Saturday, October 29, 2005

Appeal of the Synod of Bishops, clergy and laity of the persecuted Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC)

The Synod of Bishops, clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church respectfully turn to you, as the head of a major human rights organization, with a matter of utmost importance. We request that you take note of certain violations against the Constitution of the Russian Federation, against the Freedom of Conscience Law, and against the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and to take the appropriate measures to see that these violations are not repeated.

This matter concerns the October 13th beating that was sustained by the First Hierarch of our Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal and Vladimir, while he was inside his home in Suzdal. The elderly and ailing Metropolitan, who is affected with an acute case of diabetes, among other things, who has had more than one heart bypass surgery, and who suffers from deep foot ulcers, was accosted by unknown criminals, who tied him up hands and feet, taped his mouth shut, and then wrapped him up in a rug and repeatedly kicked him. In order to increase the pain, they first tore off the dressings that had been covering the sores on his feet.

These atrocities, perpetrated on a defenseless old man, can be compared only with the tortures and atrocities that the Bolsheviks perpetrated on various members of the episcopacy, clergy and laity, first, because they dared to believe in God, and secondly, because they refused to join the "Renovationist Church" that had been set up by the commisars, and later, because they refused to submit to the NKVD and its special department, the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), founded by Stalin and Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky). Across the USSR, from Kolyma to Alma Ata, the blood of those martyrs was poured out in torrents, and the murderers of those new martyrs have yet to be tried till this day. Now, blood is again flowing from the persecuted successors of the Church of the New Martyrs of Russia, in Suzdal, the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church.

Without any doubt, this sad fact is connected with the discrimination on the part of local government officials against the rights of the faithful of the ROAC, which has been taking place for a long time already. From the very first moments of our separation from the ROC MP in 1989, we became the object of persecution by local authorities, and started to have problems with transferring ownership of churches and other church properties. At the present time, it has become practically impossible to incorporate any new parishes or dioceses.

The community of St. Xenia in Novaya Kupavna, Moscow region, after the three long years of hard work required to incorporate, cannot get the permission needed to finish building a church on its own land. In Vologda, while reincorporating its religious center under the Suzdal diocese, the community was told by local authorities that there would be no problems transferring the church as long as it had incorporation papers issued by the government. However, the community’s request was denied nevertheless, on the basis that all of the churches had already been transferred to the Vologda diocese of the ROC MP. The community then asked for any building or parcel of land so that it could erect a church, but this request was also denied. The reasoning went something like this: "There are already enough churches in the area. Go and pray in one of them. You all have the same God anyway."

In the Bryansk region, our priests have been threatened not only by the representatives of the Bryansk diocese of the ROC MP, but also by regional officials who have made statements to the effect that, notwithstanding the legally incorporated status of the ROAC, it is only a quasi-legal organization, which is in a special category, and under scrutiny, and they advised its priests that they had better be concerned about the future of their children.

In the Vladimir region, according to an unspoken order of Gov. Vinogradov to his officials, the deed to the church of St. John the Forerunner in the town of Pavlovskoye, Suzdal region, which has been restored from its ruins by active members of the ROAC, has yet to be transferred to the faithful, in spite of all of the court decisions awarding it to them.

Parishes of the ROAC in the Khabarovsk area are not permitted to incorporate, as well as in the regions of Chelyabinsk, Orenburg, Perm, et al. Instead of processing their applications to incorporate, officials there try to talk the priests into returning to the Moscow Patriarchate, tell them what their opinion is about Metropolitan Valentine, inform the local dioceses of the MP about every attempt of ROAC communities to incorporate, and fulfill their every directive.

In this way, government workers end up acting as agents of organizations, which by virtue of their legal standing, are separated from the government. A complicated situation has developed in the city of Suzdal itself, center of the Suzdal diocese. Two newly built churches, built by request of city officials themselves, (the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in the new microregion, and the cemetery church of St. Vladimir), have not been given legal status for five years now, as a result of the express spoken instructions of the governor of the Vladimir region, Mr. Vinogradov, together with the collusion of the former mayor of Suzdal, a Mr. Ryzhov, himself one-time chief of the Suzdal department of the FSB. These churches, with the permission of the authorities, have more than once been the targets of blasphemous desecrationby people belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, who have organized the "Committee to Fight the ROAC on Suzdal Territory."

Two years ago in Suzdal, from 2001-2003, hoodlums from the "Chechen Veterans Union" and from "Nashe Delo" (Cosa Nostra) repeatedly beat up several of our clergymen and lay people, and set fire to their homes and to our monastery. The local authorities (the mayor of Suzdal, A.Y. Ryzhov, the chief of GROVD, S.V. Belousov, the district attorney of Suzdal, A.A. Smirnov, the regional district attorney, A.V. Shaykov, and the governor of the Vladimir region, N. Vinogradov), did absolutely NOTHING to protect the faithful. All of these criminal cases were closed. All written appeals, whether they were addressed to the city or to the regional DA’s, ended up with the standard ambiguous phrase, "no sign of criminal activity found." The horrendous campaign of character assassination against Metropolitan Valentine on the pages of the newspapers also continues to go unpunished (Russky Vestnik, Sovershenno Secretno, Prizyv), with their calls to "physically destroy," "cut off Metropolitan Valentine’s ears and threaten him that his head will be next," "squish" Metropolitan Valentine (Vladimir regional newspaper Prizyv, June 14, 2001), "to twist the little pig’s head off" (Russky Vestnik, #17-18, 2002), "to follow through to the end with this matter and cleanse the land of Suzdal" (Russky Vestnik, 29-30, 2002). On July 5, 2001, the newspaper Prizyv openly stated that, "Father Valentine should be shot. For his sake we should temporarily forget about the ban on capital punishment, put a bullet in the back of his head, and put the whole thing on TV." The made-to-order court case and improper conviction, which followed thereupon, have also gone unpunished, and there is no justice to be found anywhere. It seems like we’re living back in the days of 1937 all over again.

We are convinced, that the above-mentioned facts will leave no doubt that the ROC MP, in concert with local authorities, have assigned themselves the task of destroying the ROAC and its First Hierarch. This idea is supported by the above-cited publications, in which it is openly stated that if Metropolitan Valentine is removed from the scene, "his autonomous church will be swallowed up by the MP, since the ROAC has no other leader of his caliber" (Prizyv, #146, August 15, 2001). And now, we see a violent act perpetrated on the head of the ROAC, Metropolitan Valentine.

Again and again, we implore you to do everything possible to bring the discrimination and violations of the rights of the ROAC faithful to an end, to stop the unbridledness, and to express your protest against the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church and its First Hierarch, Metropolitan Valentine.

(75 signatures follow)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Metropolitan Valentine Beaten, Robbed, By Unknown Assailants In Suzdal

(Suzdal Diocesan Herald – Vertograd, Suzdal)

On Thursday, October 13th, eve of the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, unknown criminals burglarized the Synodal headquarters and residence of Metropolitan Valentine, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox (Autonomous) Church.

Between the hours of 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM, the Metropolitan was home alone, recuperating from an illness. At around 7:00 PM, Archbishop Theodore, returning from services, was unable to enter the Synodal headquarters due to a malfunctioning lock on the front door. However, Vladyka quickly figured out how to get the door open and discovered Metropolitan Valentine rolled up inside a carpet on the floor. All of the closets had been opened, and their contents were strewn around the room.

The criminals, probably two or three of them, used axes, sledgehammers, and breaker bars to get into the house through the garage after breaking through four metal doors, which lead from the attached garage to the altar of the Synodal house chapel dedicated to the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God.

According to Metropolitan Valentine, he was standing with his back to the entrance of his living quarters when he heard a noise from behind him just before receiving a hard blow to the head, which knocked him down. He fell and lost consciousness. Then, the criminals repeatedly beat him about the stomach and liver, tore the bandages from his ulcerated foot, then they dragged him to a large room where they bound his hands and feet with lamp cord and a towel, taped over his mouth, and rolled him up inside the carpet, which was covering a couch.

Police at the scene also constituted the facts of the robbery. The thieves grabbed two silver chalices, three valuable panaghias, which had formerly belonged to Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), and Metropolitan Anthony (Romanovsky), and several very old icons, from cabinets in the living room. The criminals also tried to break into the office safe, which contained important documents. A very old icon of St. Dimitry of Rostov was stolen from the Synodal chapel. In their hurry to escape,the thieves abandoned several very old and heavy icons at the doors of the garage.

Doctors arrived by ambulance and administered first aid to Vladyka Metropolitan. Vladyka quickly regained consciousness. A quick examination revealed signs of concussion, as well as trauma to the face, entire body, and Vladyka’s ulcerated feet.

In all probability, the main goal of these criminals was not robbery, but to cause physical harm to the aged and ailing Metropolitan. In Suzdal, in anticipation of mayoral elections being held on October 16th, several members of the extremist organization "Chechen Veterans Union", also known as "Nashe Delo" (Cosa Nostra), were seen around town again. These people engage in negative PR for hire, and everyone in Suzdal remembers their activity during the last mayoral elections in February/March, 2002, which were marked by a long drawn out campaign of harassment against the First Hierarch of the ROAC and the Russian Church, including beatings of several of the clergy and active lay members of the ROAC in Suzdal. The press played a particularly active role in persecuting the Metropolitan. The Vladimir regional newspaper "Prizyv" and the newspaper "Russian Vestnik" called for direct physical reprisals against Metropolitan Valentine. This time, Metropolitan Valentine arrived in Suzdal from Zheleznovodsk, and on the eve of the elections, was preparing to publish a statement addressed to the authorities and citizens of the city.

All of this is going on against the background of general persecution against the ROAC carried out by the local authorities, who, as a rule, are guided by directives from the Moscow Patriarchate. In December of 2002, Archbishop Evlogy of Vladimir (MP) gave the church award called the Order of Daniel of Moscow 3rd class to the head of the bureau for state security for the Russian Federation (FSB RF) in the Vladimir region, a Mr. P.V. Sivanov, in advance, for his "help in returning property belonging to the ROC, which was in the hands of schismatic religious factions". To this day, the Suzdal diocese has not been able to get the deeds to its church properties belonging to the ROAC in Suzdal (Church of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia), and in the town of Pavlovsk, Suzdal region, (Nativity of the Forerunner Church). In Zheleznovodsk, the MP is trying to seize control of the Church of St. Olga by hook or by crook. Everywhere, ROAC communities are being denied the right to incorporate. Churches belonging to the ROAC in and around Suzdal have been repeatedly robbed. The smear campaign in the press continues non-stop, especially by "Orthodox" journalists. And now, it has come to physical violence. The facts of these events have caused the City of Suzdal’s investigative authorities to open a case.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Passing of Archbishop Andreas, the former First–Hieratch of the Matthewite Synod of the TOC of Greece


Archbishop Andreas, the retired Archbishop of Athens and the former First–Hieratch of the Matthewite Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, reposed in the Lord on October 4. He was the oldest by his ordination Hierarch of the True Orthodoxy. He was ordained to the bishop of Patras on September 13, 1948, by Bishop Matthew himself together with Bishop Spyridon. Before the ordination he was the monk on the Holy Mount of Athos.

Archbishop Andreas was the head of the Matthewite Synod from 1972 till his retirement in February 2003. Archbishop Nicholas (former Metropolitan of Pireus) headed the Synod after him.

The Funeral of Archbishop Andreas will be held on October 6 in the Chapel of St. Modestos at his residence.

Nun Martha (Senina). Review of Protopriest George Edelstein, Notes of a Village Priest

The book of Fr. George Edelstein, the rector of the Resurrection church in the village of Karabanovo, Kostroma diocese in the ROC MP, is a collection of articles from 1988 to 2000 devoted to the inner life and problems of the Moscow Patriarchate. In the foreword the author recounts how in 1979 the then still Archbishop of Kursk and Belgorod Chrysostom, having ordained him to the priesthood, sent him to a parish, saying in his parting words that a priest must not simply be able "to wave a censer", but "today he must be everything that the Church requires of him". "But is it possible to lie for the benefit of the Church?" asked the newly-ordained [priest], and heard in reply: "It is both possible and necessary." "For twenty-five years," writes the author of the collection, "I have been thinking about these words. Everything that is written in this book is the result of these thoughts."

In the book there are three sections: "In the parish", "Turning to rejected ordinances" and "Through humble prayer, repentance and love..." The author without fear or favour describes the inner life of the ROC MP in the Soviet period - a system of total State control over the Church, universal fear of the authorities, the arbitrariness of officials, obstacles on the path of the organisation of normal Church life in the parish, the lack of desire on the part of the hierarchs to defend the rights of the Church before the powers that be. The author also criticises the membership of the MP in "the conglomerate of Christian tendencies, opinions and sects which is called a 'World Council of Churches': "The Church is the Body of Christ. But how many Churches and Christs do we have now? Why does the "Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate" never use the word "heretic"?" (p. 52). Fr. George also criticises the pusillanimity of contemporary hierarchs of the MP, their inability to be at the head of [a movement of] spiritual regeneration, their isolation not only from the simple people, but also from the rank-and-file clergy. "Even today," he writes, "the Church is in voluntary sweet captivity. It is as much deprived of spiritual freedom today as in any of the past sixty years. Our hierarchs even today are in the position of court flatterers and panegyrists..." (p. 71). Fr. George also criticises the conversion of the church into "a house of trade": "The most terrible thing that we have done in the Orthodox Church is that we have converted every sacrament into a commodity, everything is sold according to a strict price-list" (p. 63). Touching on the opinion that is current in the MP that "preachers from abroad" lure the potential flock of the MP through "hand-outs", Fr. George writes: "The main poverty of the Moscow Patriarchate is not material but spiritual, we have exchanged fraternal kisses with lieutenant-generals of the MB-KGB for too long and too sincerely. Because of this we rely today not on the rock of faith, but on "bird cherry", on the batons of OMON, and on all the new prohibitory articles of the Law on freedom of conscience" (p. 83).

From page to page, from article to article, the power of the critique grows. "The root vice of the Moscow Patriarchate," writes the author, "lies in the fact that we, having assimilated the sergianist doctrine, have inevitably been turned into an integral part of the statehood of the USSR, we have become a little cog and wheel in the diabolic machine... And naturally, having become servers of the Soviets, the functionaries have lost the ability to distinguish between good and evil, truth and falsehood. Hence the salvation of the Church through shameless lies, hence the false witnesses about the New Martyrs..." (p. 125).

Speaking about ways of overcoming the division between the ROC MP and the ROCOR, he writes: "Ordinary believers suggest the beginning of the overcoming of the schism where the hierarchs see its conclusion - in the restoration of eucharistic unity. Without brotherly love, without prayer and without repentance. Something that is unknown and unthinkable in Orthodoxy: unity not simply without unanimity, but with openly expressed disagreement" (p. 241). Fr. George speaks about the complete absence in the hierarchy of the ROC MP of repentance for earlier evil deeds and lies committed in the Soviet times. Moreover, relying on his own considerable experience of communion with bishops of the MP, he says that these people are in principle incapable of such repentance. And so, summing up his observations of the life of the ROC MP:

"No acts of public repentance have taken place, are taking place or will take place... No purges (he means in the form of cleansing the ROC from unworthy clergy - N.M.) have taken place, are taking place or will take place. Incidentally, there are also no 'real church courts'. Simply because the purge would have to begin from the most highly placed people, with the Holy Synod. It there that the people "who have most defiled themselves morally, politically and spiritually" are sitting.

True sobornost has not been restored, is not being restored, and will not be restored. Sobornost is a sharp knife for our present hierarchs... The role of the rank-and-file clergy and laity in the Moscow Patriarchate has been reduced to nothing. "True Councils, without pomp or deadlines"

have not taken place, are not taking place and will not take place... "True Councils" are needed by nobody" (p. 258).
Of course, we have to give the author his due for his boldness and refusal to flatter. However, on reading his book perplexity gradually increases: why does Fr. George consider this organisation to be a Church? An organisation which, according to his own words, is rotten through and through (especially at the top), in which there is no true repentance, not even a hint of sobornost, nor sign of true spiritual regeneration, and the most important thing - "is not and will not be". After all, he not only considers the ROC MP to be the true Church of Christ, but is even offended by Bishop Agathangel of Simferopol and the Crimea (RTOC), who does not recognise the MP to be such. What logic is the author following when he continues to remain in the ROC MP and considers it to be a Church?

Fr. George notes that we must not be "too strict" toward the MP, insofar as not everything is in order in the other "branches of the Russian Church" - the ROCOR and the catacombniks. "Who is repenting, who is convening genuine Councils, who is listening to the opinion of the laity, where does the principle of sobornost triumph?" (p. 258). He says approximately the same in reply to the reproaches of Bishop Agathangelus: "Every branch of the Russian Orthodox Church has its own sins, its own illnesses, which can be healed in only one way - by repentance and conciliar reasoning. But not one branch wants to repent, not one is striving to resolve the problems of the Church in an All-Russian Local Council... It is difficult to repent, one has to humble oneself, show spiritual strength and fortitude, one has to stand before God. While it is very easy and simple to abuse others. There no humility is needed, but pride. There it is not obligatory at all to be a Christian." (p. 328). The author of the book speaks with approval of those bishops of the ROCOR who are striving for negotiations with the ROC MP and a joint resolution of the problems of the Church.

On the other hand, Fr. George does not at all approve of those who consider that the MP is "graceless" - in particular, the third First Hierarch of the ROCOR, the holy Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky): these people, in the opinion of the author, "have for many years been trying to obtain a declaration that the Moscow Patriarchate is "graceless"... As a proof of such theologoumena, the "theory" of the "gracelessness" of the Catholics is dragged out of naphthalene. The Catholics are "heretics in the same way as the Mohammedans are" (I'm not joking, this is a quotation, the author is a hierarch). Apostolic succession, they say, is just a form, a shell, a pod, while "a true Orthodox hierarch" (for example, a Greek Old Calendarist) must unfailingly fill this shell with content"; this teaching Fr. George calls "sectarianism".

Alas, we have to recognise that in spite of all his criticism of the existing order of things in the ROC MP, in spite of his understanding of why genuine spiritual regeneration has not taken place in Russia under the leadership of the MP, the author of the book remains one flesh with the very system he so ardently criticises. He uses non-ecclesiastical concepts, and understands even repentance, which he speaks so much about, in a quite different way from the Orthodox Church. After all, if, for example, a person is in communion with heresy, his repentance must consist not simply in personal recognition of the fact that "heresy is bad", but in breaking ecclesiastical communion with the heretics. But in the eyes of Fr. George there is no difference between canonical sins or sins on the "ascetic" plane and transgressions in the sphere of dogmatics. It is for that reason that he cannot understand why the True Orthodox consider heretics such as the Catholics and ecumenists to be completely outside the Church, and why they do not wish to sit with them "at the table of negotiations". Fr. George's conceptions of the Church are taken, not from Orthodoxy, but from those same Catholics - this is quite clear from his reasoning with regard to "apostolic succession", which, it turns out, is not lost even with the acceptance of heresy - a teaching completely unknown to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church.

What did Fr. George hope to achieve with his book? Evidently, to force his ecclesiastical brothers to think, to call them to repentance. But the reader can with reason ask: why all these calls to repent when the ROC MP is still a Church? Why all these exposes of hierarchs and the "KGB" patriarch, if the exposers themselves continue to commemorate these hierarchs and consider them to be grace-bearing pastors of "the flock of Christ"? Why all these complaints about the "spiritual infirmity" of the ROC MP, since sacraments, in the opinion of the complainers, are still performed in it? Fr. George bitterly writes that "as time passes, even the call to repentance sounds more and more absurd. From all sides I hear: "We have nothing to repent of" (p. 6). But his own position leads, in essence, to a still more radical conclusion: it is not that the hierarchy and rank-and-file members of the ROC MP "have nothing" to repent of: it is that there is no reason to repent. After all, the Church still remains the Church. What else is needed?.. It is for that reason that books like Fr. George's collection of articles have factual interest as a collection of documents of the epoch, as an illustration of the psychology and faith of the clergy of the contemporary ROC MP - but, unfortunately, have no spiritual value, and can hardly elicit those serious changes in hearts and minds that Fr. George is hoping for.

(Published at, translation by Vladimir Moss published at Paradosis)