Monday, 14 July 1997

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MISSIONARY PRIEST BANNED BY MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE by Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service Events in the parish of the Dormition in Pechatnikakh (Moscow) are the stuff of which melodrama is made. Unfortunately the final scene of Sunday 29 June resulting in a ban the following Tuesday by a Moscow Patriarchate ukaz on the ministry of the priest-in-charge, FR GEORGI KOCHETKOV, moved the action into the realm of tragedy. Fr Georgi Kochetkov was ousted from his original parish - the Cathedral of the Vladimir Mother of  God (within the Sretensky Monastery)  - next to the parish of the Dormition three years ago (see Frontier May-June, 1994) by extreme conservative forces within the Russian Orthodox Church. Despite much criticism from fellow Moscow clergy during the past few years because of his use of a russified liturgical language in place of the usual Church Slavonic in his parish, and certain other liturgical changes (for example, he encouraged the congregation to participate in the liturgy by breaking down the division between sanctuary and people, and spoke aloud certain prayers which by tradition were said silently by the priest) the parishes led by Fr Georgi have flourished and the numbers attending services have increased. In Fr Georgi's view, it was people that mattered: the saving of souls and their nurturing in the Orthodox faith, rather than the restoration of buildings. With missionary zeal he founded a catechetical centre offering a one-year course of instruction at the end of the 1970s, in 1988 he opened a theological college and, a year earlier, the St Filaret School for the Advanced Study of  Orthodox Christianity. The latter functioned secretly until the change in government policy on religion in 1988.   Recently a young priest, FR MIKHAIL DUBINSKY, was appointed to Fr Georgi's parish (18 April). Almost at once he began to cause trouble. He would sit when the Gospel was read in Russian and stand when it was read in Church Slavonic; he would interrupt the sermon; then on 6 May he went as far as reconsecrating the bread and wine, an act which amounted to denying the validity of the celebrant's (i.e. Fr Georgi Kochetkov's) words and actions. Repeatedly  Fr Georgi asked Fr Mikhail to stop and when the latter persisted banned him from communicating and celebrating until he had asked forgiveness from the parish.  This Fr Mikhail refused to do. Parishioners believe Fr Mikhail was acting under instructions from reactionary forces within the Moscow Patriarchate and was appointed with the deliberate intention of disrupting the parish's life.  On 10 May, despite Fr Georgi's instructions, ARCHBISHOP ARSENI from the Moscow Patriarchate intervened and gave his blessing to Fr Mikhail's request to celebrate the liturgy.  The parish's blagochinnyi (dean), FR OLEG KLEMYSHEV, on instructions from Archbishop Arseni, ordered that Fr Georgi and Fr Mikhail celebrate on alternate days (one on Saturday and the other on Sunday). On 18 June Keston interviewed Fr Georgi's personal assistant, VIKTOR KOTT, who described Fr Mikhail's disruptive behaviour during the liturgy. Unfortunately, two weeks before Fr Mikhail was appointed Fr Georgi was away from Moscow and not obtainable on the telephone when he was summoned to the Moscow Patriarchate. In the end the appointment was made over Fr Georgi's head. In Viktor Kott's view Fr Mikhail was narrow-minded, 'undeveloped, cunning, spiritually and emotionally sick'; he had little education.  On 9 May, Victory Day (celebrating the end of the Second World War) - to Viktor Kott's amazement - Fr Mikhail had claimed that this was Russia's Easter Day.   On Sunday 29 June Fr Mikhail began to behave strangely: according to Fr Georgi and others present in the sanctuary, he began rushing about during mattins as though deranged.  (All that happened in the sanctuary was recorded on video.)  'He kept crying out, "Orthodox faithful, help me!"' said Fr Georgi. Without his permission a parishioner called an ambulance, and the militia were called by monks from the next-door Sretensky Monastery, thought Fr Georgi. A psychiatrist who accompanied the ambulance diagnosed Fr Mikhail as psychotic and recommended that he be hospitalised immediately. A parishioner with 30 years' experience as a psychiatric nurse agreed with the doctor's recommendation. The militia report mentioned nothing about violence being used against Fr Mikhail, although since these events Fr Georgi stated that another militia report which is 'tendentious, unjust and untrue' had been produced by the Moscow Patriarchate claiming that Fr Mikhail had been beaten up. Fortunately, said Fr Georgi, his parish had a true record on video tape.  When monks from the Sretensky Monastery appeared as if on cue and 'shouted in an aggressive manner' in response to Fr Mikhail's cries, said Fr Georgi, he thought the whole drama had been prearranged.  FR NIKANDER (one of the group from the monastery) forced his way through the royal doors in the church and tried to grab Fr Mikhail, according to Fr Georgi, and then threw himself in front of the ambulance. When Fr Georgi suggested they should pray, Fr Nikander replied 'There's no need to pray; you should be beaten up.' SASHA KOLYMAGINA, a senior catechist, said on Sunday 6 July  that noone knew  the whereabouts of  Fr Mikhail. A myth was being created by the mass media that Fr Mikhail had been badly treated, she stated: for example, a television programme, Russky Dom, claimed on Thursday (four days after Fr Mikhail was taken  into hospital) that he had been beaten up, pulled by the hair and hospitalised while quite healthy. He had not been roughly treated, she said, and although his vestments had been taken off him on Sunday 29 June, this had been done gently. Although discharged from one hospital, Fr Mikhail had been taken into another hospital within 24 hours, claimed Sasha Kolymagina. On Tuesday 1 July the Moscow Patriarchate issued an ukaz forbidding Fr Georgi from celebrating the liturgy and carrying out his priestly ministry in his parish. One of the parish's catechists stated, 'This is a catastophic and tragic situation.' (END)