I. MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE STEPS UP ITS ATTACK ON WELL-KNOWN ORTHODOX

PRIEST II. BELARUSIAN BISHOP SENTENCED TO THREE YEARS FOR `MALICIOUS HOOLIGANISM' 18 August 1998 MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE STEPS UP ITS ATTACK ON WELL-KNOWN ORTHODOX PRIEST Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service FR MARTIRI BAGIN, well-known parish priest of All Saints 'na Kulishkakh' Orthodox church near Red Square in central Moscow, has been under fire from the leadership of the Moscow diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate since January 1997. Keston has already reported on this situation, interviewing FR ROBIN WARD and MR ANTHONY BISHOP, friends of All Saints parish from the Anglican parish of St John the Baptist in Sevenoaks, southern England. (See: MOSCOW PRIEST THREATENED WITH REMOVAL, Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service, 5 August). On a recent visit to the church of All Saints 'na Kulishkakh' a Keston representative met Fr Martiri, church elders and parishioners. According to Fr Martiri, it was suggested at a meeting with ARCHBISHOP ARSENI on 30 June that he should not pray with the sick in central Moscow as government institutions were situated nearby. The archbishop warned that he would be moved further away if he wanted to continue 'playing with the sick'. He also reproached Fr Martiri for letting his church lapse into a state of disrepair, although a renovation programme was begun in the early 1990s and completed in 1995. Finally, the archbishop showed Fr Martiri a file which the archbishop said contained compromising documents, including accusations that Fr Martiri prayed for people only having a photograph of them, which, according to church elder GALINA PETROVA, was a rumour circulated by representatives of the Patriarchate. The church leadership also appears to be displeased by active links maintained by the parish with Catholics and Anglicans. However, Fr Martiri says that he has never concelebrated with his guests but that Catholics and Anglicans have only visited in order to become acquainted with the life of the parish and with the activities of the charity 'Filokaliya' and the medical centre attached to All Saints church. Following this discussion with Fr Martiri ARCHBISHOP SERGI, chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate, set a further meeting for 22 July, but Fr Martiri became seriously ill. During a bout of extremely high blood pressure an ambulance was called and the Patriarchate's chancellery informed that Fr Martiri was confined to bed. Archbishop Arseni nevertheless summoned Fr Martiri on 20 July, but the latter was naturally unable to attend. On 3 August an inspection of the church took place without warning, the instructions for which bore the signature of Archbishop Arseni. Three priests from other Moscow churches - ARCHIMANDRITE DIONISI (SHISHIGIN), FR ALEKSANDR ABRAMOV (Archbishop Arsenii's assistant) and FR DMITRI MEDVEDEV - arrived at All Saints church. Church elder Galina Petrova told Keston that the priests - in their cassocks - rifled through desks and papers, even checking the waste paper basket. SVETLANA SHUBINA, who sells candles in the church, registered her indignation at these actions in writing to Fr Aleksandr Abramov, who demanded that she confess to giving all her takings to Fr Martiri. Everyone present agreed that the priests behaved quite roughly and rudely. They found it strange to see ordained individuals conducting a full-scale search. It reminded members of the parish council of Stalinist methods of reprisal against those out of favour. What the inspectors from the patriarchate were looking for remained a mystery. The patriarchal commission also demanded a written declaration that Inkombank, situated next door to the church, had never assisted it financially, which was untrue. This appeared to be an attempt to damage relations between the church and the bank. The history of relations between All Saints and the large bank began in 1996, when the bank offered to construct a house for the clergy on adjacent land, as the bank manager knew that Fr Martiri lived in cramped conditions. Fr Martiri received a flat in 1997. On 8 July 1998 Archbishop Arseni wrote to Fr Martiri regarding the patriarch's decision regarding his letter explaining this situation. It ordered Fr Martiri to transfer the flat to the property of the parish. The representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate thus appeared to be particularly displeased by the independent relations the parish had with a large Moscow bank. In the original text of Archbishop Arseni's letter seen by Keston, the patriarch's decision has opening quotation marks but no closing ones. Fr Martiri was last summoned to the patriarchate on 12 August, but he wrote to the patriarch requesting a postponement of the meeting due to illness. On 18 August, the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration, Fr Martiri went to the evening service for the first time since his serious illness. Apart from himself, however, those present in church included FR VLADIMIR VORONIN, who has continually denounced Fr Martiri and behaved roughly with the altar servers, and FR GENNADI NEFEDOV, dean of the churches in the Pokrovsky district of Moscow city. Fr Martiri and his parishioners now expected some kind of incident. At this point the Keston representative was alongside Fr Martiri in the sanctuary and observed proceedings. Fr Martiri had gone into the sanctuary to prepare for the evening service, but Fr Gennadi Nefedov told him that 'the patriarch requests you not to start serving' since he had failed to appear at the patriarchate in response to his summons, and until he met either Archbishop Sergi or himself Fr Martiri would not be allowed to serve. Fr Martiri and assistant elder LEV ROZHKOV responded that the patriarchate had known for a long time about Fr Martiri's illness, and that as the patriarch was not in Moscow he was unable to give such an order, to which Fr Gennadi replied that he had been asked to convey the message by the chancellery of the patriarchate. Fr Vladimir Voronin, who was also in the sanctuary, smiled, evidently glad that Fr Martiri could not serve. Following the dean's announcement Fr Martiri left the altar and went to the building next to the church, where the sick were waiting for him to pray over them. Fr Martiri prayed and gave encouragement to his parishioners there. After the service Fr Gennadi Nefedov did not go to the parishioners to explain the situation. The parishioners, deeply upset, surrounded Fr Gennadi's gleaming foreign car and asked him why their spiritual leader had not been allowed to serve on such an important feast day. At first Fr Gennadi said they should ask Fr Martiri, that it was to do with his relations with the patriarch and that he was guilty of something, but later he was forced to admit that it had been the decision of the ruling hierarch (i.e. the patriarch). The frightened Fr Gennadi was unable to give any reasons why he had been prevented from serving. The final question to him was 'why do they say that our church is poor when you have such an expensive car?' This embarrassing question was the final straw for Fr Gennadi, by now surrounded by a crowd of Fr Martiri's parishioners, and he left quickly. The Keston representative was also in the crowd and witnessed the whole proceedings. The impression created among those present was that Fr Gennadi had wanted to carry out his shameful mission regarding Fr Martiri in secret. For a long time Fr Vladimir Voronin did not leave the church, but once he did he was also surrounded by a crowd of outraged parishioners. They expressed their indignation and then left him in peace. On the morning of 19 August, the feast of the Transfiguration, the elders again tried to elicit from Fr Gennadi the reasons for the removal of Fr Martiri, but the dean deliberately ignored them and went into the sanctuary without saying a word. At the moment Fr Martiri is preparing for the patriarchate's verdict on his future fate from Archbishop Arseni: most people believe it was he who suspended Fr Martiri, as the patriarch is on a pilgrimage to Valaam. If Fr Martiri does not obey the 'request' to stop serving, he may be accused of disobedience, and this could be given as a reason for dismissal. However, he would have a perfect right to refuse to obey, as only a written decree from the patriarch can forbid a priest from serving. Fr Martiri told Keston that it was clear that the patriarch was aware that unlawful actions were going on, but had entrusted his milieu with carrying them out. It is possible that the Moscow Patriarchate is trying to create a similar situation of conflict to that regarding FR GEORGI KOCHETKOV. As a result Fr Martiri may be moved to a distant parish in accordance with Archbishop Arseni's wishes, or simply dismissed. It would appear that the situation regarding one of the best-known Moscow priests, a healer of the people, will be resolved in the near future. (END). Wednesday 9 September BELARUSIAN BISHOP SENTENCED TO THREE YEARS FOR `MALICIOUS HOOLIGANISM' by Felix Corley, Keston News Service A Minsk district court has sentenced Bishop PETRO HUSHCHA, the leader of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, to three years' imprisonment in a strict regime labour camp on charges of 'malicious hooliganism, committed with particular impudence and cynicism' under Article 201 part 2 of the Belarusian Criminal Code. Hushcha's trial took place on 18 and 19 August at the court in the Sovetsky district of the Belarusian capital Minsk, although the verdict was not announced until 21 August. The presiding judge was GENNADI DASHUK. The trial was closed to the public. Hushcha was arrested on 6 March for allegedly exposing himself in front of two girls, aged eight and 10. He was originally charged with gross and lewd behaviour towards minors under Article 118 of the Criminal Code, but prosecutors later changed that to a charge under the harsher Article 201 part 2. From 22 April to 20 May he was examined in Novinki psychiatric hospital, but was determined to be of sound mind and prosecutors proceeded with the case against him. In his closing statement at the trial, HUSHCHA maintained that he was innocent and that the case had been fabricated to discourage others from challenging the religious domination of the Russian Orthodox Church. He insisted that the witnesses, who included the two young girls who allegedly witnessed the 'lewd conduct' and the police officers who arrested him, were giving false and distorted testimony. A representative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, HARRI POHONYAILO, told the Belapan agency that he believed the sentence was based on insufficient evidence. Hushcha's lawyer, MIKHAIL VOLCHEK, declared that he would be appealing against the sentence to Minsk City Court. In response to an appeal about Hushcha's case issued by the New York-based International League for Human Rights, the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group [AMG] stationed in Belarus stated that it had been following the Hushcha case since late March 1998. In a letter of 31 August, the OSCE outlined its concerns over the case. `The AMG is concerned with the nature of the charges against the Bishop and in particular that the charges were stiffened part way during the pre-trial period. The OSCE AMG will continue to monitor the situation of the Bishop and the case as it proceeds.' Hushcha had maintained contact with and gained the support of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church. DAVID JAY WEBBER, a Lutheran pastor from the United States serving as rector of the ULC's St Sophia seminary in Ternopil, has been following the case. `Two representatives of the ULC were in Minsk for the trial, although they were not permitted to witness the proceedings firsthand since the trial was closed to the public,' Rev. Webber reported on 27 August. Petro Hushcha, who is 43, is the leader of the Belarusian National Church, a 4,000-strong body that broke away from the Belarusian Exarchate of the Orthodox Church and which maintains links with Lutherans of the Augsburg Confession. It has so far failed to gain official registration with the Ministry of Justice. Hushcha's arrest came the day after he organised a registration application for his church in the village of Siomkav Haradok near Minsk. `Some of the details regarding the circumstances of Hushcha's arrest were not completely clear to us in the past, but we now know more precisely what actually happened,' Rev. Webber reported. `Hushcha was in the city to protest the government's refusal to register his church.  Public restrooms are very scarce in Minsk, and when Hushcha needed to urinate he did so outside, in what he perceived to be a secluded place.  Apparently he was being watched by two plainclothes security agents, and soon after the bishop relieved himself they began to chase him.  He ran from them, since they had not identified themselves as law enforcement officers, but when they caught him and told him who they were he stopped resisting and went into custody willingly.' DAVID GOLDMAN, Executive Director of the Minsk-based Belarusian Interconfessional Association, told Keston News Service before the trial that the charges of public indecency were `ludicrous'. He believed that the case had been fabricated at the instigation of the Orthodox Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate and the government, both of which disliked independent religious activity in Belarus. Hushcha was an advocate of the Belarusian language and used it during his services. He had also participated in campaigns initiated by the opposition to the Belarusian regime of President ALYAKSANDR LUKASHENKA. Hushcha was among those who led the column of marchers during the Path of Chernobyl  97 demonstration. In his religious work he had developed contact with neighbouring Ukraine. `Bishop Hushcha attended the sobor [council] of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church in Kyiv, Ukraine, in October 1997,' Webber reports. `No formal relationship has been established between the ULC and Hushcha, but the ULC has continued to maintain contact with him and to encourage him and his followers in their religious work.  The ULC, in cooperation with the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, is also assisting them in the translation and publication of religious literature.'(END)