by Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service

On 5 June Keston News Service interviewed FR ALEXANDER SHARGUNOV in his church of St Nicholas on Bolshaya Ordynka St in Moscow. He is the founder of the Social Committee 'For the Moral Regeneration of the Fatherland' and has published a booklet entitled 'The Antichrist in Moscow' (No. 1, 1995 and No. 2, 1996) of which a third edition is shortly due to appear. Recently articles by him have been published in the pro-Communist newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya, 'An End to the Moral Genocide of Our People!' (23 May) and 'They have taken aim at Russia' (4 June).

KNS had expected to meet an aggressive, bitter priest breathing fire and brimstone, but on the contrary he appeared a sensitive and mild man with a gentle expression. He was obsessed by the moral degeneration of Russian society, believing that only the Communist leader, GENNADI ZYUGANOV, could reform his country under a strong government. He believed in control from above, and hoped that the Communists would pass new laws defending morality and declaring Russian 'traditional' moral and spiritual values to be 'the inalienable right of Russia's citizens'. Laws should also be passed to control the mass media and its spread of pornography and violence, as well as amendments to the law on religion which would restrict foreign missionaries.

In his view sin has now bcome the norm in Russia: 'people can no longer distinguish between good and "correct thinking" teaches that you should do as you please'. This 'correct thinking' was the new philosophy of the 21st century, he claimed, according to which human nature cannot be fulfilled unless it gives free rein to all its desires. In Fr Shargunov's view, today's overturning of moral values was the second stage of a revolution which began in 1917 when the divine order was overturned.

Yeltsin he described as a drunkard and a murderer. 'He is responsible for all that is happening today.' Fr Shargunov was particularly exercised about a pronouncement ('Polozhenie') of Yeltsin's government about various social indications which justified abortion (e.g. the number of children in a family, whether a woman was married, a person's standard of living). This document, he claimed, was similar to one produced by Himmler and Hitler and amounted to moral and spiritual genocide. Although against ecumenism, Fr Shargunov wanted to cooperate with Protestant fundamentalists in America who are also opposed to abortion; this is 'real ecumenism' in his view.

In January Fr Shargunov sent an appeal to all political parties asking them to sign a document condemning moral decline and promising to pass laws to stop the rot, including the banning of foreign missionaries. Only Zyuganov signed this document, distributed by T.A. ASTRAKHANKINA, a member of the Duma and head of the Section on the Problems of Russia's Moral and Spiritual Revival. Zyuganov is a member of this body and Fr Shargunov an adviser.

'The Communist Party today is different from the Communist Party of the past', said Fr Shargunov. It has excluded the clause in its statutes insisting that Party members be atheists, it has condemned the persecution of the Church during the Soviet period and now 'emphasises that it is impossible to imagine the past, present and future [of Russia] without Orthodoxy'. Communism today, he said, is really social democracy and it was mistaken to link Anpilov with Zyuganov: the former's extreme left-wing party is quite separate from Zyuganov's party. It appeared not to have occurred to him that should Zyuganov win the election on 16 June he might open the door to other more extreme political groups as happened during the French Revolution.

Fr Shargunov quoted the Procurator of the Holy Synod of the 19th century, Pobedonostsev, who said 'Democracy is today's lie', and said he would like above all to see an Orthodox monarchy established. However, he was a realist, he claimed, and realised that this ideal was not possible today. Zyuganov he felt was 'a good man' and offered Russia the best alternative at the present time - a controlled market, the rule of law and support for the Russian Orhtodox Church against other denominations, particularly against so-called 'totalitarian sects'. He was critical of the financial inequality between Roman Catholics and Protestants, on the one hand, and the Russian Orthodox Church on the other which had very few resources, he claimed, and could not therefore counteract 'the proselytism' of these other denominations. He admitted that he would like to see the Russian Orthodox Church become the established church in Russia.

It is the duty of the Russian Orthodox Chruch, he said, to take political action and not just concentrate on saying its prayers. 'If a house is burning, you don't just leave everyone sleeeping. You must shout, wake everyone up, warn them.' This is what Fr Shargunov and the 15 like-minded priests who belong to his Committee on Moral Regeneration believe they are doing. And they have the support of many lay people, he claimed: for example, 10,000 letters have been received by his committee from all over the country, three affiliated groups have been organised and one or two more are now being formed. The serpent, the devil, has shed its old skin of Marxism-Leninism, said Fr Shargunov, but now has a new skin - today's ideology which he described as the ideology of Sodom and Gomorrah - and the fangs of this serpent are about to bite again.

In the second week of June the Communist Party's own newspaper, Pravda, became the vehicle for another article recommending that Orthodox believers vote for Zyuganov (Pravda No. 21, 7-14 June). This article was written by FR KONSTANTIN BUFEYEV of the Church of the Dormition 'v Arkhangelskom tyurikove' in Moscow. This author lists a number of reasons why the Communists should be supported: they belong to a Party which is different from the CPSU and will definitely not persecute the Church, he claimed; they will build up a strong state which will defend the Church against sects, western influence, market forces, pluralism, and 'obnovlenchestvo' [renewal movement], and promote unity with Russia's Slav brethren. (END)

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