Tuesday 12 October
FORMER RUSSIAN ORTHODOX DEACON IMPRISONED
by Aleksandr Shchipkov, Keston News Service
On 18 August 1999 the Lebyazhye district court of the Kirov oblast, presided over by judge YELENA MIKHEYEVA, sentenced former deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) YEVGENI MOROZOV to three years' imprisonment for the misappropriation of funds (Article 159 of the Criminal Code). Morozov was accused of extorting money from believers to fund the restoration of the Church of the Holy Mother of Kazan in the village of Melyanda (Lebyazhye district, Kirov oblast). Morozov, arrested on 15 March, was given the most severe penalty possible: detention in a Special Investigation Prison (SIZO). He considers himself a 'prisoner of conscience' and has written appeals to the President of Russia, the President of the United States of America, the United Nations and various human rights organisations. KNS talked to the criminal justice authorities of Kirov oblast and was granted a meeting with Morozov in prison.
A successful businessman, Morozov lived with his wife IRINA and four children in Moscow. He went to the Orthodox church led by Father GEORGI KOCHETKOV, whose parish had been in a long-standing conflict with the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate. He decided to give up his business activities and to devote himself to serving the Church. In 1994 he was ordained deacon in the Moscow diocese headed by Metropolitan YUVENALI. He began his ministry in Stupino in the Moscow region. According to Morozov, he had a conflict of opinion with the parish priest, who insisted that the families of priests should live apart in Moscow rather than in the parish. In 1995 Morozov was banned from officiating at services. He then travelled with his family around various dioceses hoping to obtain a place as deacon, but everywhere met with refusal. His wife believes that these refusals were the result of the influence of the diocesan administration of the Moscow Patriarchate. The family was by now experiencing severe financial difficulties.
On 20 November 1997 Morozov was defrocked by Metropolitan Yuvenali 'for concealing facts which would have prevented ordination as deacon in the Russian Orthodox Church'. He had concealed the fact that he was married to a divorcee who had a child from her first marriage, and this would indeed have prevented ordination according to church regulation. He justifies his actions firstly by his wish not to discuss the private life of his wife, who became a Christian after her divorce, and secondly by the fact that there are precedents for priests in second marriages being ordained in the Orthodox Church.
Morozov appealed to Patriarch ALEKSI, asking him to intervene, but he did not receive an answer.
In 1998 the Morozovs left Moscow and made their permanent home in a remote village Melyanda. There they began a project to restore the ruined church of the Holy Mother of Kazan. They bought a house in Melyanda and established a religious community. Morozov wore a cassock and conducted services 'as a layman' and did not conceal the fact from his parishioners that he was a former deacon who was trying to have his holy orders restored. He was apparently very popular with his parishioners, who helped his large family with gifts of food and small amounts of money.
In a few months the Morozovs had organised an evangelistic youth group and a Sunday school and had begun an active campaign for the return of the church buildings which housed workshops belonging to a local collective farm.
An official in the Kirov department for culture, V. MIRONOV, supported Morozov's initiative, as the church is an historical monument. In August 1998 he wrote to him advising him to 'attract the support of parishioners, farms and enterprises in the region for the preservation of the church and for minimal restoration works to avert further damage to the building'.
On 21 July 1998, on the feast day of the Holy Mother of Kazan, Morozov himself placed a wooden cross paid for by the parishioners on the cupola of the church. This event brought the actions of Morozov to the attention of the local archbishop KHRYSANF. He sent a letter to the local authorities stating that Morozov had been defrocked and that he was working without his blessing. Morozov suggests that Archbishop Khrysanf suspected him of establishing a parish which would not submit to the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate. Morozov states that this was not the case at all, that his intention was to register the parish and minister under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
>From this point a conflict emerged between Morozov, the management of the collective farm and the administrative authorities of Lebyazhye district. The local authorities blocked Morozov's attempts to reclaim the church buildings from the collective farm. Morozov sent numerous complaints. A. BALYBERDIN, a specialist on relations with religious organisations in the Kirov region showed KNS letters written by Morozov to the regional governor in which he accused the Lebyazhye local authorities of being 'enemies of Orthodoxy'.
Morozov had no financial support and was forced to borrow small sums of money (from 100-400 roubles or 4-16 US $) from the parishioners to continue his work. He used this money to buy candles and small cheap icons, which he distributed to believers.
When news of this activity reached the Procurator of Lebyazhye, SERGEI PAVLOVSKY, he started criminal proceedings against Morozov for the misappropriation of funds, totalling some 1000 roubles ($40), and Morozov was arrested. The parishioners immediately sent a letter to the procuracy stating that they trusted 'Father Yevgeni' and had willingly given him money.
Irina Morozova is convinced that Procurator Pavlovsky is 'acting on the orders of the Moscow Patriarchate'. In a meeting with KNS, Pavlovsky rejected this accusation, emphasising that 'Morozov is being punished for the misappropriation of funds, not for his beliefs'. Pavlovsky says that he is an Orthodox Christian, is familiar with canonical questions and has collected Orthodox icons since his youth. He believes Morozov abandoned his religious faith along time ago and that he is engaged in missionary activity purely for dishonest financial gain. On 3 July 1999, shortly before the trial took place, Pavlovsky published an article in the local paper 'Znamya Oktyabrya' entitled 'Saint or Sinner?', calling Morozov a 'false prophet' and a wolf in sheep's clothing. Irina Morozova believes that this article by the procurator was a direct attempt to influence the outcome of the trial.
In prison Morozov was put in a cell with young criminals. He has organised readings of the scriptures and preaches to them. In an interview with KNS, Morozov stated that he has a deep inner conviction that he must serve as a priest and sees the obstacles which he has been encountering as a spiritual test.
Morozov has submitted a formal complaint to the authorities and hopes that a retrial will vindicate him, since the parishioners of the Kazan church do not consider themselves to have suffered and are indignant that their statements saying that they had voluntarily given money to the parish and to ex-deacon Morozov personally were not used as evidence in the trial.
Priest MIKHAIL N. of the Vyatka diocese suggested in a conversation with KNS that the persecution of Morozov had been provoked by an article, 'Do not rest', which Morozov had had published in the newspaper 'Znamya Oktyabrya' in the summer of 1998. In this article Morozov derided priests who wanted to 'line their own pockets and had no zeal for the revival of the Church, nor for the restoration of Orthodox churches, nor for bringing the Light of Truth to the people'.
Keston News Service comments that it is important to bear in mind that Morozov is in fact an ex-deacon, that his ordination was irregular at the outset, and that he was acting in clear violation of the canons of the Orthodox Church: indeed any priest who attempted to do what he was doing, whether he be Anglican, Roman Catholic or Orthodox, would have been subjected to the sanctions of his church. It is, however, a matter of serious concern that the Russian Orthodox Church should consider it necessary to use the secular authorities in order to enforce its own internal rules. In the case of ex-deacon Morozov, it would appear that the state authorities have been overzealous in their application of the law. (END)
Tuesday 12 October
MONGOLIAN BIBLE SOCIETY FINALLY REGISTERED
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
The Mongolian Bible Society has finally achieved the renewal of its
registration with the Mongolian authorities. It received its
registration papers in August, according to the September issue of
Mongolia Prayer Letter. `This has been an ongoing battle since spring
1997,' the letter noted. `This is a very real answer to prayer and it
is quite amazing how it happened.' Although the Society had permanent
registration from 1991, a new law on the registration of
non-governmental organisations adopted in early 1997 required the
Society to seek re-registration. The Society applied for this
re-registration in July 1997 ahead of the January 1998 deadline. The
authorities should have completed formalities within one month, but
queried whether the Society was an NGO, a religious organisation or a
The Bible Society, which no longer has any link with the United Bible
Societies, is based in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar. At present
it has no premises of its own, but is sharing with an 'aid'
organisation. `This is most undesirable,' the Prayer Letter notes, `as
it reflects badly on the 'aid' organisation, which is not registered
for Christian ministry, and which, of itself, is genuinely not engaged
in anything other than direct aid work. The 'aid' organisation is open
to accusations of carrying out Christian ministry.' The Bible Society
would like to be able to buy an apartment of its own and is seeking
the 30,000 US dollars needed for this.
Founded in 1990, as religious restrictions were being eased in
Mongolia, the Bible Society immediately began working to translate,
publish and distribute the Bible. The organisation was affiliated with
the United Bible Societies from its foundation, with the status of an
office of the UBS. However, disputes arose over the translation of
terms in the Bible. The Mongolian Society's leaders rejected the use
in translations of the Bible of `Burhan', the name of the Mongolian
national deity, for God, preferring other terminology not tied to
Buddhism or shamanism. Failing to find compromise with other local
Christian leaders who favoured the use of Buddhist/shamanist
terminology, the Mongolian Society parted ways with the UBS, which is
required to be broadly representative of the Churches in a given
country. In 1998 the Mongolian Society lost its financial support from
the UBS as a result, but has continued its work.
The Society is currently completing its translation of the Old
Testament and is seeking funds to revise and reprint the New
Testament, which the Society first published in 1990.
The Society has in recent years experienced intermittent problems over
importing literature. A shipment of books and videos was held up by
the Ulaanbaatar city customs in May 1997, but the books were
eventually released in January 1998 (see KNS 4 February 1998).
However, problems for Christian churches over importing Christian
literature into Mongolia have not ceased, according to the Prayer
Letter. `Even now, there are growing amounts of Christian literature
and video cassettes stuck in Mongolian customs, some for well over a
year, if not two.'
The Letter also notes continued difficulty in registering Christian
groups with the authorities. `Registration is often very difficult for
overtly Christian organisations and churches and in some cases pretty
well impossible.' The difficulty of registering openly has led some
missionaries to register their groups as `aid organisations', thus
laying them open to accusations from the authorities of deception. The
Letter reports that an `inspection' of `foreign organisations' in
Mongolia was conducted in September 1999. (END)
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(c) Keston Institute 1999