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Muslims complain of discrimination

by Nikolai Ivanov
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

In contrast to many other Russian regions Perm province always has been distinguished favorably by its political stability:  usually people prefer to settle all conflicts here at the opening stages and by agreement.  so it is a quite unpleasant surprise for the public of the western Urals to face the real war which has been declared by the Muslim mufti of Perm province, Muhammedgali Khuzin, against the state system represented by the Perm provincial administration of justice.  In a special declaration the Perm muftiate expressed its serious concern "with strong influence within the state structures of Russia and Prikamie, which are supposed to preserve the constitution and legality, of persons who are adherents of totalitarian and destructive sects that have recently surged both from the west and the east. . . ."  Such a radical declaration was followed by no less radical actions:  the department of external Islamic relations of the Perm muftiate recalled its authorized representative from the provincial administration of justice.  The mufti himself does not rule out the possibility that in the future Muslims of the western Urals "will assume an illegal position."

Really there has not been such a think in Russia. What could have moved the secular authorities to annoy the Islamic leader of the Perm province so? According to the version of the muftiate, over the course of the past several months officials from the administration of justice have been trying under various pretexts to cancel the registration of Muslim societies of Perm province, which number in all more than fifty. Meanwhile in accordance with the new federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" societies of various confession are required to undergo reregistration and to submit founding documents in accordance with this law before 31 December of this year.  Those societies which do not undergo reregistration in the established period automatically will be considered illegal and their activity can be curtailed. And the difficulties over registration of Muslim societies in the western Urals still have shown no end or limit.  The muftiate cannot appeal the actions of the provincial administration of justice by judicial means since, according to Muhammedgali Khuzin, the provincial justice department still has not presented a written explanation of its actions for a single case of refusal of registration but has limited itself to oral statements.  Thus Perm Muslims have decided to adopt extreme measures in order to influence public opinion regarding the problems which has arisen and has declared for all to hear its breaking off of relations with the administration of justice.

Muhammedgali Khuzin reported that employees of the administration of justice continually find in the charter of this or that society some kind of mistake.  After the documents are corrected and even sometimes completely rewritten the employees discover another mistake. According to the mufti, things go on this way endlessly.  "In my view, they are simply trying to wear down the Muslims of Perm province," declared Muhammedgali Khuzin in one of his interviews.

And what, in the view of the leaders of Perm Muslims, has evoked such great dissatisfaction on the part of employees of the department of justice?  As one example, there is the inclusion in the regional and local charters of the possibility for creating labor camps to facilitate social adaptation of refugees, homeless persons, and people who have been released from prison.  In the administration of justice this is seen as the Muslims' desire to create "a concentration camp where slave labor will be employed." Besides this, in the words of the mufti, provincial justice department has suggested removing from the documents the sentence:  "The parish follows the call of the Almighty:  'All ye must cling to the faith of Allah and not be divided.'"

However, Muhammedgali Khuzin is inclined to see in such reaction by the employees of the administration of justice something much more than simple bureaucracy.  he does not rule out the possibility such a position is being inspired by someone. And he recalls in this regard the participation of Perm officials in a seminar held at the end of 1998 in Moscow on implementation of the law "On freedom of conscience."   This event was held and funded by the Soros Fund. At it, according to the leader of Perm Muslims, negative principles were advanced with regard to Islam.  "I detect here the dictates of Americans. These produce a clear discrediting of traditional confessions.  The Americans who put on the conference are pushing their own line and  are carrying out a subtle policy against all that is traditional within Russia," declared the mufti.

The head of the administration of justice of Perm province, Vladimir Perevalov,  considers the accusations of the mufti in the main to be farfetched.  "We are not in any way trying to discredit Muslims," he affirms, pointing out that more than a third of 44 religious organizations registered in the province in the past two years are Muslim.  Vladimir Perevalov categorically denies the muftiate's declaration that there are people in the administration who are "adherents of totalitarian and destructive sects."

As regards the essence of the question--denials of registration of Muslim societies--the head of the justice department does not see any fault on his part.  According the Perevalov, a number of the founding documents submitted lacks a legal address for the societies.  In this case the employees have the right not to review them.

Regarding the ostentatious recall by the muftiate of its authorized representative from the administration of justice, Vladimir Perevalov noted that Perm Muslims never had such a representative.  Their person only had the right to present documents for registration for verification and was not able to introduce any changes into them.  Responding to a question from a reporter of the Perm newspaper Novyi kompanion about the readiness of local Muslims to assume an illegal situation, the head of justice declared:  "I do not understand what 'illegality' would be. What, will the Muslims introduce the laws of Shariah into Perm province, as some of them desire?  If they conduct religious activity without registration, that would mean that they would not be recognized by agencies of authority."

In the opinion of the person who hold the post of commissioner for relations with religious organizations of the provincial administration, Vladimir Kuchaev, there are no hidden political motives in the actions of the administration of justice.  And the Soros Fund has not given him any guidance on this matter.

However in the whole matter the provincial authorities have preferred to occupy a position of outside observer.  The Perm muftiate has informed the head of the Central Ecclesiastical Administration of Muslims of Russia and the European Countries of SNG, Talgat Tajuddin, about the situation that has arisen.  The supreme mufti has promised to take up the problem and to resolve it through the ministry of justice of Russia.

Meanwhile the local conflict between Islamic society and the state continues to spread like a cancer.  Recently support for the demands of the Muslims of western Urals was expressed by the Perm provincial interconfessional consultative committee.  The committee decided to create to working commissions.  The task of one is working out an agreement between the provincial administration and the interconfessional committee.  The other it preparing an appeal to the governor of Perm province, Gennady Igumnov, the authorized representative of the president of Russia in Perm province, Gennady Zaitsev, and the ministry of justice, Pavel Krasheninnikov, asking for a peaceful resolution of the matter.   However the hostile sides still do not wish to hear each other's arguments.  If the conflict is not settled, the Perm mufti very well might carry out his promise and really go underground.  This would bring up the threat of the liquidation of Muslim societies and of subsequent mass protest actions.  In a word, the peaceful Perm province could be shattered by the most enormous religious conflict in contemporary Russia:  after all in the history of our country it has never happened that more than fifty Muslim societies assumed an illegal situation.  Can reason restrain emotions in the end?  (tr. by PDS)

by Denis Dyomkin
Reuters, June 1, 1999

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, - City authorites in Russia's easternmost port of Vladivostok revoked permission to build a new mosque on Tuesday, fuelling complaints about discrimination from the local Moslem community.

Orthodox Christian priests had been at the heart of a vocal protest campaign, arguing that the mosque, due to be built on one of the city's hills, would tower over a nearby cathedral.

``The technical specifications of the building did not have the necessary documentation,'' said Pavel Fadeyev of the regional committee for public and religious organisations.

Permission to build the mosque, which would have towered 300 metres (1000 feet) above the church, was granted by the region's former mayor, Viktor Cherepkov, who was ousted in December by presidential decree.

The Moslem community said they were not satisfied with authorities' promises that they would try to find an alternative site.  A leading Moslem clergyman said he would lobby for the decision to be overturned, saying it was discriminatory.

``The town authorities have tried to drive Moslems out of Vladivostok in every way possible. They have imposed an unspoken ban on our attempts to build a mosque,'' said Alimkhan Magrupov, mufti in Vladivostok's leading Moslem grouping, ``Islam.''

Religion, and especially the Orthodox church, has enjoyed a revival since the collapse of the atheist communist regime.   A spokesman for the Orthodox church in the region said there had been a public outcry against the project.  ``Building the mosque is a very good thing and it would embellish the town, but the place is not right. There is an Orthodox church beneath it and the plan to build the mosque at a higher point has caused conflict,'' he said.  Magrupov said Moslems had already carried out a ceremony on the land and had spent money in preparation for the work.  He said his group had sent a letter to the Russian government in Moscow expressing concern that Orthodox Christians were getting preferential treatment.

(posted 9 June 1999)

Salvation Army grows in Russia

Ecumenical News International ENI News Service / 7 June 1999
By Andrei Zolotov

Moscow, 7 June (ENI)--A ceremony on 29 May in Moscow's Izmailovo hotel, at which the  Salvation Army commissioned 20 new Russian, Ukrainian, Moldovan and Georgian officers, is a sign of the successful expansion in Russia and the surrounding region of one of the world's best-known Protestant organisations.

"It is my privilege, on behalf of the general, to commission you as an officer, and together we all pray that the ordination of the Holy Spirit be upon you," Commissioner Earle Maxwell, the Salvation Army's world chief of staff told each of the 20 young women and men wearing the distinctive military-style, dark-blue uniforms known around the world. All 20 new lieutenants have completed two years theological training at a Salvation Army college in Finland.

Maxwell had come from the organisation's international headquarters in London to lead the "Commissioning Weekend" in Moscow. Several hundred Salvation Army members from across the former Soviet Union were present for the event.

The Salvation Army, which was established in 1865 by William Booth, now operates in more than 80 countries. It has no sacraments and is markedly different in its style from other mainstream church denominations, but it is recognised and respected world-wide for its military-style discipline and its charity work. The Salvation Army arrived in Russia before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, but, like many other foreign missionary groups, it was expelled in the 1920s. However, in 1992, after the collapse of communism, the Salvation Army returned.

Maxwell told ENI that transferring the organisation's ministry from foreigners to local people was a principle at the very core of the Salvation Army's strategy around the world. He was "absolutely delighted with the progress which is evident" in the Salvation Army's growth in Russia.

Kenneth Bailie, who holds the rank of colonel and runs the Salvation Army's operation in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, told ENI that more than half the 103 officers in the CIS were local people, and efforts were being made to increase the proportion.

The presence of foreign religious officials is a highly sensitive matter in Russia, and missionaries are often seen as foreigners eager to steal the souls of Russian Orthodox Christians.  The government's desire to gain some control of the influx of missionaries since the fall of communism was one of the main reasons for the adoption of the 1997 law on religious organisations.

Because of the hostility towards foreign religious groups, the Salvation Army felt it would not be able to continue its work in Russia. Tamara Kufyrina, a Salvation Army member from St Petersburg, said that in 1997 her group stopped visiting a local orphanage where she and other members of her "corps" had been meeting children, assisting them in craft work and teaching them about Christianity.

Now, however, the St Petersburg branch of the Salvation Army has re-registered as a full-scale "religious organisation" as the new law requires. So Tamara and her colleagues can once again visit the orphanage.

Bailie told ENI that the Salvation Army intended to seek registration in two other cities, thus allowing it to seek registration at the Justice Ministry in Moscow as a "centralised" religious body by the end of 1999. Bailie said that the organisation operated in a total of "about 20 cities" in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. "We are not here to compete with other churches, we are here to complement their work," he said. After establishing churches in north-west and central Russia, the group has extended its focus southwards and is now establishing branches in Rostov-on-Don and Saratov.

Although many members of the Russian Orthodox Church view the Salvation Army as a "sect", it is now rarely singled out for criticism by Russian Orthodox priests and lay activists. Kufyrina described to ENI the changes in attitude in St Petersburg towards her English-style military uniform. "When we started [in the early 1990s], people would say I had sold out to foreigners for this uniform. Now we don't see that happening."

Captain Alexander Kharkov, who was one of the first Russian-born Salvation Army members to reach the rank of officer, said that the organisation, with five "corps" in Moscow, operated several major charity projects in the Russian capital - feeding the homeless at the Paveletsky and Kursky railway stations, visiting detention facilities at Butyrki and Lyublino, providing assistance to the elderly, and collecting and distributing second-hand clothes.

(c) Ecumenical News International

(posted 8 June 1999)

Orthodox and Old Believer representatives meet

Press Service of Department for External Church Relations
Moscow Patriarchate
4 June 1999

On 3 June 1999, in keeping with the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church of 29 December 1998 which recognized "the importance of developing and deepening cooperation between the Russian Orthodox church and Old Believers for strengthening the traditional spiritual values and standards of the life of our society," a meeting was held between the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, and a delegation from the Ancient Orthodox Littoral church of Latvia, led by the chairman of the central council, senior  rector of the Riga Grebenshchikov Old Believer congregation, Ioann Miroliubov.  At the meeting they discussed way of removing negative attitudes toward the use of old and new rituals  in Orthodox liturgies.  The two parties planned several aspects of bilaterial cooperation in the spiritual regeneration of society and discussed plans for actions for working out mutually acceptable agreements without introducing any substantial innovations in decisions of the local councils of the Russian Orthodox church of 1971 and 1988 with regard to Old Belief.

INFORMATION:  In the period when the Russian Orthodox church was headed by Patriarch Nikon (1652-1666) the Russian state used force to bring the liturgical forms and rituals used in the Russian Orthodox church into agreement with those that were established in the Greek and Eastern Orthodox churches. This reform met with serious opposition among a substantial portion of the clergy and church people.  The situation that arose in the Russian Orthodox church was the object of concern of the Moscow council of 1656, which imposed a ban on the use of the two-finger sign of the cross, and the great Moscow council of 1667, which imposed a ban on all who did not accept the changes that Patriarch Nikon and his successors had carried out.  This led to a schism in the church which has continued for 350 years to constitute a matter of profound grief and concern of Orthodox believing Russian people.

The discussion by the council of 1656 and 1667 of the old rituals of the pre-Nikonian time that treated them as containing heretical notions created the basis for seeing in the bans by these councils a condemnation of the old rituals in themselves.  More enlightened bishops of the Russian Orthodox church, who undertook possible actions for removing the hindrances to healing of the schism, understood that the barrier that was created by the bans of the councils of 1656 and 1667 should be removed.  On this basis the local council of the Russian Orthodox church of 1917-1918 took a number of important steps for gradual healing of the wounds of the schism, but the period of atheistic repression that began soon afterward made the achievement of the work that had begun difficult.  The council of the Russian Orthodox church that was held in 1971, by its action of 2 June, confirmed the Orthodoxy of the liturgical books which had been used prior to the patriarchate of Nikon, testified to the salvific power of the ancient Russian rituals, rejected negative aspersions about the old rituals, and removed the bans of 1656 and 1667 on the ancient Russian rituals and on the Orthodox believing Christians who used them.

In their response to the action of the council of 1971 official representatives of the Ancient Orthodox Littoral church "welcomed such a decision of the Russian patriarchal church" and called it a "manifestation of good will," which "removes the mutual alienation and tension and created the groundword for better mutual understanding" (Old Believer Church Calendar for 1972).  At that time also the readiness for dialogue with the Russian Orthodox church was expressed.  [tr. note:  The "Littoral" group of Old Believers often are called "Pomortsy" and are part of the "priestless" (bezpopovtsy) branch of the Old Belief.]  (tr. by PDS)

(posted 8 June 1999)

Orthodox and Muslim representatives meet

Press Service of Department for External Church Relations
Moscow Patriarchate
7 June 1999

On 4 to 7 [June] the second session of the Joint Russian-Iranian Commission on the "Islam-Orthodoxy" Dialogue was held in Moscow.  The commission, which was created as a result of the exchange of visits by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations (OVTsS) of the Moscow patriarchate and Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Tashiri, chairman of the Organizations of Islamic Culture and Communication of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1996 and 1997 respectively, held its first meeting in Teheran at the end of 1997.  The results of the present session were expressed in a communique, the text of which is produced in full below.  On 5 June Ayatollah Tashiri and several other members of the Iranian delegation were received by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs I.S. Ivanov.  On the same day the group of Islamic theologians from Iran visited the Saint Sergius Holy Trinity lavra and the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy.  On 7 June a dinner was hosted in honor of the participants in the dialogue by Metropolitan Kirill, and the ambassador from Iran to RF Mehdi Safari hosted an evening meal.


On 4-7 June 1999 (14-17 Hordad 1378 A.H., solar calendar), during the days of the tenth anniversary of the death of Imam Khomeini, who at the time of the Islamic revolution revived the ancient Muslim tradition of dialogue among religions, the second session of the Joint Commission on the "Islam-Orthodoxy" Dialogue was held in Moscow, including representatives of scholars from the Islamic Republic of Iran led by Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Tashri, the director of the Organization of Islamic Culture and Communication, and representatives of the Russian Orthodox church, led by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate.  Participants in the meeting conducted discussions of the subject "Peace and Justice" in its theological, religious, social, and international aspects.  After listening and discussing a number of papers, the sides of the dialogue reached the following conclusions.  The doctrinal bases of both religions recognize the inseparable interrelationship between peace and justice, ethics and law, and truth and love.  Service to the eternally unchanged truth is our principal obligation whose fulfillment should not and must not be hindered by any human influences, decisions, or establishments.  At the same time such service is futile if it is not joined with love and forgiveness, with attempts at concord and reconciliation, and with mercy toward the fallen.  However we cannot make peace with sinful actions and satanic delusions.  Understanding that the Almighty created humankind free but no laws can justify disobedience to the Lord God, we are persuaded:  sin has no justification before Heaven, and evils which threaten the life and health of people or destroy public morality must be condemned and stopped by nations, which means also by governments.

Just relations toward every person and every human society will lead us to close mutual relations with spiritual and moral values and constructive traditions.  Departure from and scorn for these values pose threats to a just social order, which entails peace among people and nations as well as stability and health in society.  History shows that the destruction of moral foundations brings people death, crisis of identity, hostility, and inner emptiness.  This is why we see our sacred obligation in the complete  affirmation of moral values in our societies and in all the world by means of education, mass communication, and the display of the civil position of believers.  Justice also is the basis for peaceful and harmonious development of global political processes.  Each nation must have the right to the independent achievement of his historic mission and the adequate representation and defense of its interests within the bounds of world society. We decisively oppose any attempt to subject nations to an alien will or to establish in the world the dictation of a single one of the many worldviews which is achieved by means of cultural, religious, economic, and military expansion.

It is necessary to preserve and strengthen the existing system of international law as the only basis for resolving conflict situations whose consequences transcend the boundaries of a single state.  It is concluded that only legitimate international structures in which the legal interests of all interested parties are represented can make decision that are binding on states.  At the same time within the limits of international organizations it seems useful to create a mechanism that would permit displaying to a greater degree sensitivity to the different spiritual and cultural tradition which inevitably have an impact upon the political will of nations.  All traditional civilizations should maintain dialogue and cooperation directed toward the creation of the future lot of humanity.  In this way we will avoid new conflicts and create a peace which will be just, durable, and stable.

Participants in the session recognized the value and necessity of continuation of the bilateral dialogue which will serve to expand joint academic and research activities and knowledge of each other and will create a deep foundation for the development of multifaceted brotherly cooperation between the peoples of Russia and Iran, and between adherents of Islam and Orthodoxy, two great religions of revelation.

In conclusion the sides agreed to conduct a third session of the Joint Commission on the "Islam-Orthodoxy" Dialogue next year in Teheran on the subject "The Role of Interreligious Dialogue in International Relations."  The Iranian delegation took part in the work of the international Islamic conference on "The Role of Muslims in the Spiritual Rebirth of Russia," which was conducted on 5-6 June during the time of the dialogue in Moscow.  The delegation expressed its gratitude for religious freedom for Muslims in Russia and for the cooperation of governmental and church leaders of the country with Islamic organizations and structures, and it expressed hope for stable continuity of this practice. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 7 June 1999)

Complex Ekaterinburg conflict continues to make news

"To let this matter simply drop is to sin against one's own conscience," according to Fr Foma Abel, dean of the churchs of Ekaterinburg diocese located in places of confinement.
by Nataliia Babasian
Nezasvisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

--What comment could you make on the conflict which has occurred in your diocese?  Official representatives of the diocese refuse to be interviewed. . . .

--Actually, official explanation is not being given for one simple reason:  it is hard to go against obvious facts. Besides this, to admit the evidence of these facts would mean to admit that one is not Orthodox.  Because from the point of view of the canons of RPTs, a person who suffers from such a sin, or more accurately, even with a single instance of this sin, cannot remain in the clerical rank, much less in the episcopacy.  In the present case there is sufficiently weighty evidence that our bishop falls into the category of people who have perveted sexual inclinations.  This evidence was presented before the commission of the Holy Synod, which came to investigate.

We tried to present this evidence to Moscow which, to speak honestly, does not give much confirmation of the results of that commission.   Because, in my opinion, its chairman, now a metropolitan, but then still an archbishop, Sergius of Solnechnogorsk, intentionally conducted a prejudiced investigation and there was not assurance that the documents even would reach the synod.  Thus we made still another attempt.  Now we think that the situation was more or less clear in the synod when the decision was made not to punish the "culprit" but those who first decided to gain an audience with  His Holiness and first raised this subject to a high level.   With that decision by the synod, not everyone was able to agree and that laid the foundation for the public uproar.

But this issue is that when the sentence of the supreme court was announced, all that was left was either to agree or disagree.  And how could one express disagreement?  I tried to do this at the time of the diocesan council.  The ruling bishop did not permit me to take the floor.  I tried frequently to get heard.  I was advised to come to discuss all this in private conversation.  I said that I wanted to speak publicly or, if I were not given the possibility to speak at the diocesan council, I would go before television cameras.  When I spoke recently before the television, I said that I was doing this will the permission of the bishop because at that time he said to me:  "Go ahead."

--But after all the conflict in your diocese began rather long ago. . .

--The open conflict has lasted almost a year.  In May of last year there was a diocesal council at which a group of priests expressed to the bishop their goals with regard to the state of affairs in the diocese.  At the time the goal was simply to achieve an improvement in the situation.  At that time the question of the unnatural orientation of Bishop Nikon was not raised for the simple reason that there was no evidence, even though there were rumors and suspicions.  Even the names of people who had been subjected to solicitation were known, but they had not decided to reveal this.  At the time the great question was the personnel policies and about excess.  Now they are trying to accuse the disgraced clergy of having become used to autonomy and not wanting to share their income with their bishop.  Actuallyh the issue is that now, when the country is in a difficult situation, and parishioners in the majority are not being paid, parishes cannot exist under such a financial yoke on the part of the bishop.

Nowadays parishes are not able to maintain such a bishop with such appetites.  The paradox is that the majority of priests who "do not want to share their incomes," have restored or constructed their own churches.  Our cathedral church does not give the appearance of being well cared for, despite the fact that the bishop has, besides this cathedral, several annexes which include the wealthiest parishes of the diocese.  So that it cannot be a matter of the personal ambitions of priests and you can be sure that nobody of the clergy who dared to raise their voice against their ruling biship gained any advantage other than a rather unpleasant form of life.

--As far as I know, everybody expected some different decision by the synod?

--Yes,  the present decision was so disheartening for us that we had no other choice but to publicize this problem as widely as possible.  Because an attempt not to take the dispute out of the family would wind up making the dispute worse.  These are the kind of people who gather around themselves such people so that after a while their position can become completely invulnerable.  There won't be any like us in the diocese and there only will be people who support the bishop.  Their numbers have recently increased sharply.  There are incidents that cannot be explained otherwise.  For example, there is a twenty-five-year-old archimandrite who never had a liturgical book in his hands.  A monastery was created simply because the monasteries in which it earlier was planned to conduct such ungodly events could not tolerate them.

--How do you think this conflict will unfold in the future?

--I can say that their are several priests who unanimously will not minister in this diocese under this bishop.  If they are sincere, I do not know how things will develop.  But I think that to let the matter drop would mean to sin against one's conscience.  There now are many who have seen how the church has responded to what has happened and how the current uproar has become public.  A person happened to come up to me and say that he did not usually go to church but that he began to respect it after learning what was happening.  We should forgive one another's weakness, but there are things which the church itself forbids us to forgive.  According to the canons of the church--the 25th apostolic rule--a bishop must be removed but not deprived of fellowship with the faithful.  If a layman was involved in the same thing, after repentance he must be denied communion for fifteen years, but if that term doesn't last until his death, he should make confession and receive communion.

--I heard that one of the members of the synodal commission expressed the opinion that personal sins of a bishop do not interfere with his administration of the diocese.

--This statement was expressid on the first day of the commission's work in the rooms of the bishop in the presence of 70 or 80 representatives of the clergy; in my opinion it is completely heretical.  It was expressed in approximately this form:  even if this is the case--the issue was the sin of sodomy--how really would this hinder the administration of the diocese?  From the point of view of the canons of RPTs, it is inherently a hindrance.  That is, in this case the issue is heresy.  I even dare to suggest that this is the sacrilegeous heresy known from holy scripture which is mentioned in the second chapter of the Revelation of John the Divine.  It is the heresy of the Nikolaitians, who taught that immorality does not hinder the achievement of the kingdom of God, that it is a form of the weakness of the flesh and can even lead more efficiently to a desirable outcome, because the flesh will be consumed more quickly.  The church's attitude toward this heresy is unequivocal, but that this heresy has surreptiously invaded the church is proven by Bishop Nikon's life style itself.  He does not proclaim such views publicly from the pulpit, but he preachs it by his life style.  And we know that in the history of the church there were secret heretics who, fearful for their position, did not dare openly to declare that they believed one or another heresy.  But it was heresy and in this case it is impossible to be reconciled not only with the sin but also with the fact that this sin does not interfere with the administration of the diocese.

--Is far as I understood, your bishop already promised that if he were to be somehow punished, then before his departure he would slam the door loudly and place all his opponents under ban.  And even the patriarch cannot life a ban.  Are you inwardly prepared for what this could lead to?

--With regard to myself I have not heard such threats.  If such were to happen, of course, it would pain me. But at the same time I want to remain above all Orthodox and then also a priest. I do not want to be a non-Orthodox priest. If the issue had to do with compromise of my conscience, this would be unpleasant, but if I have to compromise my faith, that would mean ceasing to be faithful. To cease to be Orthodox. Could a debauched person glorify God?  If I were unfrocked by a homosexual bishop I would not accept the decree from his hand, but if the synod confirmed this decision, then I would accept it calmly.  Because I do not consider myself worthy of clerical service, I consider that the Lord in his mercy has called me and in my own weakness I cannot say that I can conduct this ministry.  I conduct it as I am able. There is not one of us to whom one could point the finger and say:  here, look, he is absolutely unholy.  Indeed, I am a sinful man, but the issue is whether we consent to the sin or not, whether we try to reform or not.

--Doesn't it seem to you that what has happened has delivered a fearful blow to the authority of the church within society?

--Yes, of course, it has. But sometimes there is a need to choose between the bad and the very bad.  In this case there are clear enemies of the church who do not even fear measures taken against them. And there are people who destroy Orthodoxy from within, using their enormous authority within the Orthodox church.  As one military man of the rank of lieutenant said:  "If this is so, let him say it honestly; I would simply not go to his church."  This, by the way, is the was some protestants act among whom there is church registration of homosexual marriage and there are special parishes; we simply would not go near them.  But the issue is that they cannot say this openly because they would cease to be Orthodox. But they do the same thing, only in secret.  Thus everything that has happened is no joy for us but sorrow and enormous burden.  But the time has come for our parishioners to grow up.  There is a period of childhood ignorance, when adults resolve all your problems for you.  But then you grow up and, if you are not ready for these problems, it's harder to deal with them.  In short, each one now must make a moral choice and determine what is Orthodoxy.  For people who have little to do with the church this is an airhole through which the soul can breathe.  They seek calm in the church, consolation.  But Christianity is more often a cross. Our parishioners now have to carry the cross of moral responsibility for the way they deal with this.  I consider that for the believer this can be surmounted if one understands that the issue is the very essence of Orthodoxy and not simply the personal sin of a bishop.

--What resolution of the question could suit both parishioners and clergy?

--The solution that is provided by the 25th Apostolic Canon.

--Perhaps the clergy would be satisfied if Bishop Nikon were transferred somewhere?

--To another diocese? Where he would continue to act in the same way?  Is this honorable?  If we say that we have an Orthodox church we should try to understand that the next diocese, to which he would go, also should be Orthodox. (tr. by PDS)

by Svetlana Dobrynina
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

Hegumens of the largest monasteries have accused the bishop of serious iniquities

At the beginning of Passion Week Bishop Nikon of Ekaterinburg and Verkhoture made public at the diocesan council the conclusions of the synodal commission for examining complaints of several clergymen of the Ekaterinburg diocese.  According the commission's decision, hegumen Tikhon Zatekin was dismissed from his post as superior of the Saint Nicholas monastery of Verkhoture and hegumen Avraam Reidman was dismissed from his post as superior of the monastery of the All-merciful Savior in Ekaterinburg.  Bishop Nikon himself was reprimanded by the Holy Synod for deficiencies in the administration of the diocese.

Pursuant to this information a wave of the most scandalous stories has flooded into secular life--rumors connected with these three kinds of church leaders of the Urals.  Everything is mixed together:  vice, money, homes, cars, gold, and jewels.  The diocesan leadership still has not managed to get control over the public gusto for the scandal.  Before Pascha nobody at the press service of the diocese was answering the phone and calls were taken only by answering machine.  Knowledgeable people explained that during these days all clergy and especially Bishop Nikon were engaged in deep prayer.  They were repenting for their sins and asking God that schism and evil designs would bypass the diocese.  After the great feast the director of the press service of the diocesan administration, Boris Kosinsky, explained to reporters that the situation that had arisen was an internal matter of the church.

Bishop Nikon himself not only did not comment on what was happening for the press but he even canceled several liturgies.  Thus, on 15 April, on Glorious Thursday, he was supposed to celebrate divine liturgy at the Holy Trinity bishop's annex in Nizhny Tagil.  Parishioners who actively opposed their bishop expected to receive answers to several questions and even threatened to pelt the bishop with rotten vegetables, but Master Nikon did not arrive and it was said that he was sick.  For five days believers kept watch in the Ekaterinburg monastery of the Savior, awaiting explanations on the part of the leadership of the Ekaterinburg diocese regarding the dismissal of Hegumen Avraam and the possible dismissal of clergy loyal to him, monastic priests Andrei and Peter.  Several promises in Nikon's name were made to parishioners regarding a meeting with the bishop, but again he never arrived.  In order the calm down the excitement, the diocesan press service issued a declaration that no orders for relocation of monks of the monastery had been issued by the ruling bishop.  In the opinion of the press service, rumors about the dismissal were an "irresponsible provocation by certain forces."  Finally parishioners were persuaded to disperse.  The new superior of the monastery of the All-merciful Savior, Fr Aleksei, affirmed that people "should submit to the rules of Mother church."    To the television the "submissive believers" complained about the disregard of the bishop for the opinion of parishioners.

The other chief participants in the to do, hegumens Tikhon and Avraam, conducted themselves in these bitter days in a different way.

Hegumen Tikhon accepted the decision of the Holy Synod almost immediately, repented, and was forgiven by Bishop Nikon.  Fr Tikhon asked that he remain in "dear to my heart Verkhoture," and he was appointed parish priest at the local Dormition church, a small cemetery church in very bad condition.  Avoiding all comment on what was happening, the hegumen declared that now he was dealing with matters of redoing the floors of his church.

Incidentally Hegumen Tikhon had done a great deal in restoration of the Saint Nicholas monastery of Verkhoture, where he was named superior on 1 October 1990 with the blessing of the most holy patriarch Alexis II under Archbishop Melchizedek.  For almost ten year Hegumen Tikhon dealt not only with internal monastery affairs but also with the restoration of the history of Verkhoture.  He went about the libraries of the country, making photocopies of manuscripts with information about "the holy land of Verkhoture."  These photocopies provide the foundation of the rich monastery library.  A museum was opened where distinctive and beautiful exhibits are displayed:  icons, books, churchware, and clerical vestments of past centuries.  Access to the museum is open to all visitors.  It is hard to figure from the outside how the monastery could thrive so richly.  Without question a great deal of money passed through the program of the restoration of Verkhoture.  And the spacious, well furnished wooden house in which Hegumen Tikhon's parents recently settled caught the eyes of some investigators. To the question of how such an expensive house could be acquired, Tikhon's mother, a former weaver, said that they sold a four-room apartment in Ivanovo and supposedly got the money from that.

The confrontation in the diocese appeared in the open about a year ago.  According to the dean of clergy, Fr Foma Abel, in May of last year open talk in the diocesan council began about "bad personnel policy and frequent plundering of parishes."  Bishop Nikon forbade ministers of the church to purchase materials in Moscow; they could be purchased only in the diocese itself.  But the prices were not compatible.  Whereas a package of candles cost 25,000 rubles in Moscow, in Ekaterinburg it cost the parish 115,000.  To the financial discontent was added in June of last year the to do about the burning of books in the Ekaterinburg diocesan school written by famous theologians (fathers Alexander Men, John Meyendorff, and Alexander Schmemann).  The books were burned on orders from Bishop Nikon.  The primate of the Russian Orthodox church, Most Holy Patriarch Alexis II, tried as quickly as possible to hush up the uproar that hit the pages of the newspapers.

But not all local clergy were in a hurry to hush up this incident. Hegumen Tikhon investigated and displayed in a prominent place in the workroom of the museum of the monastery all the clippings from the papers accusing Nikon of an inquisition and "medieval obscurantism."  It was reported that Hegumen Avraam, who at the time was the diocesan censor, personally compiled a list of books from the church school's library which, in his opinion, were "undesirable for reading."  But, commenting in June of last year on this situation to a NG reporter, Fr Avraam said that he did not approve the burning of theological works.

It is possible that after this mutual relations between the hegumen and the bishop were severed.  The situation was exacerbated by rumors being spread that supposedly at the time of a visit to Tobolsk, Patriarch Alexis II said that he would not come to Ekaterinburg diocese as long as Bishop Nikon was in charge.  And he actually did not come to the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Verkhoture.  At the beginning of the winter, while receiving Governor Eduard Rossel, the patriarch said that he would visit the Ekaterinburg territory since the international uproar around Nikon has somewhat subsided.   The international had subsided, but the local was flaring up.

In the opinion of many the moment arrived for beginning open expression of their discontent with Bishop Nikon.  Both instigators of the schism had been, until very recently, at Nikon's right hand.  Hegumen Avraam, superior of the monastery of the All-merciful Savior, located in the Elizabeth district of Ekaterinburg, was elevated to this post by the bishop himself.  He also authorized him to preside over the religious investigation commission.  With the permission of the bishop, Fr Avraam responded to letters from parishioners in his own name and in the name of Bishop Nikon.  In December of last year there appeared in the monasteries recent photographs of hegumens Tikhon and Avraam with the patriarch of all-Rus.  That was when the hegumens delivered to His Holiness a whole package of documents of complaints against the bishop.  In them, supposedly giving an oath on the Bible, priests testified in particular:  "I inform your holiness that in the early days of October 1996, in the Kazan church in Nizhny Tagil, the monastic priest N suggested to me to 'gratify' Bishop Nikon of Ekaterinburg and Verkhoture.  To my question how I could do that, monastic priest N responded that I should fulfill the role of a man in bed with Bishop Nikon.  I consented.  I was promised his protection.  In the end an agreement was reached that they would call me as necessary.  Approximately at the end of October 1996 I was summoned to Nizhny Tagil, to Kazan church.  After vespers Bishop Nikon went into his room and those accompanying him dispersed to various homes.  Monastic priest N approached me and said that Bishop Nikon was waiting for me and that I should not be shy about him.  I went to Bishop Nikon's room; he was sitting at the desk; I undressed and we got into bed. . . ."

There was a whole package of such testimonies.  One of them was signed by Hegumen Tikhon inasmuch, as he said, "I am no longer able to tolerate all the iniquities of the ruling bishop Nikon."  After this meeting with the patriarch, the superiors of the monasteries departed almost "inspired."  Subsequently, a commission of the Holy Synod came to Ekaterinburg diocese headed by the administrator of affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk.  It was officially announced that this was a regular planned audit.  Besides meetings in the diocese, representatives of the Holy Synod visited the residence of Governor Rossel and had a conversation with him.  In open session of the diocesan council, according to the testimony of dean Foma Abel, Nikon did not deny the accusations made against him.

It was suggested that the contending sides be reconciled.  And a visible reconciliation took place.  The hegumens figured that it happened only in order to keep the scandal from breaking out of the walls of the church.  In the second half of March they sent to all members of the synod and to the patriarch a new letter where they stated:  "True, we were reconciled with the ruling bishop, but not because we had renounced our accusations but for the sake of the peace of the church, in order to get rid of the anxiety from the midst of the believing people. . . Besides it is irrational to quench a fire with straw, because after a few moments it will flare up again."

This complaint, alongside the sins of sodomy, examples of blasphemy also were introduced:  "Once when complete intoxicated, Master Nikon tossed vodka upward and, addressing God, said approximately the following: 'Who are you? I am a bishop!'"  In response to this letter with the accusations came the famous decision of the Holy Synod which reached the diocese at the beginning of Passion Week.

The decision led to the situation where the complaints that had previously been hidden from outsiders' eyes reached the public.  From the television screen one of the young clerical "victims", a student of the church school, told (naturally behind a mask) how he "was solicited by the bishop."  The prorector of the church school, Fr Peter Mangelev, commented for a reporter from NG-R on the event with profound anxiety:  "These are vile and reprehensible attacks.  The mass media could be tactful when they talk about such things; they do not understand that they are defaming several dozens of people."

Press secretary of the Ekaterinburg diocesan administration Boris Kosinsky respond over the phone to the question "why were hegumens Tikhon and Avraam punished not for slander but for creating conflict?":  "You should put that question not to me but to the appropriate services of the Holy Synod which are responsible for communication with the press.  in any case, it is clear that these documents were not news for the synod." Finally a genuine war flared up in the diocese, the chief stroke of which was aimed at Hegumen Avraam, who did not want to be reconciled.  Under the slogan "this is not a church person" Fr Avraam was accused of excessive fondness for churchware and of having founded the monastery of the All-merciful Savior with substantial financial support from businessmen of the Urals.  On Hegumen Avraam's request, liturgical items with fashioned from precious metals and stones, some of which were substantially more valuable that Bishop Nikon could permit himself.

The payment for the liturgical items came mainly as contributions from famous businessmen Vadim Churkin and Igor Altushkin, who are members of the board of directors of the largest factory for production of pure copper "Uralelektromed." In 1997 a shop for producing gold was opened in this enterprise.  It was decided to leave some of the gold ingots at the disposal of the province.  this led to attempts by law enforcement agencies to investigate.  But no violations were found.  As regards Igor Altushkin and Vadim Churkin, both businessmen frequently have been decorated by Patriarch Alexis II for good works in the name of the prosperity of the church.

One of the gifts, a panagia decorated with jewels and emeralds, fashioned at the Ekaterinburg jewelry factory, was taken by Fr Avraam as a gift to the secretary of the patriarch of Jerusalem, Metropolitan Timofei, without the permission of the bishop.  Hegumen Avraam maintains that gifts do not require permission, especially since prior to the panagia the metropolitan had been given a bear's skin.

Vague references suggest that the activity and connections of the hegumen in the sphere of acquiring jewels and yellow metal have already gained the attention of law enforcement agencies, attempting to compare Fr Avraam with the common image of Fr Ioann.  At the beginning of the 1990s Fr Ioann was head of the fund for the construction of the church on the blood and he took several kilograms of emeralds and laundered criminal money and after a criminal case was started he disappeared in some unknown direction. After this story was disclosed, Archbishop Melchizedek was transferred to another, less visible, diocese.  "If the matter had been only about money, the church would not have had to go through so much.  They don't make a fuss about money there.  It is necessary to look deeper:  in the Russian Orthodox church there is a very deep problem with the powerlessness of the laity and priests before the higher clergy.  The protest of parishioners and their desire to gain justice don't amount to anything; this is where the root of the disagreements lies," concludes a specialist of the city administration for work with religious organizations, Tatiana Tagieva.  If this is really the root, then neither side wishes to expose it now.

Incidentally, the commissioner for relations with religious organizations of the government of Sverdlov province, Viktor Smirnov, had an interesting response to the "gay" accusations:  "This is no surprise for anyone in the know.   The whole world knows that the monks are involved in this.  Whoever wants to investigate the situation by examining such things will not discover the truth.  The truth is that Bishop Nikon began imposing order on the diocese."

Order is a horrible concept.  In soviet times the authorities looked after the activity of the church strictly.  Now the authorities also are in a hurry to express their attitude.  The vice premier of the government of Sverdlovsk province, Alexander Kobernichenko, said:  "Certain local political forces are displeased with the positions of Bishop Nikon, since he has declared that he will prohibit priests who are planning to participate in political activity.  Besides, somebody very much wants to break up the planned visit of Alexis II to Sverdlovsk province.  The issue is the discrediting of the province."

An attempt is being made not to fan the political aspect of the scandal now, several months before the gubernatorial elections, even though it is obvious that until recently Governor Rossel openly supported Bishop Nikon and Bishop Nikon supported Rossel.

But incomprehensible things still happen.  On 15 April two young men appeared at the New Tikhvin convent, of which Fr Avraam is the confessor, and the insistently advised the hegumen to leave the city.  The security of the monastery no less insistently arrested the young people and photographed them.  Fr Avraam planned to file a declaration about a threat with the law enforcement agencies, and in order not to be accused of slander he described the incidents to reporters.

According to our information, certain measures are being planned in Ekaterinburg to pacify the dissatisfied clergy:  signatures are being collected regarding suggestions to remove about ten priests from the rolls of the diocese.  This document was supposed to be presented to the last session of the diocesan council, but since a few members of the council declined to sign such a document, it was decided not to raise the question regarding dismissal of priests.

Moreover, Bishop Nikon himself did not attend the council.  It was suggested that the dismissal did not occur precisely because several hundred believers stood watch at the gates of the diocese.  Several days later, on 29 April, at the place where the tsarist family was shot a prayer service was conducted with the reading of an akathist to the royal martyrs.  Seven priests and about 300 believers gathered for the prayer service.

Fr Gennady Vedernikov from Nizhny Tagil said after the prayer service:  "Truth is our weapon and the truth, however bitter, unpleasant and perhaps even bad for us is still the truth.  The truth is that today they are trying to destroy the church from within.  With all the reforms in the country, when everything is changing, even the church is not left at peace.  They are trying to destroy it.  How?  Very simply! They have replaced our moral structure and values; they have replaced our true virtues with false ones.  When they say one thing to us and do another, that is a lie." (tr. by PDS)

(posted 3 June 1999)

Procedures for recording existence of religious group

Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

The procedure for informing authorities about the initiation of the activity of religious groups within the city has been confirmed in Moscow. The capital's mayor, Yury Luzhkov, signed the corresponding order.  The approved rules for notification were worked out for implementation of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" on the capital's territory.  A religious group that wishes to give notice of its creation  and beginning of activity submits a declaration to this effect to the Committee on Relations with Religious Organizations of the city government.  It is accompanied by a list of persons who have joined the group, with indication of their citizenship, place of residence, and place of birth, as well as information about the basics of the belief system, including a history of the religion, forms and methods of its activity and structure, attitudes toward the family and marriage, education, and the health of adherents of the given religion, and restrictions on members and clergy of the organization with regard to their civil rights and duties.

The review of the submitted documents can take no more than six months.  All documentation is included in a special register, "Registration of notification regarding the creation and onset of activity of religious groups." After this the religious group no less frequently than once a year notifies the Committee on Relations with Religious Organizations of the continuation of its activity on city territory.

According to data of the city administration, there now are officially registered in Moscow 900 religious organizations, and about another 200 are operating without registration.  They represent about 40 different religions. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 3 June 1999)

Lawmaker renounces Orthodoxy, ordination

Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

Archpriest Viacheslav Polosin, a priest  of the Kaluga diocese  leave of absence who now heads the administration of the Committee on Relations with Public Associations and Religious Organizations of the State Duma of the Russian federation, has converted to Islam.  "I decided to bring my social status into line with my convictions," Viacheslav Polosin declared, "and to testify publicly that I consider myself an adherent of the great tradition of the true faith of the prophets of monotheism, beginning with Abraham.  And thus I do not consider myself a priest nor a member of any Orthodox church."

At the same time Viacheslav Polosin recited the traditional formula testifying to his acceptance of Islam:  "There is no god besides the One God Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger."  Viacheslav Polosin consider that the final revelation on earth is the Holy Koran send down to the prophet Muhammad and he categorically disagrees with those who "for some reason consider that the Arabic text of the Holy Koran is alien to the Russian mentality."  In his interview with the journal Musulmane, Viacheslav Polosin subjected to sharp criticism the Christian, and especially the Orthodox, tradition.  In his opinion, Christianity contains an "assimilation of the Creator God to his creation, man," which is anthropomorphism.  "For centuries there have existed mediators, fathers and teachers, who while not prophets have spoken in the name of God," Viacheslav Polosin said about the Christian cult of saints, "and this practice has so become the norm in the church that it is difficult for the laity to escape it, and for one in the position of a priest it is impossible."  According to Viacheslav Polosin, his wife "completely shares this choice of worldview."  Among Muslims who had influence on this choice the former Orthodox clergyman identified Geidar Jemal and reported that the stories about the Holy Kaaba and the Hadj made a great impression on him.  (tr. by PDS)

(posted 3 June 1999)

Catholic difficulties in south Russia

by Maria Bondarenko
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

At the beginning of the last century Taganrog took pride in the enterprise and wealth of its merchants.  Its port annually received more than 900 ships under the flags of several dozens of countries.  Merchants and sailors of many nationalities always were welcome in this small port under the protection of international organizations.  At the time in Taganrog there were 16 representatives from various states, including Britain, Australia, France, Portugal, Belgium, and Sweden.  And a person of practically any confession was able here to bow the knee before God in his own church.

In the spring of 1807 a spot for the foundation of a Catholic church was solemnly consecrated.  Alexander I himself approved its construction and donated money from the state treasury for it, since he was distinguished by broad religious toleration.  The plans were drawn by the architect Rossinsky.  Services began in the Catholic church in 1812.  The first priest was Serafim Holfeld, who has been sent from the Lithuanian province.  Information in the archives suggests that at the moment of the construction of the church in Taganrog there were about 300 Catholics in the city and over many years their number remained unchanged.  The church celebrated its 100th anniversary.  This celebration was attended by the bishop of Tiraspol, accompanied by 14 priests, among whom were three Franciscan monks.  Subsequently an organ was installed in the church and everyone who came here was able to spend hours listening to beautiful music.  The parishioners included the families of a Glinsky nobleman, a merchant of the second guild, Dantsiger, the musician Gaeton Moll, and a teacher of the French language in the boys' gymnasium, Montanrouge.  The parishioners also included Anton Efimovich Chekhov, who in 1912 celebrated here his marriage to Khristina Erasmus.  One can find in the old Taganrog cemetery today the graves of an English diplomat, Italian merchant, and a Polish official.

With the onset of soviet power, the bitter fate that befell Russian believers of all confession, was not avoided by the Taganrog Catholic church.  In 1925 it was closed.  The building was leased to a shop.  Afterward the church sat empty for a long time.  In 1938 it was turned over to the city children's library.

According to certain information, the Catholic parish in Taganrog continued to exist until 1933, although it is not known where the services were held.  Only sixty years later was the parish of the Holy Trinity restored and registered.  The first mass was held in August 1993 in the Chaikovsky House Museum.  "Chaikovsky's house was a splendid place," said the first rector of the Catholic parish of postsoviet times, Fr Yaroslav. "But it is not convenient for church services.  Imagine, at the time of communion a cleaning woman comes up and says to me, 'Father, leave because a concert is going to start soon.' Catholics need their own church, and even more so since there already is one.  I frequently have applied to various offices of the city and province asking for the return of the church to us, in accordance with the provision of the federal law 'On freedom of conscience and religious associations,' which provides for the  return without cost to religious organizations of religious buildings that previously had belonged to them.  I always have received one and  the same answer that the return of the church to your parish can be considered only under the condition that the Roman Catholic church construct facilities for the city children's library."

Thus, for example, in 1995 it was suggested that the parish renovate a former House of Pioneers for a library, with an estimate of the cost for such reconstruction, including the acquisition of five apartments for the resettlement of families, which the parish would need to assume, at one million dollars, according to the chairman of the Committee on Administration of City Property, Mr. Kabitsky.  "Of course, such a some is certainly beyond the capacity of a parish, which lives by contributions," Fr Yaroslav emphasizes.  "But, alas, no other concrete proposal has been forthcoming from the city authorities."

The present rector of the parish is the 72-year-old Fr Kassian, who also has continued to write petitions for the return to the parish of the church "which was consecrated back in 1812 and seized by soviet authorities."  In Fr Kassian's opinion (who previously had lived many years as a missionary in Africa, Burundi, and then was invited by Fr Yaroslav, who had to move to another parish because of threats) the fact that negotiations with the city authorities have been conducted more than six years bespeaks not only violation of Russian laws and historic justice, but also violation of one of the most basic rights of the individual, the right to freedom of religious confession.  "Of course we do not have the means for building a library," says Fr Kassian.  "But we never would permit its readers and employees to be left without their own location and to their own devices; this would be a hardship."  The city has many empty premises.  Buildings belonging to the city are being closed and sold (including child care centers).  Earlier the administration declared that it was possible for the library to be moved into the former House of Pioneers (which now is closed and completed decrepit). And the chief architect of the city reported that other possibilities could be explored.

"I do not doubt that an appropriate building could be found for a library, and our parish, in its turn, could renovate it.  But not for millions of dollars," Fr Kassian continues.  "I believe that Catholic parishes of the whole would help us in such a good work."

Today Catholics are meeting in a small building that was intended as a residence for priests.  Fr Kassian celebrates the liturgy here daily.  On the day when I met with Fr Kassian, police officers arrived.  They wanted to know who removed the sign from the library.  For some reason suspicion fell upon the Catholic parish.  The elderly Fr Kassian was quite irked that they could suspect him of this, since he often in Africa had been under fire for preaching the Gospel.

At the time the children's library (which has more than 11,000 young readers enrolled) was filled with children.  "So we turn out to be guilty without guilt," says the library's director, Tatiana Markovskaia.  "For sixty years our library has been here and now they want to move it some where.  We have 100,000 books.  I admit that if they would give us a bigger building, we would be only too happy to leave this tight space.  But also we don't solve such matters."

As Vitaly Brezhnev said, the chief specialist of the Rostov provincial administration for relations with religious organizations, the return of the Catholic church in Taganrog today is an acute problem.

So for now the essence of the matter seems to Taganrog residents to be a confrontation between the Catholic parish and the children's library.  Only city authorities cannot decide upon an effective approach.  Even though Taganrog prides itself for its history, the memory of Alexander I whose monument stands in the center of the bank square,  and the tsar's stays here.  Indeed, the tsar even died in Taganrog. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 2 June 1999)

Jesuit difficulties explained


The Ministry of Justice of Russia explains the reasons for making such a decision.
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 2 June 1999

from Alexander Ilich Kudriavtsev, assistant director of the department on affairs of public and religious association, head of the department of registration of religious associations.

As head of the department of registration of religious associations of the Ministry of Justice of Russia I am a regular reader and subscriber of NG-religii.  I consider your review one of the few mass publications which professionally and fairly reports matters of church-state relations in the country and the world.  By this present appeal to the editor I would like to comment on the note "Ministry of Justice against Jesuits" which was published in NG-religii on 28 April of this year.

In my opinion, the information that was distributed by the Keston News Service regarding the refusal of the Ministry of Justice of Russia to reregister the "Independent Russian Region of the 'Society of Jesus,' " more commonly known as the Order of Jesuits, is tendentious and contains unreliable information that will mislead the public and readers of the review.  The bulletin reports that the Order of Jesuits became the first organization to be "directly refused the right of operating on the territory of Russia."  This is not so, inasmuch as according the constitution and the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" the creation and activity of religious associations whose goals and activity violate the law are forbidden.  At the same time the decision about prohibiting the activity of a religious association may be  made only by a court.  No administrative or judicial decision prohibiting the activity of the Order of Jesuits in Russia has been adopted.

Members of the order are legally operating in the country and that are carrying out their programs and heading up a whole series of organized structures of the Roman Catholic church.  In particular, Fr Stanislav Opelia, who was mentioned in the report, is one of the deans at the Moscow Catholic college of Thomas Aquinas and the secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia.  Another member of the "Society of Jesus" is one of the members of the bishop's conference, Joseph Werth, who heads the apostolic administration of Catholics of the Latin rite of the Asiatic portion of Russia.  In this way members of the order have played a notable role in the activity of the Catholic church in Russia, and nobody intends to prohibit this activity.

Moreover, existing legislation in Russia has abolished the practice of obligatory registration of religious associations and they have the right to operate freely in accordance with their own hierarchical structure without state registration, provided they obey the laws of the country.

What is the real issue in the conflict that has arisen?  According to their charter documents, the "Society of Jesus" is seeking to create in Russia a juridical entity in a legally organized form as a centralized religious organization.  At the same time, according to article 8 of the aforementioned law, a religious organization is recognized as a centralized religious organization when it comprises, according to its charter, at least three local religious organizations.

There is not nor has there ever been in Russia a "chief Roman Catholic organization."  This is why the Society of Jesus was refused reregistration as a centralized religious organization.  There was no other subtext in the decision of the Ministry of Justice of Russia.  But, unfortunately, Fr Stanislav Opelia views himself as the head of a centralized organization, referring in his reapplication to the Ministry of Justice of Russia to the fact that Russian legislation violates the standards of Catholic canon law.

The law as adopted declares respect on the part of the state for the internal structures of religious associations.  But at the same time it also stipulates that they can operate only insofar as they do not violate the legislation of the Russian federation.  In this regard the state, while respecting the internal structures of religious association, has the right to expect mutual respect and compliance on the part of religious association for the national legislation of the country in which they  are located, as is accepted throughout the world.

In conclusion I wish to note that refusal of reregistration of the Society of Jesus laid the foundation for an organized campaign both within the country and abroad about the supposed beginning of discrimination against Catholics in Russia.  Without getting into a fruitless argument, I merely note that at the present time the reregistration of the apostolic administrations of both the European and the Asiatic parts of Russia is going forward without hindrance, as also is that of the Catholic society (order) of Franciscans and numerous parish societies.  The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia has been created and begun operation.  The total number of registered Catholic religious structures has grown in Russia from 23 in 1990 to 227 at the present time.  Thus we leave it to readers to judge for themselves whether Catholics in Russia are being persecuted and prohibited, or not.  (tr. by PDS)

(posted 2 June 1999)


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