopt such a law and that it violated the rights of all believers and threatened first of all the Orthodox church.  And they voted very wisely.

Why do I talk all the time about Yabloko?  Because morality is very important for it.  Its members have never been involved in scandals, in contrast with others.  Thus our cooperation is promising.

Mikhail Men:  It seems to me that the problem of Christian democratic parties is that they are confessional while the very idea of Christian democracy is above confessions.  Christian democracy is political convictions which are based on Christian principles and ideals and really this is somewhere between liberal democracy and social democracy.  The idea of liberal democracy can be summarized in the following way:  everybody earns as much as possible and pays a little tax as possible; each is for one's self.  Under social democracy, the state forces those who earn more to share their bounty with those who for various reasons cannot work well and earn much.

The Christian democratic position is somewhere in between inasmuch as Christian democrats understand that people have been created with various abilities, physical and otherwise. Everyone cannot work in the same way. The state does not force them to share, but the individual realizes that it is necessary to share.  In other words, the Lord requires you to share and the state only takes upon itself the function of regulating this process. This is the key idea of Christian democracy.

In our country all Christian democratic parties which have been created up to now were created with the prospect of being transformed into church parties.  A church party is not a party of Christian democracy; these are completely different things. In this fundamental mistake lies the cause of the failure of all previous parties, RKhDD, RKhDP, and others.  The only useful thing we got from RKhDD is that we now officially celebrate Christmas.

But it's not worth dwelling on such things and lobbying for the interests of RPTs or any other confession. This has absolutely nothing to do with Christian democracy.  The public rejection of Christian democratic parties is related to their having taken an incorrect course.

--Is it possible to hope that the Christian democratic movement in Russia has a future?  What is needed for reviving it?

Gleb Yakunin:  I was a member of two Christian democratic parties, the Russian Christian Democratic Movement (RKhDD), which was created under V. Aksiuchits, and the Christian Democratic Union of Russia (KhDSR), which we created in cooperation with Vitaly Savitsky and Valery Borshchev.

RKhDD was a rather ineffective movement. So it happened that I quit RKhDD on the even of the putsch of 19 August 1991; I quite because of personal disagreements with V. Aksiuchits.  By nature I am a person who cannot abide ambitious leaders.  I did not like it that in the ideology of RKhDD there began to appear an element of great statehood and  nationalism which then was become evident.  We had three cochairmen, Aksiuchits, Borshchev, and I.  Our main disagreements  were not in the leadership but with Aksiuchits choice of a direction for RKhDD which was unacceptable to me.

The second party, KhDSR, was created in 1992.  KhDSR was recognized by the European Christian International, originally in the status of an observer and then as a member.  So KhDSR, it seems to me, has a rather great and serious promise. Again we had three leaders, three cochairmen.  Probably here the problem of leadership was more acute.  The situation developed in such a way that one of us, the late Vitaly Savitsky, persistently began "tugging the blanket onto himself," and he wanted to control the whole party and actively drew near to RPTs, in particular, to Metropolitan Ioann of Petersburg and Ladoga, who was widely known for his "black hundred" views.

When I engage in political and social activity, consequently, I hope for a better future for Russia, which for me is inconceivable with a strong and authoritative political movement that is based on Christian  principles.  A Russia on whose politics such a movement could have, if not a decisive, at least a strong impact is one for which we can and must dream.  This would be the creation of that enormous role of a Christian spiritual foundation within the life of our country which we never had but about which the great thinkers of Russia, Vladimir Soloviev, Nikolai Berdiaev, and others, wrote.

I pray that such a think can be achieved as soon as possible.  Alas, the experience of real life does not always give evidence that this really is happening.  But I would wish that the people of Russia and the West would not lose hope for a democratic and Christian future of Russia. My personal program is simple: to the extent that God dives me the reason and energy, I work toward that future for Russia.

Mikhail Men:  The All-Russian Christian Union (VKhS) was created and was actively supported by the Yabloko deputies.  We have deputies in local legislative bodies who mainly are in Yabloko.  VKhS is not a political organization.  We work within Yabloko, as the Yabloko charter permits.  Yabloko is now being transformed into a political party, and since dual membership is not permitted in our country, we simply remain within Yabloko and no conflicts arise.  We, VKhS, are a public organization and our goals are more of a humanitarian and educational character.  We will be engaged in publishing and distribution and we leave all political goals and programs to Yabloko.

We consider that in its essence Yabloko is a Christian democratic party.  For us it is very important that the leadership of Yabloko and the Yabloko deputies have not besmirched themselves, not been involved in scandals, and not associated with corruption.  These are exemplary people who, in my profound conviction, constitute a genuine Christian party.  Perhaps we can persuade our colleagues, when Yabloko is transformed into a party, to call it the Christian Democratic Party Yabloko, or the People's Party Yabloko. The model would be the European People's Party which is the same a Christian democratic.  In a word, there is hope that we will become a People's Party.

Speaking about the continuing failures of Christian democratic parties, I think that this is not such a shame.  They have a future in Russia and it seems to me that after a totalitarian regime, under which we lived, the idea of Christian democracy could become a locomotive of society; remember how it was in Germany after World War II, after the destruction of the Hitler regime. It could have been like that in our country. But it wasn't.  I think that another five or ten years should pass when people will understand what Christianity is and what democracy is. As soon as they understand that, something will happen.   (tr. by PDS)

(posted 18 May 1999)

Fr Kochetkov's work continues despite opposition

Press service of the "Sretenie" brotherhood
3 May 1999

During the holidays of Pascha a regular graduation was held for the Open School of the St. Filaret Orthodox-Christian Institute of Moscow.  This school is the first and still the only one of its kind in the Russian Orthodox church, which over the course of a year provides a complete and coherent study of the bases of the Christian faith and life.  It is attended by adults, both those who are unbaptized and those who have been baptized but were not trained in their faith.

Three times a year, at Christmas, Pascha, and the Dormition of the Mother of God, the school brings into the church educated Christians and gathers new catechumens.  Despite all difficulties of the personal spiritual path and the current problems of church life, this time 140 persons completed the catechism instruction in Moscow and several other cities. The glorious sacramental week became the culmination of their year-long catechesis.  The newly baptized received the ritual of the eighth day after baptism at the church of the Holy Martyr Catherine.

Unfortunately, not everyone within the church's fence rejoices over the good fruits of Christian education and the growth of the Orthodox church.  On 26 April the "Radonezh" radio station broadcast a regular anonymous slander against Fr Georgy Kochetkov, the founder and head teacher of the Open School.  An unknown woman identified as a parishioner of the church of Saint Catherine affirmed that Fr Georgy, who is still under ban, and the excommunicated acolytes of the Dormition church came for communion.  Similarly she again proclaimed the baseless claim which had been broadcast three days earlier that Fr Georgy Kochetkov does not acknowledge that the sacrament of baptism is genuine in the absence of some Russian-language ritual of the removal of garments. (This is how the crew of the radio station for some reason characterized the ritual of the eighth day, about which they obviously are ignorant although it is taken from the Trebnik. This is the ritual of the removal of the traditional white robes of the newly baptized and annointing with holy oil.)  With evident pleasure the producer Sergei Gerasimov and Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov followed up by again announcing:  this Carthaginian lie must be destroyed.  This time they had in mind the Open School and the Saint Filaret Institute.

Last Sunday the rector of the church of Saint Catherine [OCA], Archpriest Daniil Gubiak, called clergy and parishioners not to pay attention to the slander and he invited all to the planned consecration of the high altar of the church, in which Patriarch Alexis II and Metropolitan Theodosius of American and Canada will participate.  (tr. by PDS)
 Russian text at Saint Filaret's

(posted 17 May 1999)

Church conflict in Ukraine abating

by Tatiana Ivzhenko
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 7 April 1999

The religious situation in Ukraine has remained rather complicated during all the years of independence. The reason for this is not a simple story and involves various religious traditions of the eastern and western regions of the state.  After 1991 the problem of the transfer of religious property to the churches became extremely difficult.  While the Ukrainian Orthodox church (Moscow patriarchate) and also to a certain degree the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church had received the status of "official churches" back in the time of the USSR and thus had needed property at their disposal, the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Kievan patriarchate (UPTs KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church (UAPTs) asserted their rights to a part of the church property and to certain church valuables only after the events of 1991.

Besides, UAPTs accused the church of the Moscow patriarchate of cooperation with the soviet totalitarian regime and persistently advocated a curtailment of religious ties of Ukraine with the Moscow patriarchate and this did not promote stability in relations between the churches existing in Ukraine. Nowadays the situation has changed greatly.

The equality of status of all churches existing in Ukraine is no longer even theoretically questioned. Besides this, inter-church relations in the country have stabilzed to a substantial degree, abolishing the flurry of political hysteria of the beginning of the nineties.

Nowadays there obviously is no possibility of events such as the conflict of 1995 on the square in front of Holy Wisdom cathedral.  On the one hand, Ukrainian society has generally become less politicized and religious groups are much more tolerant and do not view the history of the state in such a one-sided manner as was done earlier. On the other hand, the state has done much to facilitate the equality of religious organizations. One of the most important factors which has facilitated the stability of the religious situation in Ukraine is the creation of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches, which includes the heads of churches that contain about 95 percent of all believers.  The council is authorized to resolve the most complex interconfessional and inter-church problems and also questions of relations of the church and state.  Thus, recently the Council of Churches made a decision regarding the conduct of an All-Ukrainian Christian congress, scheduled for the beginning of June.  The main theme of the planned event is supposed to be the idea of reconciliation, including that among the churches and confessions that exist in Ukraine.

A sensation was caused by the expression at a regular session of the Council of Churches of the readiness of representatives of all religious organizations of Ukraine during the congress to conduct a joint worship service in the chief churches of Kiev.  It was proposed that for this event a special text of common prayer will be composed.  The intent of the Council of Churches is that the congress should become a truly inter-religious gathering which will lay the foundation for a great ecclesiastical reconciliation in Ukraine and it is proposed to declare the year 2000 a year of reconciliation.

The state, in its turn, also has established equal relations with all churches.  In particular, the problem of the transfer of religious property to one or another church has been resolved only along with the participation and consent of the Council of Churches.  Recently President Leonod Kuchma signed a resolution regarding the transfer to churches of valuables formerly belonging to them. In the Supreme Soviet recently a fraction called "Fatherland" was created, which declared its intention to lobby in parliament for the interests of the churches and it solicited the cooperation of the Council of Churches.

The chairman of the state committee of Ukraine for matters of religion, Viktor Bondarenko, considers that nowadays, despite insignificant conflicts, the religious situation in Ukraine is more stable than ever. In his words, the state has begun to conduct a dialogue on an equal basis with all active churches.  "Of course, schism within Orthodoxy is a very undesirable situation for Ukraine; it has led to conflict which has lasted years and has aggravated other problems existing within the state," Bondarenko noted.  He said that nowadays the situation within Orthodoxy has the following shape:  the Ukrainian Orthodox church (Moscow patriarchate) traditionally is the most numerous and its represents 7,000 parishes; next in number of parishes (more than 3,500) also traditionally comes the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church.  Under the jurisdiction of the Kievan patriarchate are more than 2,000 parishes, and under the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orhtodox church are fewer than 1,000.  However Viktor Bondarenko stressed that UPTs always was a more dynamically developing religious organization, which by no means bespeaks a more favorable attitude toward this church on the part of the state than toward the others.

The leader of the state committee on questions of religion also declared that, in his opinion, there has been no impact upon the religious situation of the recently ratified broad agreement between Ukraine and Russia.  "There is no mention of the church in the treaty since in both Russia and Ukraine the church is separated from the state.  All inter-church problems between our countries are resolved with the help of special laws which control the situation. The development of churches happens independent of any political treaties," Bondarenko explained.

Strictly speaking, an active position on any of the questions of Ukrainian-Russian policy is taken in Ukraine only by UAPTs, the church which during the time of the USSR  suffered repression most severely because of its ties with Ukrainian nationalists.

Thus it is understandable that those questions of Ukrainian foreign policy which the state views as mutually beneficial cooperation and which other churches treat as a secular matter evoke a negative reaction within UAPTs. As regards relations with the Russian federation, quite recently the patriarchal council of the autocephalous church issued a declaration with regard to the membership of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet in the inter-parliamentary assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States.  The president of Ukraine refused to comment on this matter, but UAPTs in an appeal to believers declared that the issue was an attempt to change the foreign policy orientation of the state and to restore the former Russian empire.

UAPTs drew a historical parallel between the current decision of the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine and the decisions of Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky in the seventeenth century.  The patriarchal council of UAPTs recalled that three centuries ago the Ukrainian church also unsuccessfully protested against the union with Russia, which subsequently suppressed and absorbed Ukraine.  However the declaration of UAPTs did not provoke any response.

All representatives of all basic Ukrainian churches have refused absolutely to comment generally on secular (political) matters.  They were unanimous and reserved with regard to the impact of the inter-state broad agreement upon the religious situation in the country, stating in essence that nothing has changed for any single church.  One of the employees of the church secretariat (who requested that his name and church not be named) noted in this regard that it is impossible to expect any radical changed because UPTs MP is the church that has the most influence on the Ukrainian electorate and it earlier was never able to make anything of the absence of favorable attention on the part of the authorities.  Much less in the year of presidential elections in Ukraine. There have been no barriers to canonical fellowship of UPTs with the Moscow patriarchate.  As regards the relations of the state with other churches, a special committee of the Council of Europe carefully and constantly monitors this and thus there can be no violations.  In the opinion of our interviewee, "the state and church today are at the stage where they are extremely interested in supporting each other, and external influences in the form of any political decisions do not have any significance for the churches." (tr. by PDS)

(posted 17 May 1999)

Patriarch's peacemaking continues

ITAR-TASS, 15 May 1999

MOSCOW, May 15 (Itar-Tass) - Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, prayed for peace and accord in Russia as he officiated the festivity at the Church of Saints Boris and Gleb in Moscow's Zyuzino district.  After a liturgy, there was a holy procession and prayers were read in which Alexy asked for pacification and an end to strife.

The Russian Orthodox Church on May 15 glorifies Saints Boris and Gleb, who accepted death in 1015 at the hands of minions of their brother Svyatopolk rather than enter power struggle over the Kievan throne. Fragmentation of Kievan Rus made the Kievan throne a prize even before the death of its Baptist Prince Vladimir, in 1015. One of contenders was Svyatopolk, known in chronicles as "damned Svyatopolk". He killed three of his brothers, two of whom Boris and Gleb, preferred death to entering fray. They were canonised as first Russian martyrs in 1015 for their refusal to meet violence with violence.

"We believe that by their prayers God will bless our land with peace and accord," Aleksy said after the service. He said he was happy that the Church of Saints Boris and Gleb was restored from ruins by efforts of the faithful. "And there is more and more such sacred places, where the service of God happens again, where people receive a blessing for their life path," Alexy said.

Russkaia mysl, 29 April 1999

The bombing of the central part of Belgrade, in the course of which civilians died, a radio-television center was destroyed, and the church of the Holy Trinity in the annex of the Russian Orthodox church was damaged, is a "new, blatant crime committed by NATO forces."  Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus declared this upon his return from a trip to Yugoslavia.

In the course of his trip Alexis II conducted a solemn service in the cathedral of Saint Savva in memory of all who have perished in this war.  Nearly 10,000 persons gathered for the service and another 10,000 awaited the Russian patriarch near the church.  [text of address] Alexis II met with President Slobodan Milosevic and the leader of Kosovo Albanians Ibrahim Rugova, who made a very good impression on the patriarch.

Alexis II described the difficult circumstances of the population of Kosovo.  People here, according to the patriarch, are in a disastrous situation and when supplies of food run out in Kosovo famine may begin. In this regard Alexis II advocated the participation in Kosovo of the International Red Cross.  The criminal murder of innocent citizens of Yugoslavia, which is not a new event on the part of NATO during the war, has now been aggravated by an attempt to deprive the nation of its free voice, the patriarch said.  "Special pain is caused by the damage to the house of God, which is an act of sacrilege and blasphemy," the patriarch declared.  He expressed disappointment that the new criminal actions on the part of NATO have again greatly complicated the path to peace.  Homicide and even more the defilement of sacred places is a call to God and to humanity and they should be unconditionally stopped," the patriarch said, insistently calling for an immediate end to all military actions on the territory of Yugoslavia.

The patriarch spoke critically of plans to incorporate Yugoslavia into a union with Russia and Belorussia.  "It is impossible to decide such questions under the circumstances of war," the patriarch declared, "and in any case it is impermissible to drag Russia into this conflict which could bring about the start of a third world war."  Alexis II reported the creation of a group of religious leaders who could be able to settle the conflict.  Such a group could include representatives of various confessions.  Already Pope John Paul II, leader of the Catholic church, has expressed approval of this idea.

* * * * *

On 26 April a press conference devoted to events in Kosovo and the participation of the Russian Orthodox church in settling the conflict in the Balkans was held in the patriarchal residence of the Moscow Kremlin by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus.  According to Blagovest-info, at the department of external church relations of the Moscow patriarch, the primate of RPTs described for reporters the church's participation in rendering humanitarian aid to the peoples of Yugoslavia, his recent trip to Belgrade, and the model for settling the conflict proposed by the Russian Orthodox church.  "We do not distribute humanitarian aid on either confessional or ethnic identity.  Aid must be given to everyone who needs it, Patriarch Alexis II declared.  He expressed profound concern with regard to the continuation of attacks on both military and civilian targets in Yugoslavia:  "At first we were assured that rocket and bomb strikes would be made only against military targets. Now NATO strikes have destroyed civilian targets.  The attack on the television center produced human casualties, and even our Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity has suffered. What relationship does a church have to military objectives? . . . Factories and other enterprises have been hit and the people who work there have been put out of work," the patriarch continued.  "The last bridge joining Novi Sad with Belgrade has been destroyed. . . . Nineteen economically developed countries, who today are taking part in the military actions, have attempted in the course of a few days to force Yugoslavia to its knees.  But the spirit of the people of Yugoslavia has not been broken. . . . Are we really going to end the twentieth century with a new tragedy?"

The patriarch also reported:  "Pope John Paul II expressed readiness to support the peace initiatives of the Russian Orthodox church and to participate in them.  In the next few days we will conduct conversations with the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, and the Conference of European Churches, and with Muslim organizations, to join our efforts to exert influence on the political leaders of both NATO countries and Yugoslavia in order to reach a peaceful resolution of the problems of Kosovo." (tr. by PDS)

Press service of Department of External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate (OVTsS MP)

On 5 May 1999 a meeting was held in the Department of external church relations of the Moscow patriarchate for the purpose of determining ways of possible participation of Christian churches in a peaceful resolution of the Yugoslav crisis.

Participants in the meeting included the director of the office on ecumenical relations and ministry abroad of the Evangelical Church of Germany, Bishop Rolf Koppe and Mrs. Koppe (translator), general secretary of the Congress of European Churches, Dr. Keith Clements, president of the Deaconal Service of ECG, Mr. Jurgen Gode.  From the Russian Orthodox church participants included chairman of OVTsS MP, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, secretary of OVTsS MP for relations between church and society, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, secretary of OVTsS MP for inter-Christian relations, Monastic Priest Ilarion Alfeev, and rector of the church of Saint Nicholas in the city of Bari, Italy, Fr Vladimir Kuchumov.  (tr. by PDS)


April 20, 1999

  Your Holiness, Patriarch Paul, Most Reverend Archpastors,  dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:

 Christ is Risen!

 Pascha has come again to the holy land of Serbia. Recently  we have heard again in churches the much-repeated words of  St. John Chrysostom: "Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's  death has set us free". Indelible is our joy in Risen Christ Who,  by defeating death and sin, has granted us eternal life.  Nothing can cloud this joy, even the suffering and destruction  raging around, even the orgy of sin started by the ill will on the  eve of the holy days and continued up to the present.

 Yes, we have become witnesses to an action of glaring  lawlessness as a handful of powerful and rich countries, who  dare consider themselves the measure of good and evil, is  trampling upon the will of the people who wish to live  differently. Bomb and missile are pouring down on this land  not because they seek to defend anyone. The NATO military  action has a different goal - the goal to destroy the post-war  order which was paid for by a severe bloodshed and to  impose upon people an order alien to them and based on the  dictate of brute force.

 Injustice and hypocrisy, however, will never win. Indeed,  according to an old saying, "God is not in power, but in truth".  The power of the adversary may exceed yours, but on your  side, my dear ones, is God's help and the meaning of all the  historical lessons. Let us remember the most vivid of them -  the lesson of World War II.

 Let us remember also the words of the Lord: "When I am week,  then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9); and, "You will weep and  lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but  your sorrow will turn into joy" (Jn. 16:20).

 As we stand today on the threshold of the third millennium  from the Nativity of Christ, we should realize that war cannot  be a way of settling any problems whatsoever. It can only  aggravate them - the fact to which the dramatic experience of  this outgoing century attests. It is only good will seeking peace  and a free and dignified life for all regardless of their  nationality, faith or political convictions that can stop the  bloodshed and preserve the integrity of your Motherland.

 Only peace with justice can be enduring. Therefore, I ask and  beseech you today to do everything to let the nations know  the kindness of your hearts, so that old Kosovo, this historical  and sacred land for the Serbian people, may no longer be  defiled by fratricide. Help the peaceful and well-intentioned  people who have left their homes to return there. Seek  reconciliation and accord. Then nobody will be able to rebuke  you for sinful actions in an attempt to justify one's own sin.

 Your Holiness, Reverend Bishops, dear Brothers and Sisters, it  is the Day of Rejoicing today, a special Easter day when we  commemorate the dead. Today, therefore, we are praying for  the numerous victims of the bloodshed, for sons and  daughters of the Serbian and other peoples living in  Yugoslavia, for Orthodox Christians and the faithful of other  religions and faiths, and for non-believers. Eternal peace and  eternal memory be to them.

 I am lifting up my prayers for those who have lost their health,  roof and property, for those who have been driven away from  their homes. May the Lord heal the wounds of these people  and help them to make up their losses.

 My ardent prayer is for the restoration of peace in your  beautiful country. With hope for God's help, I again and again  call upon the leaders of both the NATO countries and the  Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to stop all hostilities and begin  a peace process. I can testify: the Russian Orthodox Church  with her millions-strong flock, just as other well-intentioned  people throughout the world, is ready to facilitate  reconciliation in all possible ways.

 I trust that the prophetic words of the Psalmist "May the Lord  give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with  peace!" (Ps. 29:11) will come true.

 As a testimony to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church  is praying for the suffering people of Yugoslavia and that the  saints who were glorified in the Russian Land, I trust,  intercede for you, I would like to give you an icon of St.  Seraphim of Sarov with a particle of this holy relics. St.  Seraphim said: "Seek the spirit of peace, and many thousands  around you will be saved". God grant that his holy prayers  may bring peace and accord to the much-suffering people of  Yugoslavia.

 Today we have celebrated the Divine Liturgy here in the  presence of a multitude of the Orthodox Serbian people. I  would like to give you also some Eucharistic vessels so that  they could be used for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in  this magnificent Cathedral of St. Sabbas and testify to love  that the Russian Orthodox Church feels for the Serbian  Orthodox Church. Our presence here today and sharing in the  celebration of the Divine Liturgy with His Holiness Patriarch  Paul, the episcopate and the clergy is another testimony to our  continued unity in prayer.

 I congratulate you all on the Radiant Resurrection of Christ,  my dear brothers and sisters! Christ is Risen!  (tr by Moscow patriarchate)

(posted 16 May 1999)


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