Wednesday 4 November

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Orthodox clergy and laity in the Siberian diocese of Tomsk, 1,700
miles east of Moscow, have won a rare victory in a campaign to have
their bishop removed for what they said was moral turpitude. BISHOP
ARKADI (AFONIN) was transferred by an October decision of the Moscow
Patriarchate's Holy Synod to Nizhny Novgorod, 250 miles east of
Moscow, where he will serve as one of that diocese's two suffragan

VILGELM FAST, one of Tomsk's most prominent human-rights activists
and a leader in the campaign against Arkadi, told Keston News Service
in a telephone interview that in spite of that campaign's success `We
are now in a difficult position. Bishop Arkadi gathered a certain
group of people around him. He has driven out everyone he didn't like
or forced them to leave. Only those who agreed with him in everything
could remain. We would like peace to descend - this is the
instruction issued by the Patriarch to SERGI of Novosibirsk, who has
been appointed here temporarily. He knows our situation well - he was
hierarch here before Bishop Arkadi. Entrusting the problem to him is
very sensible and wise decision.'

Tomsk is an old university town with ancient cultural traditions and
a multi-ethnic population where different religious groups have for
the most part lived peacefully together. The Tomsk diocese was
created in 1995, and Arkadi became its head in 1997 after having
served as bishop of Magadan and then of Yuzhno-Sakhalin (both in
Russia's Far East). In Magadan he had placed special emphasis on the
struggle with Catholics. Within days of arriving in Tomsk, he
declared straight out that `everything had been neglected' in the
diocese's spiritual life and that he had come to `bring order'. He
went out of his way to cite his personal ties with VIKTOR
CHERNOMYRDIN, then Russia's Prime Minister, and with one of Russia's
most powerful industrialists - REM VYAKHIREV, Chernomyrdin's
successor as head of the energy giant Gazprom.

The bishop shocked many in the town by his actions within the first
two months, transferring and making new appointments. For example,
Father LEONID KHARAIM, the dean of the churches in Tomsk and pro-
rector of the city's theological seminary, was removed from office
and named as a simple parish priest on the outskirts of the town.
Father PYOTR VASILYEV, confessor for the clergy of the entire diocese
who had served for 17 years in the Church of the Trinity, was forced
to leave the diocese altogether. Also obliged to leave was DEACON
IOANN ANOP, whose wife TATYANA and son DMITRI were both leaders of
church choirs. LYUDMILA IMANOVA, the founder of the icon-painting
class at the Alekseyev monastery, left for the monastery complex of
Sergiyev Posad near Moscow; she said she had been subjected to crude
remarks by the bishop.

The new bishop also announced that admissions of students to the
local seminary would be cut back, and that all its students would be
required to take monastic orders. The growing tension among the
city's clergy finally culminated in an explosion, sparked by an
encounter between the bishop and a young deacon, ROMAN SHTAUDINGER.
The events were later described in a letter of protest to PATRIARCH
ALEKSI II: `In early December when Deacon Roman came to the bishop to
seek his blessing for a trip to a theological academy for the
beginning of term, the bishop received him severely, then changed
from being angry to kind and, in the presence of a hieromonk and two
seminarians, gave him an unusual caress. He began to embrace the
deacon, then demanded that he kiss him on the lips ("well, kiss your
bishop"). Afterwards he grabbed him firmly by the nose and, pressing
him to himself, stroked him, looked at him closely and kissed him on
the forehead.' It was said by the bishop's critics that this was not
the first instance of his interest in young men.

Deacon Roman happens to be the son-in-law of the veteran dissident
and human-rights activist Vilgelm Fast, who heads the Tomsk branch of
Memorial, the Solzhenitsyn Fund and the Commission to Rehabilitate
the Victims of Political Repression - and who also now serves as the
human-rights commissioner in the Tomsk oblast administration. Mr
Fast, a practising Orthodox believer, has two sons-in-law and one son
who are Orthodox priests. The conflict between the bishop and this
prominent Orthodox family turned into a public controversy. On
hearing from the deacon about what had happened, Mr Fast - who has
plenty of experience in defending individuals from people in
authority - telephoned the bishop and tried to get to the bottom of
the affair. The bishop, said Mr Fast, replied with abuse and insults;
as the latter wrote in his letter to Patriarch Aleksi, `It was the
first time in my life anyone had said to me "I don't talk to scum".'

Bishop Arkadi's next move was to attack Father ALEKSANDR KLASSEN, Mr
Fast's other son-in-law - accusing him of impertinence and removing
him from his post as head of the missionary department of Tomsk
diocese. (Father Aleksandr had served for five years as parish priest
at the church of Ss Peter and Paul. His church, the only one in Tomsk
where both adults and children were baptised free of charge provided
they took a catechism course, had attracted a large, young

The bishop accused the whole family of slandering him, and demanded
that Deacon Roman write an explanatory letter and `repent'. When the
deacon refused he was banned from serving as a clergyman.

The family decided to appeal to the Church leadership. Mr Fast
visited Moscow with an appeal to the Patriarch and the members of the
Holy Synod: `I respectfully ask you to explain to me: does there
exist in our Church control over such a ruling hierarch or must his
actions remain entirely outside anyone's control?' The appeal added:
`Although Arkadi is the bishop, I suggest that even a bishop is not
permitted to insult and humiliate a person's dignity.' But the
according to Mr Fast the officials of the Moscow Patriarchate refused
to receive him, on the grounds that he had come without the blessing
of his diocesan bishop - and refused even to record that they had
received his appeal. The only immediate result of his trip was that
his relative Father Aleksandr was deprived of all his duties and
forbidden to serve.

The family then tried to settle the conflict by taking it to a church
court. Bishop Arkadi responded by telling the parishioners of the
church where Father Aleksandr had served that there simply would not
be any church court, nor would the Holy Synod consider Father
Aleksandr's appeal.

The priest, deacon and laity based their case on canon laws of the
Orthodox Church which give clergy and laymen the right to address a
complaint about their bishop to a higher church body if the bishop
offends piety and truth (rule 6 of the Second Ecumenical Council and
rule 9 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council). The bishop, on the other
hand, based his own case on Number 55 and Number 39 of the
Apostolic Rules, `Any clergyman who annoys the bishop will be
expelled', and `Presbyters and deacons may do nothing without the
will of the bishop. If they dare to do such things, let them be
expelled from their orders.'

Finally the family turned to the news media to gain the attention of
the Patriarch and the Holy Synod. Father Aleksandr spoke out on a
local television programme and in a newspaper. The bishop responded
with a ruling that `for the huge harm inflicted on Orthodoxy by
dragging the press and television into the completely internal
affairs of the Church', Father Aleksandr would be suspended without

Two hundred parishioners then signed an open letter to the patriarch,
which was published in the newspaper 'Tomsky Vestnik' on 9 January:
`Your Holiness, we have no right to condemn an Orthodox bishop, but
it seems to us that by his actions in Tomsk he is inflicting
irreparable harm on the spiritual life of the town, public morality
and the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church.'

Some of the parishioners supported the bishop and sent their own open
letter (published in the same issue of 'Tomsky Vestnik') in which
they also raised the question of the good of Orthodoxy: `In
attempting to insult the bishop, Father Aleksandr and the other
members of his family are inflicting damage on the authority of the
Orthodox Church, provoking a destructive conflict within its bosom.'

Keston tried to find out from the Moscow Patriarchate why it was the
bishop's opponents who finally prevailed. Father VSEVELOD CHAPLIN, a
spokesman for the Patriarchate, replied that Bishop Arkadi had been
transferred for his 'inability in governing the diocese', and
declined to comment further.

Another source, who asked not to be identified, told Keston that
Bishop Arkadi had been assigned as a suffragan bishop to Bishop
Nikolai of Nizhny Novgorod (who already has a suffragan bishop)
because Bishop Nikolai himself had originally insisted that Arkadi be
raised to the episcopate. (END)

Wednesday 4 November

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The long-running dispute between the parish owing allegiance to the
Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) and supporters of the Kyrgyz
branch of the Moscow Patriarchate came to a head on 23 October over
ownership of the Church of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God
in the village of Chaldovar in Panfilovsk district of Chui region
east of the capital Bishkek. The church was forcibly removed from the
local parish priest FATHER VLADIMIR KLIPPENSHTEIN and handed to
representatives of the local branch of the Moscow Patriarchate under
the gaze and with the full support of the State Commission for
Religious Affairs.

On 23 October the State Commission summoned a meeting of all local
residents in an attempt to determine residents' faith and which
jurisdiction they belonged to. Four priests of the Kyrgyz branch of
the Moscow Patriarchate, accompanied by NATALYA SHADROVAYA (the
deputy chairperson of the State Commission) and the local
authorities, then broke down the door of the church and immediately
began to draw up an inventory of the church's contents. The local
police (militia), led by Captain A. MANABEKOV, reportedly stood by
and watched. Father Vladimir reported that in the search for the
church's funds, all documents in the accounts office were inspected
and carried away. All those employed at the church were summarily
dismissed and then it was announced that the church belonged to the
Moscow Patriarchate.

Father Vladimir has declared that he will take his case to the
Arbitration court. His lawyer is OLGA DIMENKO.

The State Commission has long backed the Moscow Patriarchate in the
dispute. In a telephone interview with Keston News Service on 2
November, Commission chairman EMILBEK KAPTAGAYEV confirmed the
account of the events of 23 October Keston had received. He declared
that this was a dispute not about freedom of conscience but about
property. He claimed that the ROCA had no right to the building, as
the church had originally been built by the Russian Orthodox Church
125 years ago before being confiscated during the communist period.
`I can firmly guarantee that there has been no violation of freedom
of conscience,' Kaptagayev declared, `firmly guarantee it. Everything
has been done within the bounds of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and other international human rights agreements. Indeed, it is
Father Vladimir Klippenshtein who has been violating the freedom of
conscience of the majority of the population.'

He reported that the church had been handed back to the local
Orthodox community in 1991 and that Father Vladimir had been
appointed as parish priest at the end of 1992. He said that Father
Vladimir had been deprived of his office by the Moscow Patriarchate
in 1993 for `violations' and had then declared his adherence to the
ROCA. Kaptagayev admitted that the ROCA community had gained
registration with the Chui regional branch of the Ministry of Justice
on 9 February 1993 in accordance with Kyrgyzstan's law on Freedom of
Conscience and Religious Organisations of 16 December 1991. He claims
that no-one had noticed then that the ROCA was claiming a building to
which it was not entitled.

Kaptagayev reports that the 1991 legislation was supplemented by a
presidential decree of November 1996 that tightened up the law and
brought it into line with the new version of the Civil Code. Not only
was registration required from the Ministry of Justice to acquire the
status of a legal entity, religious organisations also now required
official registration (`uchetnaya registratsiya') from the State
Commission. He claims that despite repeated requests, Father Vladimir
failed to submit any application for such registration until
September 1998. Kaptagayev told Keston that this was the only
religious community that had failed to apply for such registration.
`The Baptists, the Adventists, the Pentecostals, all communities are
100 per cent for this mechanism,' Kaptagayev declared.

The State Commission issued a ban on further activity by the ROCA
community on 29 September, although Father Vladimir received the
decision only on 13 October. The ban was to last until the community
had undergone the `uchetnaya registratsiya'.

Kaptagayev insisted that the forcible transfer of the Church of the
Protecting Veil had taken place at the request of the local people.
He claimed that at a mass meeting held last year the people had
decided in favour of the Moscow Patriarchate. `It is up to them. If
they vote for the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, let it be theirs.
If they vote for the Moscow Patriarchate, let it be theirs.'
Kaptagayev claimed that Father Vladimir had the support of `only
three or four people' and complained that the priest was giving out
`subjective information' that he had more widespread support. He made
disparaging remarks about Father Vladimir's transfer from the
jurisdiction of `Archbishop Mark of Germany to that of Siberia and
then of Washington' but, whe pressed by Keston that his affiliation
was not a matter for the state, agreed that the priest and the
community should decide this without state involvement.

`Father Vladimir Klippenshtein can build his own little church at
home and gain registration,' declared Kaptagayev. `The State
Commission for Religious Affairs has asked him if he will apply for
registration. There is no problem. There are twenty or thirty
communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in Kyrgyzstan that
have registration and function.'

Archbishop MARK (ARNDT) of the ROCA told Keston from Munich on 30
October that he had originally accepted Father Vladimir into his
jurisdiction, but had transferred him to the jurisdiction of Bishop
YEVTIKHI of Ishim and Siberia in 1996. `I did not see a reason
keeping one single parish at such distance while there were bishops
closer to him geographically.' However, he retained some contact with
him and `now and again tried to help him with the local fight the
Moscow Patriarchate was waging against him'. Other sources add that
the Moscow Patriarchate's Archbishop VLADIMIR of Bishkek and Central
Asia deprived Father Vladimir of his religious rank only after he had
transferred jurisdiction to the ROCA.

Although it seems that the root of the dispute is ownership of the
Church of the Protecting Veil, there is disturbing evidence of state
meddling in the way the case has been handled that may have violated
the rights of the population. ZULFIA MARAT of the Bureau on Human
Rights and Rule of Law in Bishkek declared on 22 October: `A great
factor in the imposition of a ban on the activity of the community
[on 29 September] was its adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church
Abroad.' She regretted the reluctance of the Moscow Patriarchate to
have a court examine the question of who should own the church.

Marat complains that it was the State Commission's insistence that
the community be registered as a mission of a foreign religious
organisation that made Father Vladimir reluctant to undergo
`uchetnaya registratsiya'. By contrast, the local branch of the
Moscow Patriarchate was registered as a `traditional' faith. She adds
that when Father Vladimir did eventually submit the application, he
was told that it `did not satisfy the established requirements'.

`The local authorities of Panfilovsk district had tried several times
to take the church away using force with the help of aggressively-
minded people,' Marat claims. She says they had spread rumours about
the invalidity of marriages and baptisms conducted in the church and
had been able to stir people up against the ROCA. However, she says
successive meetings of local people to resolve the jurisdictional
argument were inconclusive.

She reports that on 17 October, Father Vladimir was invited to the
local procuracy offices where he presented all the church's
registration documents. On 22 October he was invited by the head of
the Chaldovar police where, in the presence of the head of the local
administration ALMAZ JAPARALIYEV and his deputy VLADIMIR
ZAKHARCHENKO, three policemen tried to take away from the priest the
church's registration documents and the official stamp. They were
unsuccessful. Marat believes that the local authorities knew that
Father Vladimir was intending to take the dispute to court and thus
tried to preempt this by seizing the originals of all the documents.

Marat points out that the 29 September ban on the ROCA community was
the first time the Kyrgyz State Commission for Religious Affairs had
banned any community. The cancellation of the original certificate of
registration of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of
Kyrgyzstan in December 1996 had been carried out by the Ministry of

The Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law questions many aspects of
the case. It points out that the annulment of registration can be
carried out only by the same body that had granted the original
registration. It also questions whether the action of the State
Commission in banning a body already registered was legal and whether
a community with registration from the Ministry of Justice but not
from the State Commission should not be legally allowed to function
if none of its actions are in violation of the 1991 legislation.

More widely, many aspects of the case appear to contradict elements
of the 1991 law. Article 5 declares: `The state does not interfere in
the activities of religious organisations in so far as they do not
conflict with legislation' and `prohibits establishment of any
advantages for, or restrictions of, one religion or denomination in
relation to others'. The backing given by the State Commission, the
law enforcement agencies and the local administration to the branch
of the Moscow Patriarchate, in the absence of a court decision in its
favour, appears to violate this provision.

Wednesday 28 October

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Bishop PETRO HUSHCHA, the leader of the Belarusian Autocephalous
(Orthodox) Church, was freed from prison on 14 October after the
Supreme Court of Belarus reduced his term to a two year conditional
sentence. The reduction in sentence followed an appeal prepared by

Deacon VYACHESLAV HORPYNCHUK, a member of the Ukrainian Lutheran
Church who reported the news, spoke with Bishop Hushcha by telephone
after his release. Horpynchuk reports that Hushcha `thanks all his
supporters for the big help they provided in different ways, writing
to the government institutions, helping with the lawyers and
especially with prayers'.

However, Horpynchuk points out that the original charges still stand,
despite the reduction in sentence. `It means that he is freed from
prison but he can go there any time he violates the law, which is
easy in Belarus.'

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.

He was sentenced at a closed trial 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
21 August.

Hushcha, who is 43, is the leader of the Belarusian Autocephalous
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.

DAVID JAY WEBBER, an American Lutheran pastor who is working as
of the St. Sophia Lutheran Theological Seminary in the Ukrainian town
of Ternopil, has expressed his continuing concern about the bishop
and his Church. `Hushcha's legal standing in Belarus is still
somewhat precarious,' Webber wrote on 17 October, `since neither his
church body nor his clerical credentials are recognised by the
government.' (END)