by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

The authorities in Magadan are putting members of the Word of Life

church employed by the state under great pressure to choose between

their faith and their job, the church's pastor NIKOLAI VOSKOBOINIKO

told Keston News Service on 11 February.

As an example Voskoboinikov cited the case of ZINAIDA SAVINA, a

church member who is employed as head of the statistics committee of

Magadan region: 'The governor is accusing her of preaching at work,

while in reality she is simply an honest person'. However, so far no

church member has yet been sacked from his job, the pastor admitted.

Voskoboinikov believes that the situation for the church members will

get worse if the court decision due in March goes against the church.

There are also articles in the local press attacking the church. The

pastor maintains that the authorities were making use of the

nationalist parties in the region - the National Bolshevik Party and

Russian National Unity - to hold public demonstrations against the


The lawyer and human rights activist VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY told Keston

that there was constant pressure on church members who worked in

state institutions. He said that he trusted that Savina would not be

sacked, as there were no grounds for it. He believes that the

pressure from the authorities would not increase even if the court

ruled against the Word of Life church in March. At the moment,

Ryakhovsky declared, real pressure was being exerted by, among

others, the National Bolsheviks, who he said were receiving indirect

help from the procuracy.

However, the deputy governor of the Magadan region, ANTONINA LUKINA,

denies any instances of pressure on church members who work in state

institutions. She told Keston that the administration of the region

had no reasons to do so. As for the head of the statistics committee

Zinaida Savina, Lukina declared that the committee was a federal, not

a regional institution and that therefore the governor and other

officials of the region could not influence her fate.

However, Savina herself told Keston that the governor had sent

documents to Moscow claiming that she had been preaching at work and

that she herself had sacked non-believers. Savina affirmed that she

had never done any such thing. `They simply do not know what is going

on here. Let them come and talk to the people who work here,' she

said. Now she has constant visits from commissions sent by the

administration to check up, while the tax service is asking employees

of the committee about their faith. Savina declares that only 10 out

of 200 employees of the statistics committee are members of the Word

of Life church. `None of the officials can even give the names of

those I am supposed to have sacked, as it is all untrue,' she

stressed. On 7 February Savina received an ultimatum from the head of

the personnel department of the State Committee for Statistics in

Moscow, VIKTOR USPENSKY. She said that he had told her that she

should choose between her work and her faith and that she was being

discharged from the committee. He added 'that the Word of Life church

is a Swedish plague, and its pastor is a criminal', Savina said.

When Keston rang Uspensky, he refused to comment on the situation.


Wednesday 24 February


by Janice Broun, Keston News Service

The most burning issue in Romanian church life, the dispute over the

return of churches from the Orthodox to the Greek Catholic Church, is at

last being tackled by a joint commission for dialogue between the two

churches. In 1948 the communist government suppressed the Greek

Catholic Church and appropriated all its property. Over 2000 churches

and parishes were handed over to the Orthodox. Although a minority of

Greek Catholics maintained their religious life in catacomb conditions

the great majority had no choice but to continue worshipping in their

own parish churches, now Orthodox, and so many lost their distinct Greek

Catholic identity.

After CEAUSESCU'S fall, in response to demands for restitution from the

re-emergent Greek Catholics, the Orthodox set up a mixed joint

commission in April 1990 to decide disputed cases. However, this never

functioned, since the Orthodox had possession of the former Catholic

Churches and-with the notable exception of METROPOLITAN NICOLAE


of the Banat which contains the Greek Catholic Lugoj diocese-they hung

on to them. By 1998, Catholics in theory had 1416 parishes and 734

dependent communities but in practice had recovered only 136 churches as

against 1,936 still unrecovered. They had been forced to build 87 new

ones. Under ION ILIESCU's neocommunist government the Greek Catholics

had no hope of obtaining justice but with Iliescu's downfall in the 1997

elections and the arrival of a more democratic and sympathetic

government they pressed their claims. Since they had recived no formal

redress from the Orthodox Church they were forced to resort to civil

courts, a method roundly condemned by the Orthodox Church, whose

national Synod in February 1998 proposed bilateral dialogue with the

Greek Catholics to settle disputed property. It is reported as

condemning any attempt to involve political forces in the disputes

as'inopportune and absolutely detrimental to peaceful relations between

religious communities in Transylvania.'

In the case of their former Cathedral in Cluj, the Greek Catholics

reoccupation when the Orthodox refused to vacate it on 13 March led to

stormy scenes and heated accusations from the Orthodox (see �Continuing

Conflict over Return of Romanian Church Property� KNS July 1998).

In some villages in the impoverished northern backwoods province of

Maramures, a traditional Catholic stronghold where most villages were 95

per cent Greek Catholic, Orthodox continued to employ acts of violence

to intimidate local Catholics. According to the Brussels-based DROITS DE

L'HOMME SANS FRONTIERES, In Botiza, 30 km from Sighet, following a

successful Catholic court case for restitution the Orthodox prevented

the legal official from formally handing over their church on 7 May. At

least three Catholics were beaten up. On 25 June a further incident

occurred when Catholics tried, unsuccessfully, to reoccupy the building,

while the police stood by. In Saliste, 45km from Sighet, the local

authorities opposed the recreation of their parish and publicly insulted

their priest VASILE HOTICO. In Breb near Ocna Sugatag one of the two

churches was originally Greek Catholic and the other built in the 1980s

by the Orthodox, with Greek Catholic contributions, but Catholics could

only celebrate Mass in the yard of a private house. On 1 and 8 March

they celebrated Mass undisturbed in the old church which had remained

unused since the new one was opened the previous autumn. After that,

Orthodox dean POP GAVRILA from Sighet incited local Orthodox to bar

access to their church. Catholic priest CALIN HOSU received an

intimidatory letter and was threatened directly by two Orthodox at his

door on 18 March. On 25-26 March his bedroom windows were broken by

unidentified vandals.

Although in these cases the Orthodox appear to have been culpable, Greek

Catholics have not been blameless either and in some places have reacted

violently under provocation. Ome witness of the protest march of 3000

Orthodox priests through Cluj on 20 March said on Radio Cluj on 23 March

that the skeletons of Catholic martyrs were dangling around their necks.

Describing them as the most sinister uniform of the Romanian Securitate

(secret police) he said, 'God does not pour his Grace into dirty

containers; the priests who have spoiled the holy mystery of confession

which they should have defended with their own lives are further from

the Christian faith than Satan himself. The church which contains these

and does not eject them like rotten teeth is in their own image.' When

on 17 May PRESIDENT EMIL CONSTANTINESCU paid tribute to those Orthodox

and Catholic priests who had understood the importance of the unity of

Romanians and pleaded for further reconciliation, he was interrupted by

angry Greek Catholics shouting 'We want our churches back!' Even AGRU,

the (lay) General Association of Romanian Greek Catholics, which

represents more conciliatory elements, cannot deny the sufferings of the

past. Orthodox collaboration in the attempted annihilation of their

Church left a legacy of bitterness. In its open letter �to our Orthodox

brethren� it compares the booing which greeted Catholic ARCHBISHOP

GEORGE GUTIU in front of his own cathedral with the humiliation of its

martyr BISHOP IULIU HOSSU and that of Christ himself. 'But what hurts us

most is the fact that those who were capable of booing a bishop are the

future priests of the year 2000. Are these the perspectives for the

third millennium?'

When PRIME MINISTER RADU VASILE visited Rome on 6 July with his

official government invitation to POPE JOHN PAUL to visit Romania next

May he regretted that it was not accompanied by a similar invitation

from the Orthodox Church. On 9 July PATRIARCH TEOCTIST ARAPAS

reproached Greek Catholics for putting stumbling blocks in the way of

normal relations between the two Churches and, explicitly, the papal

visit. Nevertheless on 15-16 July Teoctist expressed his readiness to

welcome the Pope and the Orthodox Holy Synod stressed that

regularisation of relationships between Orthodox and Greek Catholics was

an essential prerequisite for it. Unofficial consultations between the

Bucharest Patriarchate and the Vatican would start during the autumn.

The Synod proposed a mixed Orthodox-Catholic commission to prepare for

the papal visit. The flourishing Romanian Roman Catholic Church, the

second largest Church in the country, is also involved but because it

largely consits of Hungarian and German national minorities rather than

Romanians, its relations with the Orthodox Church are less


Meanwhile the ground was being laid for high level inter-church

cooperation by a number of projects, largely promoted by the WCC, with

representatives of all recognised Churches present. The Metropolitanate

of Moldavia held an Ecumenical Conference on Dialogue and Cooperation in

Iasi on 27-30 April. A symposium on the renewal of urban mission was

hosted by the Orthodox Church on 4-6 May. Most significant was that

organised by the prestigious Italian St Egidio Community from 29 August

to 2 September in Bucharest on 'Mankind and Religion for Peace.'

Teoctist attended Mass in the Latin-Rite Church; METROPOLITAN NESTOR OF

OLTENIE and ARCHBISHOP THEOFAN attended the Greek Catholic liturgy and a

number of Catholic bishops of both rites were present at the open-air

Orthodox liturgy in front of the Patriarchal Cathedral. In an

outstanding contribution, particularly relevant to the local situation,

ARCHBISHOP ANASTASIOS of Tirana, a Greek who has led the reconstruction

of the Albanian Orthodox Church, pleaded for dialogue pursued with

simplicity, honesty and humility and for tolerance between religions. He

emphasised that Orthodoxy possesses sufficient theological foundations

not to be afraid of encounter with other faiths. He reminded them of

JESUS's encounters with the Samaritan and Canaanite women and the Roman

centurion. 'We must not confine ouselves to occasions of dialogue which

in essence are only well-prepared monologues. We need to devote more

time and resources to promoting genuine encounters, more spontaneity,

more real friendship, in order to climb out of the ghettoes of our

traditional socio-religious groups.' Commenting, AGRU president VIORICA

LASCU told Keston, 'The Orthodox always were double-faced in ecumenical

relations;one, conciliatory, abroad and the other fundamentalist within

Romania. But now they publicly declare they are open for discussions and

concessions. We shall see.' She attributed their desire for peace partly

to growing shame among Orthodox intellectuals.

The Commission for Dialogue held its first official session from 28-30

October in Bucharest under the co-presidency of METROPOLITAN DANIEL


MARAMURES, in the presence of Vatican representative MGR. PIO

TAMBURINO. The two Churches undertook to bring their quarrels over restitution

to an end.

They pledged to 'renounce the forcible occupation of churches,

employment of civil courts, use of polemical language in the media and

all forms of proselytism�. They called administrators of their two

Churches to examine case-by-case situations where alternative services

could be celebrated in the same church-a suggestion made back in 1990

but never implemented. 'What we urgently need now is to foster an

atmosphere of mutual trust,' they stressed. 'This is a historic moment

for our two Churches and the Romanian nation,' Muresan affirmed.

Tamburino, drawing attention to previous tendentious official

declarations from both Churches, believes the meeting signals an

improvement in the religious climate.

The Orthodox submitted a document formulated at a preparatory session

which laid down guiding principles. These, they said, must take into

account each local situation. So they must be based on a preliminary

survey of the exact number of Greek Catholic churches in relation to

their numbers; an audit of ecclesiastical property given back by the

state, whether to Catholics or Orthodox; and an assessment of which

communities had a realistic possibility of building new churches.

Following this survey, in places where there was a dispute over

property, churches should be assigned to the community with the most

members. The minority should be urged to construct a new church, and in

the case of the Greek Catholics these should be subsidised by the Roman

Catholics and Orthodox. In localities with several churches or where

there is a substantial Catholic community administrators of Orthodox

dioceses and parishes will be consulted as to the possibility of

allotting one of these churches to the Greek Catholics. In cities where

the number of places of worship is in general insufficient for the

density of population, the two Churches will each build new ones.

These proposals were definitely to the advantage of the Orthodox Church,

since in many parishes, particularly in villages, Greek Catholics had

lost their former identity. After 1989, the still active Securitate,

often in tandem with Orthodox clergy, many of whom were agents, employed

deplorable and widespread intimidation of those who demanded the return

of their original churches; even where there were two churches, in many

cases they kept the Catholic church locked. In such an atmosphere of

fear thousands of Greek Catholics were too terrified to identify their

religious allegiance in the censuses, let alone demand their churches

back. In the 1991 census only 200,000 declared themselves Greek

Catholic. By 1997 the situation had improved and 761,000 identified

themselves, but this still represented only half of their 1948 numbers,

around one and a half million. In many places including Cluj its members

had to worship in the open air in all weathers. Only one cathedral,

Lugoj, was restored to them voluntarily; they regained Cluj and Baia

Mare only after years of struggle. They had been forced to build 87 new

churches, often, complained Lascu, next to their own old buildings,

which the Orthodox kept locked. With 669 priests, mostly from their

reopened seminaries, but including some Orthodox who had switched back,

the need for places of worship for effective parish life had not been

met. In its letter AGRU points out: 'Jesus said "Give to Caesar what

belongs to Caesar". We are to obey the law not only when it puts you in

possession of goods stolen from others, but also when it obliges you to

return them.''With 90 per cent of the population Orthodox, for the

public authority it is also an electoral problem,' Lascu told

Keston.'Therefore the state did not interfere and the tribunal's

decisions, if favourable to us, are rarely executed.'

The Orthodox establishment justifies its stance on historical grounds:

until the end of the sixteenth century all Romanians in Transylvania

were Orthodox, before they were virtually compelled to become Catholic.

Thus, they argue, they were justified in collaborating with the

communist government in 1948 because it 'enabled' Greek Catholics to

return to their original faith. This view is not shared by all Orthodox;

Metropolitan Nicolae expressed the views of many when in 1996 he

publicly apologised for his Church's complicity in the suppression of

the Greek Catholics and expressed his deep admiration for Catholic

witness under dire persecution in prisons and labour camps. The leading

dissident Doina Cornea, also a Greek Catholic, told Keston in 1991 that

Corneanu was a good friend. AGRU, in its letter tells the Orthodox of

their own priests who 'refused to take away the Uniate parishes from

their brothers, alongside whom they shepherded their people and suffered

dark years under foreign occupation. Ecumenism was possible in the

gaols. Today our hopes are raised by the shining example of Metropolitan

Corneanu.' But Lascu stresses that he is the only metropolitan who has

proceded with restitution. Yet many leading Orthodox denounce Corneanu

as being out on a limb and try to discredit him. It is noteworthy that

it was also Corneanu who had the courage publicly to admit and repent of

his Church's past links with the Securitate-and his own. He touched a

raw nerve.

The proposal that Greek Catholics be assisted to build new churches

represents a positive step. The Roman Catholic Church, as the Church of

the richer Hungarian and German minorities who ruled Transylvania, was

traditionally better endowed and did not suffer complete suppression

under communism. The Greek Catholic community, emerging from the

catacombs impoverished, has been prevented from recovering most of its

other property and assets which could have provided some income.

Orthodox obstruction has forced it to spend money unnecessarily on new

buildings so the Orthodox proposal that they too should be involved

could be a tacit admittance of their culpablity.

The next session will deal with the practical application of the

commission's principles, case by case, in each diocese. Its work is due

to be completed at Blaj, the traditional centre of the Greek Catholic

Church, at the end of January. What success it will have in some of the

hotly contested parishes where local officials are unchanged remains to

be seen. 'These instances of deliberate provocation are still too

frequent,' Lascu told Keston. 'I think the good God will decide, not

men. We hope God will enlighten the hearts of all the participants. We

are still on our Via Crucis. Our bishops, priests and lay people who

between them passed more than 600 years in prison are not prepared to

abandon the faith they conserved with so much courage.' To quote the

open letter she helped to write, 'Corruption is widespread at all levels

and people's hearts are filled with hatred. Only by cooperating will

Orthodox and Uniates be able to stop the onslaught of Satan and restore

to our nation its Christian soul. We are all Romanians and equally

obliged to lift up our homeland from the state in which it was left

after half a century of communism. It is precisely the enemies of our

nation who are trying to divide us. We must not let ourselves be drawn

into this trap.' (END)