Subj: Russia: “Enemies of the State”.
The deepening tensions between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Russia signals a trend in religious oppression that will inevitably spill over to smaller evangelical Protestant groups. The troubles arise from the relationship between the leadership of the Orthodox Church and the government — the Orthodox Church’s claim on Russian territory and Russian souls, and the government’s desire for Orthodox votes. (See note 1.)
An Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) program, “Foreign Correspondent”, aired a documentary on 25 September entitled “Russia – The Great Crusade”. It contained some potent quotes. One Russian Catholic in the ABC program described the persecution as “national fascism, that really is religious fascism – and it is terrifying.” In a scene where Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksi II is embracing President Putin, the commentator Jill Colgan remarks, “The alleged KGB collaborator and the former KGB colonel – power and influenced combined.” Is this what this Orthodox-nationalism is all about – heads of Church and heads of State serving each other in their mutual quest for increased power and influence?
While this posting is about Russia, these issues are not limited to Russia. The issues of rising nationalism, the political influence of the Orthodox Church, and of wilting religious liberty is an issue relevant to many Central European nations.
“ENEMIES OF THE STATE”
A New York Times (NYT) article by Steven Lee Myers, entitled “New Russian Cathedral Stymied by Interfaith Rift” (10 Sept 2002), describes the complaints from the leader of the Orthodox Church in the Russian town of Pskov, Archbishop Yevsevy, against the Catholics of Pskov and the struggle going on over the construction of a Catholic Cathedral in that town.
In order to halt the construction of the Catholic Cathedral, Archbishop Yevsevy wrote to local leaders and President Vladimir V. Putin, protesting the Catholic Church’s “aggression” and “expansionist goals” in Russia. “Taking advantage of the fruits of our current democracy, the enemies of our state are preparing a new expansion of Catholicism, which on the territory of Russia always resulted in war,” he said.
The NYT quoted Rev. Ioann Mukhanov, the Orthodox priest in Pskov as saying the Catholic Church was proselytising, seeking converts among orphans, among others. “It’s obvious,” he said, “that they are planning to interfere with children of our Orthodox families.”
This sort of language, referring to Catholics as “enemies of our state” and suggesting that their growth could result in “war” and family division, invokes fear, cultivates hostility and fans religious intolerance. Orthodox believers and right-wing ultra-nationalists have staged intimidating protests.
In a report by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL) the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, raises the contentious issue of proselytism. His observations are extremely significant because they cut to the very core issue of religious freedom, an issue that relates to Protestants as much as Catholics.
“Kondrusiewicz also said the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have a different understanding on the concept of proselytizing. He said the Catholic Church does not automatically consider all native-born Russians to be Russian Orthodox. ‘You can hardly call an atheist who was baptized in the Orthodox Church but [who] had no relations with any church during his life an Orthodox believer. If at some point in his life, this person chooses to become a Catholic, it can’t be called an act of proselytizing [by the Catholic Church],’ Kondrusiewicz said.
“Aleksandr Abramov is an official with the external-affairs department of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. He disagrees with the Catholic point of view and says Russia was and is an Orthodox country and has its own traditions of Christianity. ‘We consider everyone who was baptized in an Orthodox way or has Orthodox roots to belong without any doubt to Orthodox tradition. And we consider these people to be in our fold and we are against such a development when our [believers] are being taken away from us, very often by indecent means,’ Abramov said.” (Full article – see link 1)
Several Catholic clergy and Protestant church workers have recently had their visas revoked and have been deported from Russia. (See Keston Institute articles – link 2.)
It is rumoured that Feliks Dzerzhinsky (Iron Feliks), the founder of the infamous Soviet secret police, is to be resurrected. Dzerzhinsky proudly said of his organisation in 1918, “We stand for organised terror,” and an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 people were executed during the “Red Terror” from 1917 to 1923. On 22 August 1991, five cranes and 10,000 people pulled down the towering bronze statue of Dzerzhinsky.
Today however, there is a government campaign underway to put him back on a pedestal, on a traffic island in Lubyanka Square in front of the headquarters of the former K.G.B. and its successor, the Federal Security Services. The New York Times (17 Sept 2002) described the move as “a defining symbol of today’s Russia.”
– Elizabeth Kendal
1) According to Operation World 21st Century Edition by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Russia has a population of 147 million, with 79.5 million Christians, 60 million of whom are Russian Orthodox. The Orthodox Church is the only Christian denomination in Russia that is not growing.
2) Australian Broadcasting Corporation program, Foreign Correspondent. “Russia – The Great Crusade” by correspondent Jill Colgan. 25 September 2002 (Unfortunately transcripts are not available.)
1) “Russia: Catholic Church Continues To Rile Orthodox Officials” By Valentinas Mite, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, 17 Sept 2002. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2002/09/17092002145711.asp
2) Keston Institute 12.09.2002 – RUSSIA: Fifth Catholic Priest Denied Entry. 12.09.2002 – RUSSIA: Swedish Protestant is Latest Deportee. http://www.keston.org/knsframe.htm
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