Tuesday 25 May

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

�The Holy Bible is still a rare book in Russia,� director-general of
Moscow�s Library for Foreign Literature YEKATERINA GENEVA told those
present at the recent launch of a project to supply 46,000 Russian
Bibles to provincial and prison libraries. Although there are over
150,000 local libraries in Russia, she explained, only a fraction of
them have even a single copy of the Bible.

Sponsors of the �Return the Book� project include the Library of
Foreign Literature and the Russian Bible Society - but not the Moscow
Patriarchate, although the version to be distributed is the
translation officially adopted by the Russian Orthodox Church.
However, Geneva said that the Moscow Patriarchate had provided the
project with addresses of provincial Orthodox parishes where there
were still no copies of the Bible.

FR GEORGI CHISTYAKOV, member of the editorial board of Russian emigre
newspaper Russkaya Mysl�, confirmed that there was a great demand for
Russian Bibles in the provinces, and added that distribution of
Bibles in minority languages of the Russian Federation was also
required. FR ALEKSANDR BORISOV commented that although such
translations existed in languages such as Mari, Mordovian and Yakut,
these had been prepared by the Stockholm Bible Translation Institute
and had yet to be paid for.

PAVEL MEN, son of murdered progressive Orthodox priest FR ALEKSANDR
MEN, told Keston that two of his father�s books - �The History of
Religion� and �The Son of Man� - would be included in the free
distribution. With reference to the burning of theological books by
ordered by BISHOP NIKON of Yekaterinburg in May 1998, Yekaterina
Geneva warned: �We cannot guarantee that the books we are going to
send will not be torn or even burnt at some destinations.�

ALEKSANDR ZAKHAROV, president of the Moscow Interprovincial Currency
tock Exchange, the principal sponsor of the project, explained why
Russian businessmen were prepared to support such �loss-making�
projects at a time when the country was beset with economic troubles.
The brightest of them understood, he said, that no successful
economic development was possible without honest and conscientious
people: �You can�t build anything worthy and beautiful on a rubbish

Tuesday 25 May

by Aleksandr Shchipkov, Keston News Service

Despite Moscow Patriarchate plans to increase its present 74 dioceses in line with the 89 subjects of the Russian Federation and governor of Lipetsk OLEG KOROLYOV's insistence on its division, METROPOLITAN MEFODI (NEMTSOV) is determined to retain his Voronezh diocese in its current form, which encompasses both Voronezh and Lipetsk oblasts. What is more, he appears to be cultivating his image of a 'hard man' to this end.

Metropolitan Mefodi won renown throughout the Church following a scandalous 1992 report in the Russian emigre newspaper Russkaya Mysl' in which ARCHBISHOP KHRIZOSTOM (MARTISHKIN) of Vilnius (Lithuania) branded him 'a KGB officer'. Although no documentary evidence supporting the accusation has been made public, Metropolitan Mefodi has not been keen to refute it as it does not so much harm as strengthen his reputation as a powerful bishop and defender of Orthodoxy. It is these characteristics which are being emphasised as the metropolitan seeks to hold his 300-year-old diocese together after 17 years as its head: following a recent visit there by its correspondent, Moscow newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets commented: 'Russia is in its most severe crisis yet, and it would be good if a spiritual leader like King David were to appear here... but we do not have such leaders these days, with the possible exception of Metropolitan Mefodi.'

Unfortunately, it appears to be no longer possible to obtain access to archival material which might shed light on the metropolitan's past. In 1997 the Voronezh diocese asked the local authorities to hand over for preservation all the archives of the plenipotentiary for religious affairs (Archive 967), which include records of the Voronezh Council for Religious Affairs from 1943-91. At the time local historians voiced concern at the possible removal from academic circulation of the documents in Archive 967, but the diocese insisted on its request. The portion of the archive concerning the personal affairs of its clergy was consequently transferred to the diocese.

Whatever the contents of the archive, the upper echelons of the antireligious Soviet establishment certainly appear to have granted Metropolitan Mefodi surprising protection when he came in for criticism from his local plenipotentiary for religious affairs, A.I. BYKOVSKY, in 1984. Bykovsky gave a negative description of the metropolitan in his usual report to Moscow, presenting him as a person with low moral standards. He told a Keston representative that as a result of this report GENRIKH MIKHAILOV, a Council for Religious Affairs official, arrived in Voronezh and met the head of the local propaganda and agitation department, IVAN SHABANOV. He was then 'steered back along Party lines regarding religious affairs' before being forced into retirement.

Today Shabanov is governor of Voronezh, where the metropolitan continues to enjoy privileged status. The governor suggested that he be nominated to the state commission for restoration of churches and monasteries of the Black Earth Region. The Orthodox Church receives considerable support here: the Voronezh Factory of Building and Aluminium Construction directed by ANATOLI NAUMOV assists in the production of prefabricated churches for the diocese, while in November 1998 the foundations of a grandiose Cathedral of the Annunciation in Voronezh city were consecrated at a ceremony attended by PATRIARCH ALEKSI II. The metropolitan's reputation for entrepreneurship is now so high that he is thought to be a serious contender for the patriarchal seat, despite the fact that he is not among the permanent members of the Holy Synod.

All these designs on power could be undermined, however, if the governor of Lipetsk succeeds in legitimising the 'sovereignty' of his oblast by establishing its own diocese. This would sap the metropolitan's diocese of much of its income: whereas Voronezh oblast is poor, the booming Novolipetsk Metallurgical Industrial Complex (NMIC) not only provides large budget revenues to the Lipetsk oblast but is also one of the largest sponsors of the Voronezh diocese.

Several members of the board of directors of NMIC and their wives are the spiritual children of Metropolitan Mefodi's rival, ARCHIMANDRITE PETR KUCHER, who became priest at St Tikhon and the Transfiguration Convent, Zadonsk (Lipetsk) in 1994. He quickly won both popularity and authority, not only among ordinary people but also among industrialists and businessmen. It was director of NMIC IVAN FRANTSINYUK who first came up with the idea of an independent diocese, setting forth his suggestions in a letter to Patriarch Aleksi II. Soon afterwards a scandal broke out in the archimandrite's convent which Lipetsk locals believe was deliberately provoked.

Metropolitan Mefodi sent the head of the convent, abbess DOROFEYA YERMAKHOVA, to assist the elderly archimandrite, and he accused her of witchcraft. In order to expose Yermakhova in her dealings with demons, the nuns tried to force open her cell with an axe one night, and she leapt from the window and fled. The following day more than 50 priests and laity arrived from Voronezh, an inquiry was held and Archimandrite Petr and his supporters were driven out of the convent.

Demands from the believers of Lipetsk for separation from Voronezh only increased following this incident, however. On 24 May 1998 local newspaper Lipetskaya Gazeta published a letter from parishioners to Governor Korolyov demanding that he appeal to the patriarch for the foundation of a Lipetsk diocese led by Archimandrite Petr. This provoked many more letters of support to the newspaper's editor. Lipetsk believers are currently gathering a petition for the creation of their own diocese.

Metropolitan Mefodi's tough image is further enhanced by the fact that he has held back from ecumenical contact in recent years. However, in the past he has given his blessing to clergy to take part in Bible classes organised by Methodists as well as sent his priests to greet the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which Russian Catholics are taking on a tour of the country; he has not obstructed the work of followers of liberal Moscow priest FR GEORGI KOCHETKOV. A priest who did not wish to give his name told Keston that Metropolitan Mefodi feared accusations of liberalism because Renovationist forces were historically strong in Voronezh: in the 1920s almost all parishes in the diocese accepted Renovationism. (END)