Issue 3, Article 4, 3 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Thursday 3 March 2000

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

In January 2000 the Voronezh regional department of justice refused to register
the Community of All Saints of the True Orthodox Church, parish priest Father
VALERI KRAVETS told Keston News Service in an interview on 28
February. As reasons for the refusal the department of justice cited incorrect
formulation of documentation; the existence of a community of the Moscow
Patriarchate dedicated to All Saints; the use of the word `true' in the title of the
church, which was likely to arouse interreligious hatred; and lack of
information that the church fulfils the requirement that it has existed for 15

The Voronezh justice authorities - which remain under the strong influence of
the local Russian Orthodox diocese - have recently begun court actions to wind
up 13 religious communities for having failed to re-register by the 31
December 1999 deadline (see KNS 21 February 2000).

According to Father Valeri, the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and
Religious Organisations discriminates even against the Orthodox, since it is
virtually impossible to prove the existence of communities which met in
apartments outside the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. During the
Soviet era even the KGB did not always know of the existence of such
communities. Father Valeri told Keston that heleads communities in the
Voronezh region belonging to the True Orthodox Church and the Russian
Orthodox Church Abroad, neither of which has the status of a Russian
centralised religious organisation.

The accusation that the use of the word `true' may arouse interreligious hatred
was made against Father Valeri at a meeting of the Consultative Council of
Experts of the department of justice, a body established in 1999 and supposedly
made up of specialists on religion. He claims that most members of this council
are supporters of the local Russian Orthodox diocese of Voronezh and Lipetsk
led by Metropolitan MEFODI (NEMTSOV), who exerts great influence over
all government officials in the region. Members of the Council worked hard to
deny registration to the True Orthodox Church, Father Valeri asserted, fearing
that if registration were granted, this church would lay claim to a number of
church buildings in the Voronezh region. Moreover, the Orthodox diocese is
`persecuting' him, said Father Valeri, because at the beginning of the 1990s he
left the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate to join the Russian Orthodox
Church Abroad.

The chairman of the Consultative Council of Experts, ARKADI MINAKOV,
confirmed Father Valeri's fears in an interview with Keston on 28 February. He
did not conceal his obvious sympathies for the Moscow Patriarchate and his
loyalty to Metropolitan Mefodi. Minakov told Keston that among the members
of the Council are teachers from the diocesan theological seminary, who
naturally also support the diocesan line. Minakov claimed that Father Valeri
gave the Council confused and unreliable information about himself and his
parish, for example refusing to name the archbishop who is in authority over
his communities although in the parish statutes there is a clause referring to
submission to a bishop. Minakov maintains that communities belonging to the
True Orthodox Church ceased to exist in 1975, so it is not possible for a church
with that title to exist. Given that the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow
Patriarchate enjoys such close links with the authorities it will remain a
significant socio-political force in Russia, Minakov asserts, and any other
Orthodox, like Father Valeri Kravets, will be marginalised.

The regional administration did not examine questions pertaining to the True
Orthodox Church in any detail. Deputy director of the department for
cooperation with social organisations in the Voronezh region, GENNADI
VORONIN, who is responsible for relations with religious organisations,
confirmed this in an interview with Keston on 29 February. He stated that the
main task of the Consultative Council of Experts was to give an informed
assessment of all organisations applying for registration. Voronin mentioned
only the lack of evidence proving the existence of the True Orthodox Church
over 15 years as a reason for the refusal of registration. He added that this was
the main reason for refusal and declined to comment further. VYACHESLAV
KRYUCHKOV, the official responsible for registering religious organisations
at the department of justice, also told Keston on 29 February that this was the
main reason. He noted that he would be prepared to register Father Valeri's
parish if the priest could furnish new documentation proving the existence of
his particular community in the Voronezh region over the required 15 years.

The director of the department for cooperation with social organisations IGOR
CHEREMISIN was the only official who confirmed the direct influence
exerted by the Russian Orthodox diocese on officials of the regional
administration and the department of justice. He told Keston in an interview
on 29 February that the main difficulty the regional administration encountered
in its relations with the diocese was that `the diocese asks us to wage war
against sects, but the winning of souls is their business'.

VYACHESLAV SALNIKOV, head of an independent council for human
rights in Voronezh, confirmed in an interview on 29 February that the diocese
is actively involved in governmental affairs, contravening the separation of
church and state. Salnikov asserted that it is on the orders of Metropolitan
Mefodi himself that the True Orthodox Church is being refused registration.
The Consultative Committee of Experts at the department of justice has been
created as a punitive organ, Salnikov maintained, and said that among its
members are former teachers of atheism. Following instructions from the
diocese they endeavour not to register communities belonging to another
Orthodox jurisdiction and this extends as far as possible to non-Orthodox
communities as well.

Father YEVGENI LEVSHUK, secretary of the Voronezh diocesan
administration , refuses absolutely to acknowledge the existence of the True
Orthodox Church. In a telephone interview with Keston on 1 March he refused
to comment when asked about the attempts made by Father Valeri Kravets'
community to gain registration. Asked about membership of the Consultative
Committee of Experts, Father Yevgeny gave no response and hung up. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.