Tuesday 27 July

by Xenia Dennen, Roman Lunkin and Aleksandr Shchipkov, Keston News Service

The Orthodox Archbishop of Pskov has not only failed to help educational and other charitable programmes launched by one of his parish priests but has actively interfered with them, the priest told Keston News Service. 'FR PAVEL ADELHEIM, a former prisoner of conscience, said that his ARCHBISHOP YEVSEVI went out of his way to persuade the Pskov oblast administration not to transfer TO FR PAVEL a building which was to house an Orthodox school'.

According to Fr Pavel, he had succeeded in persuading the secular authorities to make the building available for a school for Orthodox choir directors; the school also provides a general curriculum. But the archbishop, he said, then intervened and persuaded the oblast governor to transfer the building to the diocese instead. As a result, according to Fr Pavel, the school is now housed in several small extensions of the Church of the Myrrh-Bearing Women in Pskov city, one of the two parishes which Fr Pavel serves. He told Keston that the archbishop does not even recognisethat the school exists, even though it has been registered by the Moscow Patriarchate.

Keston sought to interview Archbishop Yevsevi on this and other subjects, but he refused.

In addition to the school, Fr Pavel runs a shelter for mentally handicapped children at his other parish, St Matthew's in the village of Piskovichi. He also conducts regular visits to a local prison. He told Keston that the archbishop declines to support these programmes as well.

Fr Pavel built a new Orthodox church in Bukhara three decades ago, in effect defying the anti-religious policies of the Soviet regime. He was arrested in 1969 and imprisoned until 1973. While he was in labour camp the authorities tried to kill him because he had witnessed crimes committed against other prisoners, he told Keston: an accident was staged during which he lost a leg. After his release he served for a number of years in Latvia.

In 1988, after the dramatic change in official policy towards the churches, Fr Pavel decided to devote his life to serving the deprived and outcasts of society. He worked with the patients of the Pskov oblast's psychiatric hospital, and helped build a church on the site, while also setting up the home for mentally retarded children. Rather than supporting these charitable programmes Archbishop Yevsevi tried to remove Fr Pavel from the diocese in 1993, the priest said, but failed thanks only to the intervention of PATRIARCH ALEKSI.

Sharply disagreeing with Fr Pavel's views was FR VLADIMIR POPOV, another well-known priest of the Pskov diocese. Fr Vladimir told Keston that the Russian Orthodox Church does not have and should not have extensive social programmes. Such programmes create expectations of dependency and discourage people from relying on their own efforts, he said: 'The Soviet state corrupted everyone, so that many now think that everyone ought to help them. The church cannot take the place of the state and bear this load'.

Fr Pavel, on the other hand, pointed out to Keston that before 1917 the Orthodox Church had many social programmes in Russia, such as widespread parochial schools. In his opinion, one reason why the Church today has not truly come to grips with such questions is that its bishops are not elected and are able to exercise sweeping powers over their priests. With executive, legislative and judicial powers all in the bishop's hands, he said, 'a priest has no rights, he is not protected by canon law'.

Fr GEORGI BYKOV, dean of Pskov district, denied to Keston that the diocese discriminates among its parishes; he insisted that it has no 'prestigious' parishes with large incomes. (END)

Friday 23 July

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

`If we had known in advance that everything would be forbidden for us, we would never have applied to the authorities for permission to hold public events,' the Presbyterian pastors YU EN KHEN and KIM SEN BO told Keston News Service in early July in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the Russian Far Eastern island of Sakhalin. The two pastors are convinced that the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience allows religious events to be conducted only in one's own circle and that holding events open to all is not allowed. The Presbyterians prefer to submit to the Law on Freedom of Conscience as state officials understand it and abide by the law, functioning solely within the bounds of their church.

Pastor Kim told Keston that his church had joined the Pentecostal Union, headed by PYOTR YARMOLYUK, despite the substantive differences that exist between Presbyterians and Pentecostals: Presbyterians do not insist on full immersion during baptism, baptise children from the age of one if their parents are believers and, most importantly, reject the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues in church.

Presbyterians are of course closer to Baptists, Pastor Kim stresses. His church had first turned to the senior presbyter of the Baptist Union in Primorsky region, GENNADI ABRAMOV, but the Baptists had, according to the pastor, immediately demanded that they live according to Baptist laws and the statute. The Presbyterians had therefore turned to Yarmolyuk, the Pentecostal bishop of Sakhalin, who had immediately declared that their church could live independently in accordance with its own laws. As for other groups, Pastor Kim named the Adventists and, especially, the Blagodat (Grace) Church as heretical and even dangerous. The Grace Church, the pastor maintains, is recognised as heretical in Korea, as they preach speaking in tongues and lead people into temptation. It was only the threat of encountering problems with the Law on Freedom of Conscience which forced the Presbyterians to join the same union as the Grace Church, whose central organisation is also a member of the Pentecostal Union led by VLADIMIR MURZA in Moscow. It was only fear of the law and the possibility of languishing without registration that forced them to join the same Union as a church against which they feel open hostility.

Bishop Yarmolyuk told Keston that a total of 48 churches belong to his Union, of which one is Methodist, two are Full Gospel churches attached to the Full Gospel Church in South Korea (led by PAUL YONGGI CHO), 20 are churches of the Grace movement, five are Presbyterian and 20 are Pentecostal in the strict sense. He declares that as a Pentecostal bishop he finds it easy to cooperate with all the Korean churches, and accepts both the Full Gospel Church founded by missionaries from Yonggi Cho's church in Seoul, and the Grace Church. He reports that Korean missionaries arriving in Sakhalin immediately begin constructing some sort of building for use as a church, then leave their representatives. It is on this basis that they then start attracting people to their community. He reckons that up to 80 per cent of the people the Koreans attract are fellow Koreans (who form a large sector of the Sakhalin population), though he does not believe this is connected with any differences of opinion between Koreans and Russians, as they all live happily together on Sakhalin. The pastors of the Grace movement do not rely on Koreans, and therefore 60 per cent of their pastors are Russians. The Grace churches bring together Russians and Koreans without making any distinction. There are no exclusively Korean churches on Sakhalin, Yarmolyuk reports. Everywhere there are at least some Russians. Young Koreans mostly speak Korean, and in each church there are at least five or six people who do not speak Russian. The only churches that are practically entirely Korean are the communities of the Korean United Methodist Church.

Pastor Kim reports that no problems arose during the establishment of churches on Sakhalin, despite the opposition of the Orthodox Church. It was not until 1998 that they were in effect refused permission to hold a seminar in Sakhalin for the Presbyterian missionaries of Russia. Under pressure from the local Orthodox bishop, IONAFAN (TSVETKOV) of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and the Kuriles, the authorities recommended that the seminar not be held in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The Presbyterians decided not to insist, in order not to encounter problems with registration of their churches in the future. Bishop Ionafan himself confirmed to Keston that the Koreans had wished to hold the meeting of Presbyterian missionaries and professed himself indignant at the idea, all the more as `the Russian Orthodox Church is the main obstacle to their activity and their main enemy'.

Pastor Kim recounted that the authorities had banned the creation of an association that would unite all the Presbyterian churches of Sakhalin. He believes that this too was the result of pressure from Bishop ARKADI (AFONIN), Ionafan's predecessor. The Presbyterians were simply unable to find three churches which had existed for the 15-year period demanded in the 1997 Russian Law on Freedom of Conscience. After the creation of a Presbyterian Union in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was banned, an informal missionary council began to meet. All Presbyterian pastors, most of them Koreans, are members of it. They discuss issues of concern to the Sakhalin churches and join in common prayer. Pastor Kim said it was impossible to know what sort of laws and situation would exist in Russia and therefore it was impossible to know whether a Presbyterian Union would be established in future or not, even when one of the churches achieved fifteen years of existence.

Orthodox Bishop Ionafan complained to Keston that `sects' from South Korea were putting large sums of money into churches in Sakhalin. In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk alone Korean missionaries had put up three buildings to which they were attracting very many `Russian Koreans' as well as Russians. `At the same time our parishes have to function in unsuitable premises,' the bishop lamented, often remodelled former shops or other similar buildings. The Presbyterians on the other hand enjoy more comfort in church. The Koreans could hear their native language, although the majority of them did not understand Korean and the preachers generally did not know Russian and preached with the aid of an interpreter. Young people in these churches were starting to study Korean. Speaking in relation to Korean Protestants, Bishop Ionafan declared that it was wrong if missionaries organised a community according to the laws of the market and gave out humanitarian aid to attract believers.

Earlier, from the beginning of the 1990s, missionaries from South Korea and the United States came to the island under the guise of tourists or on business visas. The bishop claims there was an especially large influx after 1990, while from 1993-5 there was an energetic process of establishing religious organisations. They became quieter after 1995 and their numbers dwindled. The fashion for `sects' had passed, the bishop believes. He reported that the public council attached to the administration of Sakhalin region now examines applications to invite missionaries to Sakhalin. Everything has now been placed under control, the bishop declared.

Since the Orthodox Church is trying to obstruct the activity of the Presbyterians, they in their turn have a highly negative view of the role of Orthodoxy in today's Russia. In a number of Sakhalin's towns Orthodox priests have dissuaded people from going to Presbyterian churches and have physically tried to prevent people from entering their churches, Pastor Yu reports. Pastor Kim is certain that it is Orthodoxy, as the basic religion, that is responsible for what is going on in the country. `If Orthodoxy accompanies Russia for the whole of its future, the country is doomed,' he declares. He believes the state was obliged to recognise the Orthodox Church, but not to make it the ruling power. `Even if the state follows Orthodoxy, that does not mean we must follow it. That is the real problem facing Russia today,' Pastor Kim asserts.

NATALIYA ORESHKOVA, the specialist for links with religious organisations, told Keston only that the governor of Sakhalin region, IGOR FURKHUTDINOV, primarily supports the Orthodox Church. A public council for religious affairs has been created under the regional administration which consists of officials. Of the representatives of religious organisations, only the Orthodox bishop has been invited there, Oreshkova said in conclusion. The bishop's interview with Keston's representative confirmed the Sakhalin regional authorities' favourable attitude towards the Orthodox. On the other hand, the mayor of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is, according to the bishop, inclined not to see the full danger for Sakhalin of Korean `sects' when a mass of Korean missionaries comes to the island, and gives them complete freedom of action. He often hands the `sects' places to construct churches in the town. However, the mayor has not ignored all the requests of the Orthodox diocese. The position of the regional administration is, the bishop believes, to place legal boundaries for all missionaries to prevent the arrival of `harmful sects', among which he includes the Korean Protestants. (END)