RUSSIA: Local Authorities Restrict Gospel Dramatisation.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 21 January 2002

The city administration in Novomoskovsk, Tula region (approximately 190 kilometres or 120 miles south of Moscow) has prohibited the screening of a Gospel dramatisation in municipal buildings, Pastor Roman Uglev of Last Days Presbyterian Church informed Keston News Service on 15 January.

Approximately two months ago a coalition of five of Novomoskovsk's Protestant churches - Pentecostal, Full Gospel, Seventh Day Adventist, Charismatic and Baptist - obtained permission from the city administration to show the film early this month, Uglev told Keston. The churches then set about drawing up contractual agreements to screen the Jesus Film - a dramatisation of Luke's Gospel - at ten locations in the city.

Once the coalition had successfully made contracts with five premises - a cinema, two cultural centres, a society for the blind and a science institute - Novomoskovsk's mayor announced that screenings were prohibited in premises belonging to the city, according to Uglev, and the outstanding institutions "suddenly refused to make a contract with us."

Uglev, however, attributes this change of heart by proprietors to a local Orthodox priest, who, once the screenings began to be advertised, "started to deal with the city administration and the heads of the institutions we had agreements with." Proprietors who nevertheless allowed the screenings to continue, said Uglev, later told the churches that the priest had tried "to convince them to cancel our meetings."

The Jesus Film was first shown on 15 January in those institutions with which the church coalition had already completed contracts, Uglev told Keston that day. Approximately 500 people attended, he said.

Giving what he stressed was his personal opinion to Keston on 15 January, the episcopal secretary of Tula Orthodox diocese, Fr Sergi Ryazukhin, said that the Church usually protested against the Jesus Film, "because we believe that a sinful person filled with passions cannot act the role of Christ - it is an impertinence." The film, he said, thus contradicted Orthodox dogma, which understood the portrayal of Christ only in the iconographical tradition.

Fr Sergi claimed not to know about any direct appeal against the film made by Orthodox clergy to Novomoskovsk administration. However, he did maintain that the majority of the city's population was Orthodox - and that church opinion was "taken note of" there.

Also contacted by Keston on 15 January, Yelena Semichastnova, consultant to the Committee for Work with Territories and Social Organisations attached to Novomoskovsk municipal administration, stated merely that the Jesus Film was "being advertised and shown." Although she confirmed that her department was responsible for dealing with the situation, Semichastnova claimed not to know either whether the Protestant churches had been able to show the film at all the locations they had planned or if there had been any complaints against the screenings.

Novomoskovsk Protestant churches are not alone in claiming to have screenings of the Jesus Film restricted. According to a message received by Keston from Pastor Aleksandr Vazhenin of Kirov Christian Centre, permission to screen the film was recently refused at two locations in Kirov city (approximately 880 kilometres or 550 miles from Moscow). A 15 January report by Volgainform news service states that on 12 January Kirov cinemas received a telephone call "from above" recommending them not to show the film - "the advertisements were even removed." Whereas representative of Kirov's New Life Mission, Aleksei Oleinik, believes the decision to be at the request of the local Orthodox diocese, continues the report, the region's Department of Culture claims to have received numerous complaints from individual Orthodox believers protesting that the film contradicts church canons.

Contacted by Keston News Service on 15 January, a worker at Aviatek House of Culture in Kirov said that a Protestant church was still renting its premises and holding film screenings: "No one has complained - so far," she remarked. (END)