Wednesday 2 February 2000

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

At the end of 1999, the notorious Bishop ARKADI (AFONIN) was once gain
appointed head of the Russian Orthodox diocese of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and the
Kuriles in the far east. He has now returned to Sakhalin Island, where he was
bishop between 1993 and 1996.

Bishop Arkadi was dismissed from the Tomsk diocese in 1998 after public
outrage over accusations of `immoral behaviour'. Public opinion, as reflected in
the Tomsk and Moscow press, was based on accusations against Bishop Arkadi
of homosexual acts that were never officially confirmed. Formally, Bishop
Arkadi was dismissed for his `inability to manage a diocese' (see KNS 4
November 1998). The Moscow Patriarchate virtually ignored all the
accusations and opinions of the church congregation when in 1998 bishop
Arkadi was appointed second assistant to the bishop in Nizhny Novgorod, a
post specially created for him.

Father VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of
External Church Relations gave Keston an official explanation of Bishop
Arkadi's situation on 21 January. He said that Arkadi himself wanted the
appointment to the Sakhalin diocese. In response to Keston's question about
why Arkadi did not return to Tomsk, Father Vsevolod replied that `the Tomsk
see was not vacant', and that a bishop had already been appointed there. Asked
why Arkadi was being appointed head of a diocese if he could not cope with
the responsibility while in Tomsk, Father Vsevolod told Keston that
`circumstances had changed'.

At the beginning of January, soon after taking up his new appointment, Bishop
Arkadi immediately changed the secretary of the diocesan administration in
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, bringing with him from Moscow his new assistant - a
young priest Father DIONISI KOPYTOV. In an interview with Keston on 28
January, Father Dionisi said that the former bishop of Sakhalin, IONAFAN,
had left a week earlier for a new post in Abakan, the capital of the Khakasian
Autonomous Republic, while Bishop Arkadi had come to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk,
appeared on local television and returned to Moscow. According to Father
Dionisi, 28 January was his first working day, and he was only just starting
work and taking matters in hand.

OLEG STREKALOV, specialist on religious organisations in the
administration of the Sakhalin region, assured Keston in a telephone interview
on 28 January that the regional authorities had no complaints against the
former bishop Ionafan - the governor himself saw him off. According to
Strekalov, Bishop Arkadi had been the first bishop to come to the island, and
indeed it was he who created Orthodoxy here, and for this reason the governor
welcomed his return. Strekalov maintained that Bishop Arkadi is first and
foremost a capable manager, who would work for the good of the Church,
adding that Arkadi simply `did not work out' with believers in Tomsk. Bishop
Arkadi himself declared this in his appearance on local television, admitting
that he did have difficulties in the Tomsk diocese, Strekalov reported, but did
not spell out the actual accusations made against him.

Another specialist on religion in the region, NATALIYA ORESHKOVA,
confirmed to Keston that the governor of the region IGOR FARKHUTDINOV
maintained good relations with Bishop Arkadi as well as with Bishop Ionafan.
For example, the governor had offered help in the building of the first
Orthodox cathedral in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. In July 1999, when Keston talked
with Bishop Ionafan, he spoke about how well disposed the authorities were
towards the Orthodox Church. Bishop Ionafan stressed that Bishop Arkadi had
set up a network of parishes on Sakhalin and virtually created the diocese.
According to Bishop Ionafan, Bishop Arkadi had close, friendly relations with
Governor Farkhutdinov when he was only mayor of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and
Arkadi even publicly appeared on his behalf in the 1996 elections. The
Sakhalin journalist YELENA TRETYAKOVA told Keston that Bishop Arkadi
had baptised the governor and his family.

According to the Orthodox commentator Hegumen INNOKENTO (PAVLOV),
the recent appointment of Bishop Arkadi is entirely in line with the Moscow
Patriarchate's character. The Hegumen told Keston on 24 January that Bishop
Arkadi was appointed to the region where he had good relations with the
governor. It was significant, he added, that Arkadi had not been appointed to
the place where there had been a scandal.

The Moscow-based journalist and commentator NATALIYA BABASYAN
Keston in an interview on 24 January that the appointment of Arkadi as a full
bishop represented the normal personnel policy of the Patriarchate. Babasyan
believes that the scandal about Bishop Arkadi, in the press and within the
Church, was superficial and restricted to rumours, which allowed the
Patriarchate to hide its staff deficiencies, taking account of the fact that no-one
had turned to the secular court. Aside from this, church functionaries and the
Patriarch himself prefer to keep those bishops affected by scandal in retirement
for a while, and then return them to a diocese. Babasyan maintained that the
Moscow Patriarchate never acknowledges any accusations of amoral behaviour
against its bishops, especially accusations of homosexuality, about which the
Russian Orthodox Church is actively disputing with the World Council of

However, the church community and intelligentsia in Sakhalin take a different
view to that of Bishop Arkadi's former flock in Tomsk and Moscow-based
commentators. In July 1999, Keston spoke to the director of the Museum of
Arts, MARINA ISHCHENKO, with journalists from one of the central
with a lecturer from the Sakhalin pedagogical institute LARISA
DOROFEYEVA, an active Orthodox Church member. They all stressed that
Bishop Arkadi is a superb organiser and a much more colourful figure than
Bishop Ionafan. And although they considered him rather coarse, he was able
to organise diocesan life and achieve the building of a cathedral in Yuzhno-
Sakhalinsk and the assignment of several buildings in the city to the diocese.
No one in the discussion mentioned the piety or faith of Bishop Arkadi. (END)

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(c) Keston Institute 2000