Articles for Maura Reynolds on Patriarch Aleksi

November 1996 RUSSIA'S CHRISTIANS FORCED TO WORK ON SUNDAY Should Russian Christians be forced to work on Sunday just because their government still refuses to abolish Bolshevik holidays?  That is what happened on Sunday, 10 November, which the government decided to turn into an ordinary work day in order to make up for the time lost on 7 November--the anniversary of the coup d'etat which brought VLADIMIR LENIN to power in 1917. On 13 November Keston News Service asked METROPOLITAN KIRILL OF SMOLENSK, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations, whether the Patriarchate had protested the government's action.  He said that there had been no protest, either public or private.  On the other hand, he stressed that on various previous occasions the Patriarchate had privately told the secular authorities that it is 'against all our traditions' to make Sunday a work day--but that the authorities had refused to make any concessions on the issue. (END) DOUBLE STANDARD ON DEFROCKING?     An ultra-nationalist priest, FR ALEKSANDR ARSENYEV, is running in the December Russian parliamentary elections on the slate of the Union of Patriots, organised by the Russian National Assembly of militant former KGB officer ALEKSANDR STERLIGOV. The 30-year-old Fr Aleksandr has served as 'dukhovnik' or spiritual father for Sterligov's group. Last year the Moscow Patriarchate defrocked pro-reform priest GLEB YAKUNIN for doing just what Arsenyev is doing now--running for secular office in the Duma.  But the Patriarchate's press office told KNS on 13 October that the Russian Orthodox Church will definitely not defrock Arsenyev.   PATRIARCH BACKS GENERALS In the midst of a nationwide debate over the extension of compulsory military service from 18 months to two years - not only for new conscripts, but for those already serving who had thought that they were nearing the end of their terms - PATRIARCH ALEKSI of Moscow has thrown the moral weight of the Russian Orthodox Church onto the side of the military. In a statement released on 10 October, Patriarch Aleksi called on the youth of Russia to serve willingly and to realise that 'army service will enable your spiritual maturity to grow' and that 'your time in the army will promote even deeper cooperation between the army and the Church'. The Patriarch's statement said nothing about military abuses such as the notorious system of 'dedovshchina' - the bullying of younger recruits which has driven many to suicide. In language which according to an Izvestiya commentator, YURI FEOFANOV, 'renders unto Caesar what should be rendered only unto God', Patriarch Aleksi urged the 1995 call-up of conscripts to 'go into the Army in order to serve the Motherland, defending and securing her from external and internal enemies.' The use of the army against 'internal enemies' has been one of the most controversial issues in Russia since the autumn 1993 storming of the White House. Feofanov also rebukes the Patriarch for including in his list of Russian military saints the 11th-century Princes Boris and Gleb - who were canonised precisely because they refused to use force to protect their political interests. A spokesman for the Patriarchate's press office told KNS on 13 October that all the major newspapers are opposed to Patriarch Aleksi on the issue. 'Only the church press is supporting us,' he said. DUMA COMMITTEE REACHES COMPROMISE ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM by Lawrence A. Uzzell, KNS The Russian parliament's most uncompromising defender of religious freedom has compromised. FR GLEB YAKUNIN, who had previously led the fight against a 1993 bill to weaken Russia's landmark 1990 law on freedom of conscience, reached an agreement in mid-September with one of the principal authors of the 1993 proposal. The compromise bill negotiated by Yakunin and ANDREI SEBENTSOV, now a key adviser to Prime Minister CHERNOMYRDIN on church-state issues, cleared the Duma's committee on religious organisations on 5 October - setting the stage for what could be the first clear-cut victory for the Moscow Patriarchate and others seeking to curtail the 1990 statute. But as of mid-October, final enactment of the compromise seemed far from certain. CONFLICTS AMONG THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX by Xenia Dennen, KNS The Russian Free Orthodox Church (hereafter RFOC) is full of confidence. This branch of the Orthodox Church until recently belonged to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (hereafter ROCA), itself the Moscow Patriarchate's main rival claimant to legitimacy. The RFOC's little outpost in the Golovinsky cemetery in the north of Moscow, near the Vodny Stadion metro station, was packed on Sunday 15 October when one of Keston's representatives attended the liturgy and spoke to FR MIKHAIL ARDOV, the priest-in-charge, and his assistant, DEACON MIKHAIL MAKEYEV... In an interview after the liturgy Deacon Makeyev expressed his opinion about the recent address of PATRIARCH ALEKSI to young Orthodox men called up for military conscription. The Russian army, he said, was an army of 'bandits' and he would advise any young man to avoid being conscripted. He condemned the rise of both nationalism and fascism in Russia. Furthermore, in his view, the Moscow Patriarchate was following a racist, antisemitic policy in what he saw as attempts to create a racially pure church in the manner of the Nazis. WHAT IS ANATOLI KRASIKOV UP TO? by Lawrence A. Uzzell, KNS Krasikov said that his council will not discuss any issues that 'concern only one confession' - in which category he included all disputes between the Moscow Patriarchate and other Orthodox groups such as the so-called 'Russian Free Orthodox Church' or the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Asked what he thought about the concordats which the Moscow Patriarchate has signed over the last year with the Ministry of Defence and various other federal agencies, Krasikov said that in principle these agencies can reach similar agreements with other confessions as well - and that the Patriarchate has even said that it would welcome such a development. Beginning with the first session of the confessional representatives, which is to take place sometime in October, Krasikov said that he wants the council to prepare a 'report' ('doklad') on the overall religious situation in Russia. He said that this document would embody a 'new conception' - but declined to elaborate. January 1996 THE PATRIARCH RECRUITS A RELUCTANT CANDIDATE FOR PARLIAMENT by Lawrence A. Uzzell, KNS Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow ALEKSI II has helped at least one political party recruit at least one candidate for the 17 December parliamentary elections. Though the Moscow Patriarchate claims to be politically neutral, KNS has learned that a prominent theology professor reluctantly agreed to run for parliament as a candidate of the 'Congress of Russian Communities' party ('Kongress russkikh obshchin' or KRO) only because the Patriarch specifically asked him to. The Patriarchate has engaged in similar discussions with at least one other political party, 'Our Home is Russia' ('Nash Dom - Rossiya' or NDR). ALEKSEI OSIPOV, professor at the Moscow Theological Seminary, cheerfully told KNS in a 24 November interview that he has little interest in politics, is spending almost no time or effort on his campaign, and hopes he will lose. The engaging and witty Osipov, who met a Keston representative in the seminary's complex at the SergiYev Posad monastery about 45 miles northeast of Moscow, said that his only ambition in life is to write and teach theology. He does not read the newspapers, does not even own a television, and tries to pay as little attention as possible to the superficial ebb and flow of current events. He said that if something really important happens, like a war, 'I will find out anyway.' When KNS asked the professor what ballot position he occupies in the KRO party's rank listing of its own candidates, he did not know - even though ballot position is crucial to an individual candidate's chances of success in Russia's system of proportional voting. Under this system, a voter casts a single vote for one party's nationwide list of candidates; the more such votes a party receives, the more of its candidates get into parliament. If a candidate's name is near the top of his party's list, he can win a Duma seat even if his party as a whole scores rather poorly in the elections; if his name is near the bottom, he will probably not win a seat even if his party does relatively well. (The parties themselves decide the order in which their candidates will be listed.) Osipov may be the only candidate in the country who has made no effort to learn the basic information needed to estimate his personal chances for victory. Given his obvious lack of enthusiasm for his own candidacy, KNS asked Osipov, why is he even running? He replied that there was only reason: Patriarch Aleksi had requested him to run. KNS then asked why he chose KRO rather than some other party; again, he said, it was in response to Aleksi's specifically expressed desire. On 30 November KNS asked the head of the Patriarchate's press service, Aleksandr Bulekov, why Aleksi had recommended KRO to Osipov. He said that the initiative had come from the party - that the Patriarch was simply responding to its request. KNS asked if he knew of similar requests from other parties; he said that 'Our Home is Russia' (NDR) had wanted to include ALEKSEI SVETAZARSKY, a colleague of Osipov's at the seminary, on its national ballot but that Svetazarski had sought a higher position on the party's list than NDR was willing to give him. If he should have the misfortune of actually winning in December, KNS asked Osipov, what issues would he work on as a Duma member? He said that as a professional theologian he would of course want to be a member of the committee on religious organisations. KNS then tried to find out what he thought of some of the specific issues which that committee has been debating this year, such as proposals to amend the 1990 law on religious freedom. But it immediately became clear that Osipov, in keeping with his description of himself as a pure scholar detached from politics, knew very little about the committee's current activities. He said that he had not even read the 1990 law and had no information and no opinions on the various efforts to change it, including a bill which the Duma might be voting on in early December. Finding it impossible to get Osipov to comment like a conventional politician on specific current issues, KNS steered the conversation in a more abstract direction. What does it mean to be an 'Orthodox politician'? What problems of state are most urgent from an Orthodox spiritual viewpoint? Some of his answers were encouraging from the standpoint of freedom of conscience, others less so. He said that the Church suffers severe negative consequences when it allows itself to be turned into a state agency, as was proved by the experience of the Russian Orthodox Church under the Romanovs, and that therefore 'the state should give freedom to the people to make their own decisions about religion.' But he also said that Russian government policies today should acknowledge that Orthodoxy is the majority religion. He conceded that it would be hard to combine such policies with the ideal of freedom. Osipov said that he is very concerned about the 'lack of equality' between Protestant and Orthodox spokesmen in access to broadcast time on Russian television. 'There are things that should not be objects of commerce,' he said, and religious broadcasts are among them. He suggested that 'it is possible to have formal equality under the law, but no real equality in practice because one side is so much richer than the other.' On 'proselytism' in general, Osipov's position seemed to be well within the mainstream of the Patriarchal Church. He said that western missionaries should be free to come to Russia, but that they should concentrate on helping the Orthodox Church rather than on spreading their own distinct beliefs. KNS asked if he would still hold that position if the economic positions of the two sides were reversed: if, for example, the United States had lived under a Marxist regime for 70 years, and if Russia had long had a free-market system, would he then advocate that prosperous Russia should refrain from sending Orthodox missionaries to impoverished America? He replied that 'proselytism' under those conditions would be 'sinful' if it did what he said American Protestant missionaries are doing today in Russia - contradicting the Gospel by dishonestly attacking other faiths. Osipov said that he agrees with the classic view of the Orthodox Church that abortion is murder. But he said that it should not be illegal, that as a legislator he would not seek any changes in the status quo, which allows abortion at any stage of a pregnancy and for any reason. On pornography, Osipov said that it is important to protect freedom of speech, but that the state should distinguish between true freedom and what he called 'proizvol' (arbitrariness or licence). One of the major tasks of the Duma, he said, should be deciding just where to draw that line; he acknowledged that this would not be simple. The candidate said that Russia's state schools should continue to be secular, but that they should offer religious lessons subsidised by the state. The content of these lessons, he said, would depend on what the majority of parents in each school wanted: they could be Muslim in one school and Orthodox in another nearby. Such lessons would not be compulsory: an Orthodox child in a school with Muslim lessons, or a Muslim child in a school with Orthodox ones, would not be required to attend. The basic principle, he said, 'is that the parents should decide.' Under questioning Osipov conceded that this model would not be easy to apply in cities where the populations are mixed, with members of various faiths living in the same neighbourhood and attending the same schools. Osipov told KNS that both his parents were believers, that he had been a practising Orthodox Christian from early childhood onward. He has spent almost his whole adult life at the Moscow seminary, either as a student or as a faculty member. CHURCH LEADERS SUPPORT THREE RIVAL CANDIDATES   by Lawrence A. Uzzell, KNS Does the Russian Orthodox Church have a unified, comprehensive strategy for tilting the upcoming parliamentary elections in a certain direction by favouring carefully selected candidates? No - at least, not if one judges by the election campaign in the Moscow-area district which includes Sergiyev Posad, one of the church's most important monastic and educational centres. Of the various candidates competing to represent this district in the Duma, no fewer than three have received some form of support from some major ecclesiastical leader or institution. MIKHAIL MEN, son of the murdered Orthodox priest ALEKSANDR MEN, has received the 'blessing' of Metropolitan YUVENALI, one of the church's senior hierarchs and the head of the diocese which includes the Sergiyev Posad electoral district. YEVGENI NIKIFOROV, head of an Orthodox lay group with an influential newspaper and radio programme, has trumped Men by getting the 'blessing' of an even more senior hierarch - the Patriarch of Moscow himself, ALEKSI II. YEVGENI MYSYAGIN, a former Russian Army officer who goes out of his way to call himself 'Orthodox' though he does not attend church services, has been given special access to address the students of the seminary at Sergiyev Posad (all of whom have the right to vote in that district), including a warm public welcome by several faculty members.   In Russia's complicated electoral system, half of the seats in the federal Duma are filled according to a system of proportional representation, in which citizens vote for nationwide party lists as a whole rather than for individual candidates. (See the article 'The Patriarch Recruits a Reluctant Candidate to Run for Parliament'). The other half of the seats are filled in the same way as the British House of Commons or the U.S. House of Representatives, with individual candidates running against each other in local electoral districts called 'okrugi'. The okrug surrounding Sergiyev Posad is one of several in the Moscow oblast, the suburban and rural region surrounding the capital city but not including the city itself; candidate Men is a member of the oblast Duma. Just what does it mean for a bishop or other Orthodox clergyman to give his 'blessing' to a politician's candidacy in today's Russia? ALEKSANDR BULEKOV, head of the Patriarch's press service, told KNS on 30 November that such 'blessings' have a purely spiritual meaning, like a priest's blessing of a new flat or automobile. KNS suggested to him that this interpretation fails to reckon with the fact that both Men and Nikiforov are going out of their way to make sure that Orthodox clergy, lay leaders and voters know about the 'blessings' which they have received, in much the same way that a candidate might advertise an endorsement from a fellow politician. Nikiforov is spreading the word through his newspaper, Men by personally telling priests and other interested voters as he travels about the okrug. When Men learned about Aleksi's 'blessing' of Nikiforov's candidacy, he reacted in the same way that a politician might to the news that two different leaders of the same organisation had taken different political stands: he told KNS on 15 November that the Patriarch may have been misinformed by people trying to 'drive a wedge' between Aleksi and Yuvenaly. Bulekov replied to KNS that if candidates are advertising such 'blessings' as tantamount to political endorsements, they are acting improperly. The Patriarchate's interpretation of what such a 'blessing' means, he said, is different from the politicians'. KNS asked whether it is possible for the same bishop to bless two different candidates who are running against each other; Bulekov said that it is, though he knew of no such cases. While Men and Nikiforov were making sure that voters knew about their respective 'blessings,' a third candidate in the okrug was seeking and getting a chance to give a campaign speech at the Moscow Theological Seminary at Sergiyev Posad. On 24 November, Yevgeny Mysyagin spent nearly two hours addressing about 40 students and faculty members and answering their questions in a seminary lecture hall; he was warmly welcomed and introduced by ALEKSEI OSIPOV, a faculty member at the seminary who is also a Duma candidate himself, though not in the okrug (see the article 'The Patriarch Recruits a Reluctant Candidate to Run for Parliament'). Mysyagin and Osipov are both running under the banner of the 'Congress of Russian Communities' party (KRO). KNS asked one of the faculty members whether any other candidate had been given the chance to address the students in this fashion; the answer was no, at least not so far - with only three weeks left before election day. Mysyagin's talk, at which KNS was present, dealt entirely with issues in the current political campaign; there was almost nothing theological or academic about it (see the article 'An "Orthodox" Politician Addresses Seminarians'). With no single party likely to command a majority in the new Duma, building ties with a broad range of political forces may be a more effective strategy than staking all on a single one. Whether or not that is the intent of the Moscow Patriarchate's relations with competing candidates, it is likely to be one of the results. March 1996 ...The draft bill, a copy of which was obtained by Keston News Service, in effect offers the Patriarchate a deal.  On the one hand, the Patriarchate would receive only some, not all, of the opportunities which it has been seeking to restrict other religious confessions.  On the other hand, the Patriarchate would receive more opportunities to control pre-1917 church properties and to use the income from these properties in whatever fashion the Patriarchate itself might choose. ...Though the task force's final product includes no such provisions, it offers the Patriarchate sweeteners in other areas. Unlike the bill approved by the Duma's committee on religion last autumn and used by the task force as its starting point for discussion, the final version omits a passage allowing the state to impose conditions on churches' management of buildings which are officially designated as architectural or historical landmarks.  Another section now omitted is one forbidding a church to divide among its individual members any of the income from church-owned business enterprises.  Also sure to please the Patriarchate is a new section authorising the state to exempt persons in holy orders from compulsory military service. May 1996 ADVISER ADMITS ZYUGANOV WILL LOSE ORTHODOX VOTE by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service One of GENNADI ZYUGANOV'S key advisers now concedes that the Communist presidential candidate will get fewer votes than his opponent BORIS YELTSIN among Russia's Orthodox Christian believers. ALEKSANDR PROKHANOV, editor of the controversial ultra-nationalist newspaper 'Zavtra' ('Tomorrow'), told Keston News Service in a 22 May interview in his office at the Russian Writers' Union that PATRIARCH ALEKSI of Moscow is 'clearly supporting Yeltsin while claiming to be apolitical'.  The church hierarchy is 'cynically supporting those in power ('vlast') more and more openly', he said, in return for 'patronage'. June 1996 ...Neither Yeltsin nor Orthodox Patriarch ALEKSI II, both of whom claim to support separation of church and state, has repudiated Lebed's 27 June statement equating the U.S.-born Mormon faith with the Aum Sinrikyo movement accused of terrorism in Japan. Lebed called both groups 'mould and scum'. The outspoken former general partly retracted the statement in a July 2 press conference, but continued to insist that foreign religions are 'strangers on our territory' and that he is 'categorically against anyone teaching us how we should live in our land'. November 1996 ...The Moscow Patriarchate failed to speak up against a mid-year executive order by the Russian government making abortions even more accessible than they were during the soviet period. Late-term abortions are now explicitly authorised if either a woman or her husband is unemployed or if a woman is unmarried, in addition to about a dozen other criteria.  On 24 September a spokesman for the Patriarchate confirmed to Keston News Service that the Patriarchate had not issued any statement protesting against the change in policy, nor to the best of his knowledge had it tried to influence the decision from behind the scenes. Keston News Service asked another spokesman for the Patriarchate on 27 September about its reaction to the growing practice among provincial governments of refusing to allow Protestants and other religious minorities to rent cinemas, 'palaces of culture' and other such buildings for Sunday worship services unless they get the permission of the local Orthodox priest. The spokesman said that he knew of no case of the Patriarchate's having protested against this practice, which he went on to defend by saying that a local Orthodox priest is usually 'a good representative of public opinion'.(END) November 1996 But Kalinin also said that the July bill should be amended to exempt religious groups from Russia's 1995 law on non-commercial organisations. Patriarch Aleksi's proposed amendment to this effect, he said, would relieve small rural parishes from unfair paperwork and other bureaucratic burdens. LEV LEVINSON of the Duma religion committee's staff disagrees: he told Keston News Service on 5 November that the patriarchate's proposal would exempt churches from taxes and import fees even on commercial enterprises which they control, such as the Russian Orthodox Church's controversial ventures in tobacco and alcohol, and would allow them to have 'commercial secrets' just like profit-making businesses. (END) KIRILL EMBRACES NUCLEAR-WEAPONS COMPLEX by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service In a 12 November conference at Moscow's Danilovsky Monastery, METROPOLITAN KIRILL of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations openly allied himself and the Patriarchate with the nuclear-weapons section of Russia's military-industrial complex.  The all-day conference, sponsored by the World Russian People's Assembly ('Vsemirnyrusski narodny sobor') and devoted entirely to the topic of 'Nuclear Weapons and Russia's National Security', issued a closing statement supporting the maintenance of Russia's nuclear-arms capacity and implicitly criticising Russia's suspension of nuclear tests. After reading a welcoming letter from PATRIARCH ALEKSI, Metropolitan Kirill began his own remarks by reminiscing proudly about his and the Patriarchate's role in the 'struggle for peace' during the soviet period.  Referring to the soviet regime of the early 1980s as 'our side', he told the assembled defence and military-industrial leaders that he rejects the view that the church was 'too politicised' during that period. He said that he is firmly convinced that the Patriarchate was not guilty of 'conformism' in campaigning for soviet foreign-policy goals such as the exclusion of Nato missiles from western Europe. Recalling that in the 1980s he 'sincerely insisted' on the need to reduce nuclear weapons, Kirill noted that some might accuse the Patriarchate of having now changed its position.  But he said that in his view 'our line remains the same, the geopolitical situation has changed'.  Critics of the Patriarchate, he said, should remember that the word 'security' is a Biblical word, that it appears in the New Testament's Book of Revelation.  He spoke against the expansion of Nato to the east, which he said might be one of the signs of the coming of the Antichrist.  He also endorsed the theory that the 21st century will be a period of conflicts not between ideologies but between civilisations, and that religion will play a role in those conflicts. 'One would have to be blind not to see this', he said. Nuclear scientist RADI ILKAYEV, a member of the Presidium of the World Russian People's Assembly, warned the conference that banning experimental nuclear explosions is harmful to Russia's nuclear potential.  He said that test explosions are needed to ensure the reliability and safety of the country's warheads.  In apparent endorsement of his warning, the conference's closing statement demanded the 'immediate adoption and implementation of scientific-technical programmes to preserve nuclear-weapons technology and to maintain the reliability and safety of nuclear armaments'. The closing statement, issued in the name of all the scientists, military officers, clergy, politicians and others who took part, also declared that 'gathering within the ancient walls of the Danilovsky Monastery, we proclaim our devotion to Orthodox Christian values and to the idea of love for the Fatherland.  We are against the use of force in international relations.  Today we again recall that the soviet nuclear weapons inherited by Russia were never weapons of war, were never used on the field of battle or against civilians, and moreover that the nuclear balance created precisely by us saved the world for a long time from the threat of unilateral nuclear blackmail'. Another nuclear researcher, PAVEL FLORENSKY, told the conference that since the Soviet Union's atom bomb was created in the Sarov region, Russia's nuclear arsenal to this day is under the patronage and protection of ST SERAFIM OF SAROV. Kirill said that his meetings with Russian scientists specialising in nuclear arms had 'spiritual importance' for him in that these scientists are among the 'podvizhniki' of our century. 'Podvizhnik' is a term from the Russian Orthodox mystical heritage, traditionally applied to monks and other believers who perform great feats of spiritual asceticism. (END) January 1997 If and when the Moscow Patriarchate does make a final decision to canonise the imperial family, that decision is sure to anger old-guard communists and Ukrainian nationalists.  On the other hand, a decision against canonisation would offend many of the Russiannationalists who have become important political allies of the Patriarchate--as well as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which already venerates Nicholas II and his household as saints.  A negative decision would also disappoint many rank-and-file Russian believers, who have come to see the canonisation of Nicholas as a sign of national repentance for the sins of Bolshevism.  'It's too simple to see this as just a political question', religious historian SERGEI FILATOV told Keston. 'My impression is that a majority of serious believers now favour canonisation, that it has become an emotional symbol for them'. Keston has observed in trips through the Russian provinces--especially in ancient Romanov strongholds such as Kostroma on the upper Volga--that some Moscow Patriarchate parishes and monasteries are already selling icons which portray the imperial family as saints. (END) February 1997 PERSECUTION OF THE TRUE-ORTHODOX CHURCH TODAY: RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES USE REPRESSIVE METHODS OF SOVIET PAST. by Xenia Dennen, KNS Grave accusations have been made in a Ministry of the Interior document dated 23 October 1996 against certain foreign religious organisations functioning in Russia, and against a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church which in no way can be defined as foreign since it was formed in Russia during the Soviet period in response to a particular internal political situation.  This branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, called the True Orthodox Church, was formed in 1927 when METROPOLITAN SERGI made an agreement with the Soviet State which many Orthodox believed to be a compromise with the atheist authorities and which they as Christians could not accept.  The canonical authority of Metropolitan Sergi to act on behalf of the Church was also questioned since he was not recognised as the 'locum tenens' of the last canonically elected Patriarch, PATRIARCH TIKHON.   This Ministry of the Interior document (No. 7/17464), signed by the Minister A. KULIKOV, was sent to Duma Deputy VALERI BORSHCHOV (Deputy President of the Committee for Social and Religious Organisations) who had questioned the inclusion of a strange paragraph in a Federal programme for combatting organized crime in Russia in a letter to the Ministry of the Interior dated 23 September 1996.  The paragraph, to which Valeri Borshchov objected, named foreign sects in general terms, as elements which contributed to the general disorder of society and whose activities were undesirable. Certain sects were named, however, in a Duma decree dated 13 December 1996, but not the True Orthodox Church, whose name appears in a list of socially unacceptable sects only in the Ministry of the Interior document or spravka dated 23 October 1996. The Ministry of the Interior document, although compiled on the basis of material gathered not only by the Ministry of the Interior but also by the FSB (Federal Security Committee, formerly known as the KGB), the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Security and the General Procuracy of the Russian Federation, seems strangely lacking in well-founded factual evidence and generalisations are made about all sects on the basis of a few legal cases. The religious sects which concern the Russian authorities are said to be asocial, to reject constitutional obligations, to 'endanger the moral, psychological and physical health of citizens' and to have drawn children into their ranks and broken up families.  The following religious groups are using humanitarian aid, this document claims, to attract Russian citizens and particularly young people into their ranks and to 'penetrate' educational, military and scientific institutions: the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, the Church of Christ of the Latter Day Saints, the New Apostolic Church, and the True Orthodox Church. 'Using religion as a cover, the foreign representatives of the above-mentioned organisations are creating networks which enable them to gather socio-political, economic, military and other forms of information about the processes which define Russia's strategic position.' The implications of this paragraph are grave indeed--they amount to espionage. The first four of these religious groups are foreign-based, but the True Orthodox Church is an indigenous group with no foreign links, having broken off relations even with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad for what it considers to be uncanonical acts.  It has no 'foreign representatives', it does not 'have significant financial resources' nor does it 'by means of humanitarian aid to organisations and individuals, work actively to attract into its ranks Russian citizens and particularly young people'.  True Orthodox Christians were decimated under STALIN during the Purges, their bishops were martyred in the Solovetsky camp, they continued to be persecuted until the Communist Party changed its policy on religion in 1988, and they handed down their uncompromising faith to the next generation against the most formidable odds and without the help of 'humanitarian aid'. The period of persecution under the Communist system is beginning again. Keston Institute has received documentation from the True Orthodox Church describing recent acts of repression committed against some of their members by the Russian authorities.  According to a letter dated 19 December 1996 from True Orthodox BISHOP AMVROSI VON SIEVERS, a True Orthodox Christian from Siberia who acted as a linkman ('svyaznik') left the bishop's Moscow flat after two hours at 11p.m. on 13 December.  'Since then nothing has been seen or heard of him.'  At 11.15p.m. the bishop sent another member of his church to find a taxi for him.  At 11.45p.m. the bishop went downstairs, was accosted by two men who knocked him unconscious and stole the contents of his briefcase. In a letter dated 5 February 1997, Bishop von Sievers wrote to Keston Institute: 'Unfortunately the situation has become so much worse that only Keston can help us now as it did twenty years ago.' On 8 January he and a linkman from Siberia were arrested outside his Moscow flat at 1p.m. and bundled into a car: 'We were driven beyond the Ring Road into a forest (about 50 km.) where we were searched and, as I gathered from what they said, these KGB men were looking for documents and hunting for the other linkman who had already gone to St Petersburg.  They beat us up slightly and pushed us out of the car in the forest.  We took about 2 hours to get back to Moscow.' On 10 January a True Orthodox priest, FR ANATOLI BASKAKOV, was arrested on the pretext of checking his passport, taken off to the police section in the Kazan Station where 'men, who were clearly not militia but KGB officers dressed up in militia uniform, tried to question him'.  This happened at 10.45p.m. This document continues: 'On 31 January I received the news that BISHOP YEVRAGI (DRENTEL'N) and two monks had gone missing, i.e. they had left Tomsk on their way back to their monastery but had never arrived (they left Tomsk on 12 January).  On 3 February I received the news that evidently Bishop Yevragi had been killed in the Naum district of the Tomsk region on his way to a True Orthodox monastery in the taiga.  At the same time I received news that Bishop Evragi's brother, BISHOP GERONTI (who had been hiding in St Petersburg) had been killed with the linkman from Bishop Yevragi (the man who was not caught in Moscow) who accompanied him as they were leaving St Petersburg on 14 January.  On 4 February I received telephone threats that I would be dealt with.' This letter to Keston Institute ends with the paragraph:'The hunt for Bishops Yevragi and Geronti is understandable as they had serious material on the activity of the KGB and the Moscow Patriarchate.  It is also known that the day before A. Kulikov [now Interior Minister] was given the post of vice-premier, the private secretary of PATRIARCH ALEKSI II paid him a visit with a memorandum against religious minorities.  I was told that we were mentioned by name.' A document dated 6 March 1997 and signed by Bishop Amvrosi begins: 'Once again I appeal to Keston College as the only independent organisation which studies religious life in the Former Soviet Union and which always publishes material on religious persecution.  The present position of the Catacomb Church of True Orthodox Christians--the most persecuted of confessions in the history of the Bolshevik regime--has once again drastically deteriorated.  As I informed you previously three of our linkmen were killed during 1996, and in January 1997 three linkmen, two bishops, the three men who were accompanying them disappeared without trace.  According to facts received from Siberia on 28 February, it is now definitely known that Bishop Yevragi (Drentel'n) and those accompanying him, the monk RODION and novices NIKOLAI and ALEKSANDR, were killed as they approached the path through the taiga (leading to the monastery).  There were reports that some explosions and shots were heard. On 10 February the badly deformed parts of two unidentifiable bodies were discovered in a bog.  So far nothing more has been heard of Bishop Geronti and Fr Valentin, the linkman, who disappeared somewhere near St Petersburg.' Bishop Amvrosi states that he has been followed quite openly; he has received threats on the telephone; his room was searched on 26 February.  On 27 February as he was returning by train from St Petersburg he was summoned from his sleeper at 3 a.m. by two people and taken to the compartment of the carriage's superintendent where he was beaten up and told to end his 'anti-state activity'.   'The severe actions of the punitive organs, sanctioned evidently from above, are being carried out according to a well-defined programme.  I do not exclude the physical elimination of all our leaders and activists.  Once again I ask our English friends to make clear whether a restricted number of True Orthodox Christians could be granted asylum.' It is ironic, although understandable historically as no enemy is hated more than the one within the gates, that a Russian Orthodox group and not a New Age group or strange 20th century sect should be experiencing the most severe repression today in Russia.  The True Orthodox Church has always lived in the strictest secrecy, avoiding all contact with a state which it still considers godless.  Now it has been forced to go public and appeal to the West for help only because it finds itself 'in extremis'.(END) May 1997 Fr Mikhail (a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Free Church) said that several aspects of the Duma's proposal were even more authoritarian than pre-glasnost Soviet law. The old law, he said, assigned church buildings to the use of parishes rather than to centralised structures such as the Moscow Patriarchate. The new legislation would deny Orthodox parishes the right to own buildings and other real estate unless they are affiliated with a religious organisation which was legally registered in 1982. If in addition to this legislation the Duma accepts the Patriarchate's proposals for 'restitution' of church properties, Fr Mikhail told Keston, his jurisdiction will lose all the historic church buildings which it gained in cities such as Kazan and Suzdal when congregations there chose to affiliate with the Orthodox Free Church rather than with the Patriarchate. June 1997 Nevertheless, by the end of June Zorkaltsev's version had come to be one of the central arguments the bill's supporters.  It was echoed by Yeltsin aide ANDREI LOGINOV in a 25 June interview with Keston and by YEVGENI NIKIFOROV, editor of the ultra-nationalist newspaper Radonezh, at a 27 June press conference.  It has also been used repeatedly by VIKTOR KALININ, the former official of the old Soviet Council for Religious Affairs who now serves as PATRIARCH ALEKSI'S legal adviser.  An aide to a Duma member who opposes the bill called the pattern 'a classic campaign of disinformation'.