I. MOSCOW AUTHORITIES CONFISCATE CHURCH FROM OLD
BELIEVERS
II. DAGESTAN'S CHRISTIANS VIEWED WITH SUSPICION

Tuesday 13 September
MOSCOW AUTHORITIES CONFISCATE CHURCH FROM OLD
BELIEVERS

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

A building owned by and used for worship services by a priestless branch of
the Old Believers (the so-called bezpopovtsy) has been leased to a secular
institution by a Moscow governmental department. Decree No. 1735 dated 1
June 1999 and signed by O. TOLKACHEV, head of the Moscow Department
of State and Municipal Property, names a secular body called the Catherine the
Great National Institute as the occupier of the monastic hall and Chapel of the
Veil of the Holy Mother of God, part of the complex of the Old Believer
Monastery of the Transfiguration, a spiritual centre of Old Believers in Russia.

'This is the first time in the new Russia that a monastery building has been
confiscated from Orthodox Christians for use by a dubious secular
organisation,' the Council of Church Parishes of Transfiguration Monastery
wrote in an appeal to mayor of Moscow YURI LUZHKOV on 28 June, 'We are
shocked that such a thing can happen in complete disregard of the fact that our
religious organisation is the legal occupier of the property, especially as we
possess a document confirming our free use of the building signed in 1994 by
the same Mr Tolkachev.'

The Moscow authorities had transferred the whole Transfiguration Monastery,
which includes the building, to the Old Believers' Council by decree No. 722
dated 27 July 1993 after a personal appeal to Mayor Luzhkov by none other
than PATRIARCH ALEKSI II.

A spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church
Relations, contacted by Keston on 26 July, said that he did not know of any
official pronouncement by Patriarch Aleksi on the current controversy over the
building. An official statement detailing the proceedings of a meeting of the
Patriarchate's Holy Synod from 18 to 19 July contained the following: 'The
disputes over property, buildings and plots of land arising between local church
authorities and Old Believers should be settled, according to the Synodal
decision, in the spirit of harmony and mutual respect and in compliance with
law. It was agreed to set up at the DECR a coordinating commission for the
Russian Orthodox Church and the Old Believers.'

MIKHAIL SHAKHOV, director of the Old Believer Research Centre, told
Keston: 'The building was transferred to the Old Believers in 1993, but there
was still a long legal fight to expel the then occupier, a secular organisation
called Informsvyaz. When Informsvyaz finally left, the building was in a near-
ruinous state. Then this institute [The Catherine the Great National Institute]
appeared and asked whether we would be interested in renting the building to
them for three years. According to the contract the institute was obliged to
renovate the building and pay rent on top. The renovation work was very
shoddy - it barely touched the surface. Once the rector of this institute - a Mr
DVURECHENSKY - became a deputy in the Moscow City Duma, they
basically stopped renovating altogether, and they stopped paying rent. We
finally requested that they vacate the building, but they presented us with this
decree from Tolkachev.'

In their letter to Mayor Luzhkov, members of the Council write: 'Faced with
the complete absence of any desire to fulfil the contract on the Institute's part,
the Council made use of a clause within the contract and unilaterally annulled
its agreement from 1 November 1998 onwards and demanded that the Institute
vacate the building. This demand was completely ignored, and when our
representatives attempted to continue discussions and find a compromise, they
were given hints that Deputy Dvurechensky was very powerful and cooperated
closely with Mr Tolkachev, and that they were taking away our building
altogether. We could well imagine that that kind of thing would happen in
today's Moscow!' On 12 July State Duma Deputy VALERI BORSHCHOV
sent a separate letter to Mayor Luzhkov asking him to rescind Decree No.
1735.

A representative of the Catherine the Great National Institute told Keston that it
was an institution for the advanced training of military personnel which
formerly belonged to the state, but now charged fees of 7700 roubles
(approximately 200 pounds sterling or 320 USA dollars) per semester. Its
rector is VIKTOR SEREGIN, former chief-of-staff of the Frunze Military
Academy, one of the largest military academies in Russia. The representative
confirmed that the Institute's activities were officially conducted on the
premises of an Old Believer monastery.

ALEKSEI RYABTSEV, assistant to METROPOLITAN ALIMPI of the
Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church--a separate jurisdiction not affiliated
with the 'priestless' Old Believers--supported the latter's view of the
controversy, and said that his own church has suffered similar problems in
Moscow. He told Keston in a 9 June interview: 'What has happened to the
Transfiguration Monastery is a flagrant violation of the law. Metropolitan
Alimpi has added his voice to those calling for the defence of the monastery
and has sent a letter to Mayor Luzhkov which also enumerates other similar
cases. Two of our Moscow buildings have been privatised - one on Maly
Gavrikovy Lane [east of Moscow city centre] now houses a sports hall and
sauna, and the authorities keep asking for more documentation proving that it
used to belong to us. The second building is on Khavskaya Street near
Danilovsky Market [south of the city centre]. It was in fantastic condition, and
we could have moved into it without carrying out any repairs. It was privatised
at lightning speed - no one was even able to tell us who had submitted the
documents to the Department of State and Municipal Property. At first there
was a grill-bar there, now it houses a Spanish restaurant. We have had some
buildings returned - on Tverskaya Street and Ostozhenka [main roads in central
Moscow], as well as the whole Rogozhsky church complex. Usually the federal
authorities return buildings, while the Moscow city authorities do not.'

A receptionist at the Department of State and Municipal Property told Keston:
'In order to obtain a comment, you must address Mr Tolkachev in writing, and
if he so desires, he might give you an explanation.'

A draft law on restitution has not been passed in Russia, and so all property
which has been 'returned' to the churches in fact still belongs to the Russian
Federation. (END)


Tuesday 13 September
DAGESTAN'S CHRISTIANS VIEWED WITH SUSPICION

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

Many native inhabitants of Dagestan view Orthodoxy - and Christianity in
general - as a primarily Russian religion, and are sometimes hostile towards it,
FR NIKOLAI STENECHKIN, dean of Makhachkala district and secretary of
the Moscow Patriarchate's recently-formed Baku diocese, told Keston News
Service. However, Dagestan's Christian community includes Protestants as
well as Orthodox, and representatives of evangelical churches have told Keston
that they are also a focus for hostility as they seek to convert ethnic Muslims.

Surrounded by over 3,000 mosques, Dagestan's 10 Orthodox parishes are rather
weak, said Fr Nikolai. Many of the faithful worship in makeshift 'prayer
houses' as their churches are in ruins. Relations between Orthodoxy and Islam
in the republic, in particular with the Mufti of Dagestan, AKHMAT-KHADSHI
ABDULLAYEV, are mutually respectful, said the Orthodox dean, and there
are few attempts at conversion. Fr Nikolai told Keston that in Dagestan there is
not the same negative attitude towards Orthodox clergy as in neighbouring
Chechnya (for example, no priest has been kidnapped, as regularly occurs in
the Chechen Republic). Nevertheless, Fr Nikolai considers it advisable for a
priest to avoid walking the streets of Makhachkala wearing a crucifix and
cassock as he might attract catcalls and have things thrown at him. According
to Fr Nikolai many priests who are appointed to serve in the Baku diocese -
where all the clergy are ethnic Russians - in practice simply refuse to go there,
as they know how difficult life is in a Muslim environment.

The main Orthodox parish in Makhachkala is gradually shrinking. Between
two and three thousand people used to attend the Cathedral of the Assumption
in Makhachkala during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but today the parish
comprises only about 300 people. Russians are gradually leaving, as they no
longer wish to tolerate the stress of living near Chechnya and the activities of
terrorist groups that kidnap people. However, sometimes ordinary Dagestanis
come to the church to attend services, light candles, and pray if they have been
unable to find the answers to their problems in their mosques. Even unbaptised
Dagestanis come to confession simply to discuss spiritual topics, said Fr
Nikolai. For a long time, Catholics of Polish ancestry used to come to the
Cathedral of the Assumption because there were no other Christian churches in
Makhachkala.

There are instances in Dagestan of Orthodox Russians converting to Islam, but
in Fr Nikolai's view, for the most part this is not a conscious choice but
adaptation to circumstances. The Spiritual Directorate of Dagestani Muslims
even has a special department for new converts. Russian neophyte-Muslims
also have a committee consisting of approximately 120 members. 'We too
could start a department for new converts from Islam to Christianity, but we
don't want to advertise that,' said Fr Nikolai. In Makhachkala, he explained,
there have been cases in which Dagestanis have converted to Orthodoxy in
secret for fear of revenge from their Muslim relatives.

Fr Nikolai maintains that one of the problems in Dagestan is that of the so-
called 'sects': Jehovah's Witnesses, charismatics and Baptists seek to attract not
only Russians, but also many from the native population. Relatives of such
converts sometimes visit the Orthodox Church to complain that their relations
have been lured into the 'Russian faith' and turned away from Islam: 'In practice
it turns out that they have gone over to the charismatic church, which actively
prosyletises,' said Fr Nikolai. He is afraid that the tense atmosphere and
unpleasant relations which have been developing around the Protestants could
expand to include the Orthodox, as many Muslims do not differentiate between
them.

Keston sought the comments of ARTUR SULEIMANOV, pastor of Hosanna
Charismatic Church, which is the largest of the Protestant churches in
Makhachkala and a member of the Pentecostal Union led by VLADIMIR
MURZA. The pastor told Keston how every Sunday Muslims used to break up
the congregation's service, running onto the stage and seizing the microphones
from the servers. Now, he said, enemies of the charismatics from Muslim
educational institutions sometimes come at the end of prayer meetings to
conduct counter-evangelisation. 'They now act in a more civilised way,'
Suleimanov acknowledged, 'and we try not to inflame the situation.'

Suleimanov told Keston how he used to pray for the salvation of the people of
Dagestan (he himself is an Avar) when he belonged to a Baptist community.
Hosanna Church now has about 500 parishioners, of whom 80 per cent are
Dagestani, the majority being Laks. According to Suleimanov, many neophytes
are driven from their homes and threatened, 'but in church we tell the newly
converted that they must love their relatives even more.' When he meets such
relatives Pastor Suleimanov says that they begin to get upset and issue threats,
but he maintains a peace-loving stance, which can lead to the discovery of a
common language between the neophyte and his relatives, who not
infrequently themselves become members of the church. Islamic extremists
who arrive at the church specifically to create a scene are not the norm, he told
Keston.

Hosanna Church distributes the Bible in the national language of Dagestan,
translated by the Swedish Institute of Bible Translation. Suleimanov is
convinced that the gospel is assimilated much more readily in one's native
tongue: 'We have to prove to the people of Dagestan that Christianity is a
religion that is very near to them, and not just a "Russian faith".' At services in
home groups the sermon is given in the national language and members of the
church write songs in Avar, Lak and other languages.

Hosanna Church even has Christian missions to several Dagestani villages,
primarily in southern Dagestan, where the situation is more stable than in the
north. There too there are both individual Christians and whole congregations
practising openly or in secret. Many Christians hide their faith, since relations
with local inhabitants can be quite negative. For example, said Suleimanov, in
one Avar village a member of the Hosanna Church was killed at the beginning
of 1999. In the southern Dagestani capital of Derbent, a community of the
Hosanna Church was formed from the Vineyard Church. Norwegian
missionary RICK FYOSN, who came from the Vineyard Church in
Krasnoyarsk, has been actively preaching there for two years. He has attracted
a great number of Lezgins to Christianity and in effect created the Derbent
church, which currently has over 50 parishioners.

In view of the problems faced by Hosanna Church, Pastor Suleimanov was
summoned by the Dagestani government's Committee for Religious Affairs. He
said that he was told that if any serious problems concerning the neophytes in
his church occurred, there would be no point in his turning to the Committee
for Religious Affairs, as the authorities would be unable to do anything to
defend his church.

The situation surrounding the evangelical Good News Church is an example of
the complete defencelessness of the church before terrorists. In 1995
HERBERT GREGG, an American missionary from World Team missionary
organisation, began to teach English and preach in the University of Dagestan.
He then set up a church, became its pastor and assisted children in local
orphanages by playing basketball with them and teaching them English. On 11
November 1998, when he was walking along a central Makhachkala street with
one of the orphans, terrorists drove up to him and carried him off to an
unknown destination. The child who was walking with him managed to run
away. Following his release in early July 1999, World Team decided that they
could no longer work in the area where he was kidnapped. The Good News
Church now has no pastor, though so far it continues to exist.

TATYANA OMAROVA, specialist on Christianity for the Dagestani
government's Committee on Religious Affairs, told Keston that the majority of
parents of converts to charismatic Christianity are not practising Muslims, and
so conflicts usually do not arise. In general, she said, concerned parents of
converts visit the church to make sure that nothing depraved is going on there,
and then they themselves gradually begin to attend. She could recall only one
serious conflict between parents and children, in an Orthodox family of Greek
descent. In the city of Makhachkala, practising Muslims tolerate indigenous
converts to the charismatic faith, said Omarova, but in rural areas there were
more serious problems, as nearly all the inhabitants of an entire village might
be related to each other: 'It's much more difficult for believers to survive there',
she said.

Following an August visit to Dagestan, MIKHAIL ROSHCHIN, a scholar
specialising in the religious situation in the republic, told Keston that attitudes
towards Christianity had not changed fundamentally since the recent outbreak
of hostilities there: Christians had never encountered hostility from the
dominant, traditional strain of Islam in Dagestan, he said, and neither were they
now. According to Roshchin, traditional Muslims explain this by stating that
everything written in the Gospel is also set forth in the Quran, and that
although the resurrection of Jesus Christ is absent from the Quran, the gifts
given to him by Allah are recognised as being much greater than those given to
the prophet Mohammed. In addition, Muslims believe that all those who
profess monotheism - i.e. Jews, Christians and Muslims - are brothers.

Roshchin commented that according to the Quran, Muslims should defend
Christians and Jews on their territory, but that the Wahhabites evidently did not
always keep to this as they rob, kidnap and murder people. By kidnapping an
Orthodox priest, for example, a Wahhabite is violating the norms of the Quran,
but the grounds for his action are probably financial rather than ideological.
According to Roshchin, it is difficult to speak of direct relations between
Wahhabites and Christians, as there is nowhere where Wahhabites are in the
majority and also have direct relations with
Christians. (END)

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All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999