Wednesday 18 March 1998

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Visible to every tourist who visits Moscow's Red Square is the exquisite
17th-century Kazan Cathedral, totally destroyed by STALIN but painstakingly
rebuilt in 1993. What few realise is that this gem of Russian church
architecture is now home to an item of stolen property which the Moscow
Patriarchate refuses to return to its original owners, the Old Believers.

In the tower of the relatively small cathedral hangs a three-ton bell - so
disproportionate that the walls had to be broken to install it. The bell's
original home eight decades ago was the huge Cathedral of the Intercession
in the Rogozhskaya Commune, the Old Believers' main spiritual centre in
Moscow. Donated by the famous MOROZOV Old Believer merchant family, it was
cast during the brief spell of religious freedom between TSAR NICHOLAS II'S
reforms in 1905 and the Bolshevik takeover in 1917.

In the 1920s the Morozov bell was seized by the Soviet regime and hauled to
the Kremlin. Until the early 1990s it was housed in a building remote from
both the Old Believer and the mainstream Orthodox traditions, the Soviet
Palace of Congresses. In 1993 the Old Believers unexpectedly found it
hanging in the mainstream Moscow Patriarchate's newly restored Kazan
Cathedral. According to ALEKSEI RYABTSEV, assistant to Old Believer
METROPOLITAN ALIMPI, the Metropolitan's repeated pleas for the bell's
return have all been rudely rejected.

The bell is only one of many items of Old Believer property which have been
appropriated by the Moscow Patriarchate, Ryabtsev told Keston News Service
in a 27 November interview. He said that by December 1996 the Old
Believers had become so concerned about the transfer of Old Believer icons,
bells and other items to the Patriarchate that they mounted a special
appeal to the Duma. They requested the passage of legislation which would
require the Russian government to take greater care when transferring
religious items previously stolen by the Soviet regime - or stolen by
private-sector thieves in more recent years and then recovered by the
police or customs service. The Old Believers' proposal would have required
that officials first verify which religious confession was the true,
original owner of such an item and then return it only to that owner.

Though the supporters of Russia's September 1997 law on church-state
relations claimed to be defending all of the country's 'traditional
confessions', they failed to include the provision sought by the Old
Believers. According to Ryabtsev the issue rose again at a December 1997
session of the Commission on Questions of Religious Associations under
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN, which discussed the transfer to the Moscow
Patriarchate of some 563 religious items including copper crucifixes used
for the most part by Old Believers. But no specialised review took place,
and representatives of the Old Believers were even denied permission to
study the items so that they could decide whether any of them should be
claimed as Old Believer property.

A source at the Kazan Cathedral, who asked not to be identified, confirmed
in an 11 February interview with Keston that the Morozov bell had indeed
originally belonged to the Old Believers. But the source said that the bell
had been cast only in 1917 and had never even been rung before being
confiscated by the Bolsheviks. Ryabtsev, on the other hand, said that the
bell was cast in 1912 and that it is one of a pair. Its twin, he told
Keston, was given by the Soviet regime to the Moscow Arts Theatre founded
by the renowned director KONSTANTIN STANISLAVSKY. Upon learning of the
bell's existence in 1989 and reading its inscription to deceased members of
the Morozov family, the theatre's then director OLEG YEFREMOV ordered its
return to its original home in the Old Believers' Cathedral of the

A.V. PANKRATOV, curator of the Old Believer Metropolia's historical
archives, told Keston that in 1993 Metropolitan Alimpi wrote a letter to
the Orthodox PATRIARCH ALEKSI requesting that he return the other Morozov
bell. Alimpi's representatives, he said, were kept waiting for four hours
at the Patriarchate's headquarters in the Danilovsky Monastery before a
bishop finally agreed to see them. That bishop then simply told them that
the bell had been transferred by the secular authorities and that they
should address their appeal to Moscow's MAYOR YURI LUZHKOV - whose staff in
turn sent the Old Believers right back to the Patriarchate. Finally, said
Pankratov, the Old Believers appealed directly to the rector of the Kazan
Cathedral. The rector also refused them.

Meanwhile, said Ryabtsev, the bell's original place in the Cathedral of the
Intercession remains vacant since the Old Believers are now too poor to
commission a replacement. (END)