Wednesday 31 March



by Janice Broun, Keston News Service

Progress is being made in solving the heated dispute over church

property in Romania between the Orthodox and the Greek Catholic

Church, according to Service Orthodoxe de Presse No 236. In 1948 the

communist government brutally suppressed the latter, appropriated its

property and handed all its 2000+ churches and parishes to the

Orthodox. After the fall of CEAUSESCU'S government the Greek

Catholics demanded the return of all their property, but the joint

commission set up by the Orthodox in 1990 never functioned. Wrangling

over buildings has gone on unresolved for nine years, sometimes even

involving violence. The Orthodox Church is now insistent that

relations between the Churches must be regularised to clear the way

for the visit of Pope JOHN PAUL II later this year, as well as for

its participation in the next session of the international commission

of theological conversations between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox

Churches at Baltimore in the USA in June.

It is conceivable that the Orthodox Church is anxious that no

unseemly and embarrassing protests or demonstrations disrupt the

papal visit, which is confined to Bucharest. Cluj, proposed for the

itinerary, was the scene of a Greek-Catholic take-over of its

cathedral and a protest march by Orthodox priests last spring.

Relations between the Romanian Orthodox and the Latin-rite Roman

Catholic Church in Romania, which is largely though not entirely an

ethnic minority church, are reasonably good. The fact that the Greek

Catholics are ethnically Romanian has made the dispute all the more

bitter. Many Orthodox, including most of the bishops, accuse the

Greek Catholics of betraying their Romanian nationality by having

joined Rome 300 years ago. (At that time the Romanians who did this

were an impoverished subject people, under duress from their Roman

Catholic rulers.) In their turn, many Greek Catholics accuse the

Orthodox of betraying them by collaborating with the communists.

The Commission held its second session on 28 January at the

traditional heart of the Catholic Church in Blaj under the co-

presidency of Metropolitan DANIEL CIOBOTEA of Moldavia and Mgr.

LUCIAN MURESAN, Metropolitan of Alba Iulia, in the presence of

Vatican representative Mgr. FRANCESCO TAMBURINO. The Orthodox

representatives were Archbishops ANDREI of Alba Iulia and BARTOLEMEU

of Cluj, bishops IOAN of Oradea, TIMOTEI of Arad, IOAN of Covasna,

TEOFAN, patriarchal auxiliary and VISARION, auxiliary of Sibiu.

Catholics were represented by Archbishop GEORGHE of Cluj, bishops

IOAN of Maramures, ALEXANDRU of Lugoj, VIRGIL of Oradea and

FLORENTIN, auxiliary of Cluj.

The commission reaffirmed the principles reached at their first

session held on 28 October 1998; the cessation of forcible occupation

of contested buildings and of recourse to civil lawsuits; the

rejection of all forms of proselytism; and the assignment of places

of worship through a process of dialogue.

Both sides have made substantial concessions - though there is little

doubt that the Orthodox, bargaining from a position of numerical

strength with over 90 per cent of the population, are the main

beneficiaries. For the first time the Greek Catholic representatives

have publicly admitted that the majority of Catholics who were forced

to become Orthodox back in 1948 are happy to remain Orthodox. They

have also agreed to renounce claims on all the property belonging to

them before 1948. They have pledged to stop all civil lawsuits

contesting Orthodox property rights. (Here it should be pointed out

that most of these lawsuits arose because of the Orthodox refusal to

hand over key buildings, such as the Cluj and Blaj cathedrals, until

the Greek Catholics files court cases. As a result of such court

cases the Cluj and Blaj cathedrals are now on Greek Catholic hands.)

It is only in the last two years, with a more sympathetic and

democratic government, that the Greek Catholics have had any prospect

of regaining their legal rights. By last year the Catholics had

recovered only 136 churches as against 1,936 in Orthodox hands. The

commission admits that a certain number of smaller Greek Catholic

parishes still have nowhere to worship. On their side, the Orthodox

agree to recognise the Catholic right to possession of all the

churches, around a hundred, which they have occupied since 1989 and

promise not to contest these rights, whatever means the Catholics

employed to recover them.

In parishes with a Greek Catholic community where there is more than

one Orthodox church, the Orthodox are asked to consider handing over

one of these to the Greek Catholics, though only with the agreement

of their priests and congregations. One of the main complaints of

Greek Catholics to Keston, throughout the dispute, has been local

Orthodox obstruction to reopening former Catholic churches, even in

such parishes. It is this issue, especially in the traditional Greek

Catholic region of Maramures, scene of many clashes between members

of the two churches, which is likely to prove most intractable. In

parishes with only one church negotiations must seek solutions

acceptable to both parties, the commission's communique stresses.

At the diocesan level, commissions including local representatives of

both Churches are to consider each disputed building case by case,

applying the general guidelines laid down by the national commission.

The next session is to meet in June in the Ramets monastery. The

commission's communique says the episcopates of both Churches �invite

clergy and laity to be ready to work for reconciliation and provide

evidence of their good will at the local community level�. (END)

Wednesday 31 March


by Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service

A Russian Orthodox priest gatecrashed an Adventist meeting in the formerly

German Kaliningrad enclave and shouted 'You are an American sect! I shall

drive you out!', ANNA ILYASH, wife of Adventist pastor MIKHAIL ILYASH,

told Keston on 10 March.

Fr IOSIF ILNITSKY is priest-in-charge at the only Russian Orthodox church

in Chernyakhovsk, 89km from Kaliningrad city. He had already sent his

deacon and two elder sons (aged 15 and 20) to a series of evening talks for

young people on contemporary problems held from 21-24 January, said Ilyash.

The meetings were organised by the Adventist congregation, which has been

active in the town for five years. On 22 January, Ilyash told Keston, one

son seized the microphone and shouted 'These people belong to a sect hiding

behind the name "Voice of Hope"!' [an Adventist radio station]

According to Ilyash, she tried to prevent the trio from entering on 24

January, whereupon they began shouting 'These are sectarians!' Within 15

minutes, she said, Fr Iosif arrived and joined in the shouting; she was

subsequently hit over the head and had her clothes torn. When the

police took the main protagonists to the police station for questioning,

she said, they 'found pairs of scissors in the pocket of the deacon and Fr

Iosif's eldest son'.

Fr Iosif admitted to Keston on 12 March that he had sent his sons to the

meetings: 'They asked questions about Russian history. On the last evening

they weren't let in.' He mentioned only his sons aged 15, 14 and 10 and

denied that Anna Ilyash had been harmed: 'They tore her cardigan but didn't

hurt her. The boys didn't do anything to her.'

Fr Iosif had earlier tried to prevent the meetings from taking place

altogether, Anna Ilyash told Keston. She said that NATALYA BEREZAN,

director of the local house of culture, had agreed to let the Adventists

use her premises until Fr Iosif approached her and threatened to get her

dismissed. Only when she and her husband arrived at the house of culture to

prepare the room three hours before the first meeting, she said, were they

told by Berezan that they could no longer use it. She added that a Roman


priest fortunately offered his nearby church, and that 70 young people and

20 Adventists attended even though the temperature in the building was

minus 15.

In search of a warmer venue, said Ilyash, head of the Chernyakhovsk

department of culture TAMARA SHATSKAYA contacted an officers' club on the

Adventists' behalf but was told that this could not be rented to the

congregation without Fr Iosif's permission. The Adventists subsequently

managed to secure the use of the recreation centre at the city's railway

station for the remaining meetings.

Anna Ilyash said that she had suffered delayed shock following the events

of 24 January and had been admitted to hospital the next day. She related

to Keston how, when Fr Iosif arrived at the hospital to hold a service and

spotted her in one of the wards, he began pointing at her and shouted

'There's a sectarian in here!' She still feels under threat: 'I am afraid

for my husband's life. In the 1960s it was the KGB, today it is a man of

the cloth who uses any method against us.'

According to a press statement of 5 March issued by the Slavic Centre for

Law and Justice,

a legal body in Moscow set up to defend religious believers, when Pastor

Ilyash complained to the police that his wife had been beaten by

'hooligans', the head of the local police department rang her at home and

tried to persuade her to retract her statement by citing the scriptural

command to 'turn the other cheek'. Pastor Ilyash has now

lodged an official complaint against Fr Iosif at the Kaliningrad regional


Fr Iosif defended his intervention at the Adventists' meeting: 'Our Russian

children don't understand that this is a sect - they aren't our people.' He

admitted to Keston that his battle against other denominations goes back

some years. In 1993, he said, he intervened at a German Lutheran missionary

evening by going onto the platform, taking the microphone and demanding to

know who had been baptised Orthodox: 'a sea of hands was raised; the

Lutherans were acting in a clandestine way.' The Baptists, he said, were

'cunning': they used humanitarian aid to buy new members, discovered

people's names in the process and then tried to 'recruit' them. His

attitude to Roman Catholics, however, was comparatively tolerant: he knew

of many

Catholic-Orthodox mixed marriages and was happy to cooperate with the

Catholic organisation Caritas, which funded charitable work in the area. He

was particularly critical of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who 'try to take

members of our flock', and said that when they had tried to rent a building

near one of the city's schools he had managed to persuade the school to

have no dealings with them. He spoke warmly of support by the city

authorities for his Church: 'Our city Duma, thank goodness, understands

that Orthodoxy is the traditional religion, its members listen to the