RUSSIA: Moscow Pentecostals Evicted from Theatre.

by Aleksandr Schipkov, Keston News Service, 12 April 2001

The ‘Tsaritsyno’ Moscow Regional Children’s Theatre has been forbidden to lease its auditorium to the Moscow Church of God of Christians of Evangelical Faith, Keston News Service has learned. The cancellation of the lease follows a television broadcast in which the church – which has official registration - was described as ‘a sect bringing an alien culture’. The Moscow Church of God, established by Sergei Ryakhovsky, a former underground pastor, is one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in Russia.

The small building which houses the church and its office in Tsaritsyno, one of Moscow’s new suburbs, cannot accommodate the more than 600 members of the congregation and since 1999 the church has leased the auditorium of the ‘Tsaritsyno’ children’s theatre which is only 200 metres away. Next to it military tents have been erected for use in work with drug addicts. The Moscow Church of God rehabilitation centre is well known in the city and in Moscow region, often receiving invitations from institutions which work with young people. At the end of March a rehabilitation group was working with drug addicts in the town of Serpukhov in Moscow region, and after the team had left, the local television programme ‘Reflection’ broadcast an item describing the church as ‘a sect bringing an alien culture’. On 28 March the theatre director Vladimir Maksimovich was summoned to the Culture Committee of Moscow Regional Administration, where he was given a letter signed by committee chairman Sergei Guzhayev telling him to cancel the lease. Maksimovich reported this verbally to Sergei Ryakhovsky.

On 1 April the Moscow Church of God held its service outdoors. Pastor Sergei Ryakhovsky told Keston: ‘Our congregations are experiencing oppression not only in Moscow but also in Perm, Nizhni Tagil and Lipetsk. We have altogether 1200 parishes in Russia.’

Ryakhovsky said that the theatre director told him a strange thing: ‘A report from the FSB [Federal Security Service, the ex-KGB] is on the governor’s desk.’ Ryakhovsky could not say what kind of a report, or what influence it might have had on the decision of the committee of culture to evict the Christians from the theatre. He said that he had already made an appointment at the regional administration of the FSB to seek clarification.

On 4 April Aleksandr Pogonchenkov, the deputy chairman of the committee on culture, told Keston that the FSB had nothing to do with the cancellation of the lease. He said that the lease had been concluded in violation of the established purposes of the theatre, which could in such cases act only with the permission of the committee on culture.

Theatre director Vladimir Maksimovich met a Keston correspondent on 4 April, but declined to answers most of the questions he was asked. He said only that he thought the conflict was taking on a political character which might well lead to the loss of his job.

Sergei Ryakhovsky fears that these are the first signs of a change in state policy: ‘We want to know when Putin is going to make a policy statement on religious organisations. We simply don’t understand what is going on: on the one hand we receive state awards while on the other we are under attack.’ In January 2001 Sergei Ryakhovsky was awarded a medal by the President ‘for services to the Fatherland’.(END)