18 August 1998



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.


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


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


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



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


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)