KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 17 April 2001

STRUGGLE FOR REGISTRATION. According to the Russian Ministry
of Justice�s recent figures, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
(ROCA) has 37 re-registered parishes within the Russian Federation.
Keston News Service has learned, however, that many more are
operating without full legal rights. Obstacles to registration are said to
include opposition from the Moscow Patriarchate.

approximately 100 parishes in Russia, only a tiny number have a church
building, Keston News Service has learned. Others meet in various kinds
of rented or borrowed premises. Local officials seem reluctant to give
Orthodox church buildings to any parish which is not of the Moscow


by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

According to the Russian Ministry of Justice�s recent figures, the Russian
Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) has 37 re-registered parishes within
the Russian Federation. Since two of the church�s clergy estimate the
total number of its parishes in Russia to be approximately 100, however,
it appears that almost two-thirds are operating without full legal rights.
The ROCA has also managed to register only one of its three dioceses in
Russia, since, even if re-registered, few of its parishes can claim the 15
years necessary to form the basis of a centralised religious organisation.
Although agreeing that registration and property issues (see separate
article) are the ROCA�s main problems in Russia, however, Bishop
Yeftikhi (Kurochkin) of Ishim and Siberia does not believe that these are
caused by the 1997 law on religion, but by what he calls the �human
factor� within the church.

On 10 April Tatyana Basova of the Kursk department of justice (350
miles south of Moscow) told Keston that two ROCA parishes are among
those in the region facing liquidation (See KNS 21 December 2000). In
an interview with Keston in Moscow in January, Fr Vladimir Tsukanov
of the Parish of the Nativity of the Virgin in Kursk explained to Keston
that ROCA parishes in Kursk, Belgorod and Voronezh come under the
jurisdiction of Bishop Lazar (Zhurbenko) of Odessa. As a result, said Fr
Tsukanov, the diocese�s documents for parish registration �are suitable
for Ukraine, but not for us, so re-registration lost its point.� For the same
reason, he added, �our diocese can�t exist� - since the Russian parishes
within the diocese have not existed for 15 years, �we don�t have the three
local organisations necessary to register a diocese, and we can�t register
new parishes without one � it�s a vicious circle.�

Fr Tsukanov told Keston that St Petersburg falls within the jurisdiction of
the ROCA�s only registered diocese in Russia, Ishim and Siberia.
Speaking to Keston by telephone from St Petersburg on 10 March,
however, Fr Valentin Solomakha told Keston that his parish of St John
the Theologian, as well as that of the New Martyr Elizabeth led by Fr
Vladimir Savitsky, are not registered in the city. �It is not possible to
register,� Fr Solomakha explained. �We submitted the documentation,
and were refused on various pretexts. Then we were given the friendly
advice by an official in the St Petersburg department of justice that it was
pointless trying to register because they [the department] don�t decide -
there is telephone law [unwritten decrees from higher officials].�

Despite repeated attempts, Keston has been unable to obtain a response
from the relevant department within the St Petersburg department of

In an interview with Keston on 4 April, Bishop Yeftikhi told Keston that
�15 or 20� of Ishim diocese�s 40 parishes are registered: �Every time we
need to register, we register.� The main reason why the re-registration
situation was better in Siberia, in his view, was because in his diocese
�priests always serve where they were born � we know the people and
our parishioners know each other, whereas in other dioceses they are sent
to people they don�t know, so it is easy to infiltrate parishes with
provocateurs, who try to prevent our activity by getting us to argue with
the authorities.�

In Bishop Yeftikhi�s view, it is this lack of accord among church
members which has prevented the ROCA from creating a solid structure
within Russia during the past decade, and not the action of the authorities
or the 1997 law. �It is not true that the law oppresses us,� he told Keston.
�When I read it, I understood that with desire and effort we could build a
church structure which could resist state power � especially as a
privileged traditional confession. At the Ministry of Justice they said,
�Why are you worried? You are Orthodox�.�

However, Bishop Yeftikhi also admitted that the ROCA has encountered
obstacles when trying to register, which, in his view, �unfortunately�
emanate from the Moscow Patriarchate. Several years ago, he told
Keston, a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate alleged to his local
administration that the ROCA was financed by the CIA, of which Bishop
Yeftikhi was said to be an agent. Although a subsequent FSB
investigation at the federal level refuted these allegations, he said, the
affair had nevertheless played a great role in raising suspicion within
registration departments. On an official level, he maintained, this always
took the form of petty fault-finding with registration documents:
�Officials do this as insurance against being accused of collaborating
with those who are undesirable to the Moscow Patriarchate.�

On 28 February Fr Sergi Kiselyov of the Parish of the Holy Royal
Martyrs in Moscow told Keston that a further problem is posed by the
fact that the ROCA has its centre abroad. For example, he explained,
Bishop Mikhail of Toronto was unable to sign papers in an official
capacity when in Russia during 2000. According to one ROCA parish
priest, Bishop Mikhail formally tried to register the ROCA�s New York
synod in Russia two years ago at the federal level, �but at the Ministry of
Justice they called us an �American sect� and said we were an �migr�
church bearing no relation to Russia.�

Speaking to Keston on 11 April, Viktor Korolyov, who is in charge of
registration of religious organisations at Russia�s Ministry of Justice,
denied that Bishop Mikhail had tried to register the New York synod in
Moscow. �What would they want to do that for? It is abroad, let them
register it in the honourable United States of America.� However, he said,
the church had tried to re-register a second diocese covering Moscow city
and region, but that this had failed because �they couldn�t present their
documents properly � in accordance with the law.� This diocese, he told
Keston, now faced liquidation.

On 10 April Aleksandr Shapavalov, who is in charge of religious affairs
in Kursk oblast, commented to Keston that �it is possible to exist without
registration � and it seems that they [the ROCA parishes in Kursk] have
decided to go that route.� Bishop Yeftikhi, however, related to Keston
some of the reasons why the ROCA wants legal personality status for its
parishes. �When we employ people in a parish, we want to give them a
stable status � for that we need registration. Priests need pensions and
health insurance � and for that we also need legal personality status.�


by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

Of the ROCA�s approximately 100 parishes in Russia, Fr Sergi Kiselyov
of the Moscow parish of the Holy Royal Martyrs told Keston on 28
February, �almost all do not have a church building.� Those that do
appear to be concentrated in the church�s only registered diocese of Ishim
and Siberia, where, according to its bishop, Yeftikhi (Kurochkin), the
situation is better than in the European part of Russia: �Eight parishes
have church buildings.�

When registration became possible for the ROCA in the early 1990s,
according to Fr Vladimir Tsukanov of the Parish of the Nativity of the
Virgin in Kursk (350 miles south of Moscow), �the plenipotentiary [for
religious affairs] said he would never allow us to exist legally.� Once the
parish nevertheless managed this, he told Keston on 30 January, �he said
he would never allow us to get a church. There are a lot of closed church
buildings in Kursk, we asked for any of them, but whenever we made an
official request for one, we were told that it had been given to the
Moscow Patriarchate.� According to Fr Tsukanov, there are at least 15
church buildings in Kursk city belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate,
while the ROCA�s two parishes of some 30 people each currently meet in
private homes.

Speaking to Keston on 10 April, Aleksandr Shapavalov, who is currently
in charge of religious affairs in Kursk region, at first maintained that the
ROCA had never attempted to claim a church building. He then recalled
that they had requested the city�s Upper Church of the Holy Trinity,
which had been part of a convent, in around 1990, but that this was
refused them: �I don�t remember the reason.� The convent, he said, was
now functioning and belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate.

When Keston asked whether Kursk local authorities automatically
regarded closed church buildings as the property of the Moscow
Patriarchate, Shapavalov replied that the problem never arose in which �a
ROCA community forms and says, �we are ROCA and we want a
church�.� He pointed out that there was no shortage of church buildings,
since there were many ruined churches in the villages, �but no one tries to
claim them, not even the Russian Orthodox Church.�

In Moscow, Fr Sergi Kiselyov told Keston that his approximately 50
parishioners currently meet in a hall in a private school building, where
they have �all the attributes of a church�, including an iconostasis. As a
result, he maintained, the ROCA goes largely unnoticed in the capital,
�although if we had just one church building and could have regular
services we would have very many parishioners.� Since such details
relate to the period before he became parish priest, Fr Kiselyov did not
know which church buildings the parish had tried to claim, or when they
had done so, but only that every attempt had been rejected: �The main
reason cited was the Russian Orthodox Church�s disagreement with the
ROCA.� He was also under the impression that by law all Orthodox
church buildings should be returned either to the Moscow Patriarchate or
to the Old Believers.

Contacted by telephone on 12 April, a representative of Moscow�s
Property Allocation Committee gruffly told Keston that only written
requests for information would be considered. In an interview with
Keston in Moscow on 4 April, Bishop Yeftikhi commented that there
was much discord within the Moscow parish, and that if this were not the
case, �we would have an ancient church building here in no time.�

In St Petersburg, the parishes of St John the Theologian and the New
Martyr Elizabeth currently meet in an art studio and a private flat, Fr
Valentin Solomakha told Keston on 10 March. �It is just not possible to
get a church in St Petersburg,� he commented. �There is an understanding
between the state and the [Russian Orthodox] church authorities.�
Although there were many ruined churches in the city, he explained,
every attempt to claim one � the details of which he was not aware for
the same reason as Fr Kiselyov - had been rejected by the authorities:
�They were quite strict about it, and everyone lost hope.�

However, claimed Fr Solomakha, since the ROCA�s approximately 120
parishioners in the city meet in spacious elderly buildings, there is
sufficient room for them. He added that the ROCA had once had �a real
church building� attached to a hospital in the city, but its priest, Fr
Aleksandr Zarkov, had been murdered three years ago, after which the
church passed to a group which has now left the New York synod. �We
joke that if you do have a church building, it�s dangerous,� quipped Fr
Solomakha. �That�s our black Russian humour.�

On 11 April, Svetlana Andreichenko of St Petersburg Property
Allocation Committee told Keston that legally buildings of religious
significance must be returned to those within their same confession.
Although all church buildings in St Petersburg diocese belong to the
Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) according to its charter, she said, the
ROC and the ROCA would definitely be given �equal consideration� if
they were both to claim a church building.

Due to the massive number of claims dealt with by her department,
Andreichenko could not recall details of the hospital church. However,
she did volunteer the information that, approximately ten years ago, an
ROCA parish was given a church building at 100 Moskovsky Prospekt,
but it subsequently turned out that the parish had been incorrectly
registered, �so the registration department cancelled their registration and
we had to break our agreement with them because they didn�t have legal
personality status.�

Curiously, this closely resembles an incident at the other end of the
Russian Federation related to Keston by Fr Anatoly Surzhik of the
ROCA�s St Eusebius parish in Vladivostok on 14 March. When the
parish changed jurisdiction in the mid-1990s, he told Keston, �the
authorities took away our registration so that the Moscow Patriarchate
could take the church.� According to Fr Surzhik, no law was invoked or
formal reason given: �When I asked the department of justice why, I was
told, �We don�t consider it necessary to inform you why�.� The parish of
176 parishioners currently rents a former kindergarten, he told Keston,
and was re-registered in 1999 as part of Ishim diocese.

The 1997 law on religion allows only those centralised religious
organisations �which have been active on the territory of the Russian
Federation on a legal basis for no fewer than 50 years as of the moment
when the said religious organisation files its application for state
registration� (Article 8, Part 5) to use the words �Russia� (�Rossiya�) or
�Russian� (�Rossiisky�) in their title. This is in striking contrast to legal
entities in other walks of life � the confectionary giant Nestl�, for
example, sells its chocolate bars in Russia operating under the name
�Rossiya�. Since the pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church was
known as the �Orthodox Russian Church� (�Pravoslavnaya Rossiiskaya
Tserkov�), Keston wondered whether this provision of the law might
have affected attempts by the ROCA to claim inheritance to the pre-
revolutionary church � and its property.

While Fr Sergi Kiselyov thought that the name �Pravoslavnaya
Rossiiskaya Tserkov� must have had some legal basis before it was
changed under Stalin, he pointed out that there was no legal precedent of
the ROCA claiming inheritance rights in Russia, unlike in the USA,
where �independent specialists � they weren�t even Orthodox� had ruled
that the ROCA was the historical heir to Russian Orthodox church
property in a case in Los Angeles. While Fr Vladimir Tsukanov had no
view on the effects of the 50-year rule, he did think that the Moscow
Patriarchate�s overriding concern with respect to the ROCA was �to
persuade the international community that they [the Moscow
Patriarchate] are the legal church in order to claim its entire heritage.�

Bishop Yeftikhi agreed with Fr Tsukanov that the Moscow Patriarchate
could not tolerate the ROCA�s presence in Russia despite its insignificant
numbers, since it �is of the same confession, only without the deficencies
brought by Soviet power� (both Fr Tsukanov and Fr Kiselyov made
particular mention of ecumenism and the inadequacy of canonising the
royal family as merely passion-bearers). However, Bishop Yeftikhi did
not think that the 1997 law�s 50-year-rule was aimed at the ROCA.
Although he emphasised that he was �100 per cent certain� that the Holy
Synod created in 1927 constituted a �usurpation of church power by
Soviet power�, Bishop Yeftikhi maintained that the ROCA had so far
made a conscious decision not to claim inheritance rights. �You can�t go
too fast,� he explained to Keston, � and our church organisation is still
very weak.� (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.