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UKRAINE: Did authorities crush Russian Orthodox Church Abroad parish?

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=666 his article was published by F18News on: 4 October 2005 UKRAINE: Did authorities crush Russian Orthodox
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2005
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      http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=666

      his article was published by F18News on: 4 October 2005
      UKRAINE: Did authorities crush Russian Orthodox Church Abroad parish?

      By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

      Archbishop Agafangel (Pashkovsky) of the Odessa Diocese of the Russian
      Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) has told Forum 18 News Service that the
      authorities in western Ukraine have crushed a budding parish of his church,
      at the instigation of Metropolitan Onufry, the diocesan bishop of the rival
      Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The head of the
      village administration, Vasyl Gavrish, denies claims that he threatened
      parishioners after the ROCA parish submitted a state registration
      application. When asked by Forum 18 whether an Orthodox church from a
      non-Moscow Patriarchate jurisdiction could gain registration, Gavrish
      replied: "We already have a parish of the Moscow Patriarchate here." Both
      Gavrish and parishioners have stated that the state SBU security service
      was involved in moves against the parish, but the SBU has denied this along
      with Bishop Agafangel's claim that there was pressure from the Moscow
      Patriarchate.


      Archbishop Agafangel (Pashkovsky) of the Odessa Diocese of the Russian
      Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) has accused the authorities of crushing a
      budding parish of his church, in the small village of Grozintsy in Khotin
      [Khotyn] district of Chernivtsy [Chernivtsi] region, in western Ukraine
      bordering Romania. "People were afraid of the authorities' threats and
      withdrew their signatures on the parish's registration application," he
      told Forum 18 News Service from Odessa on 27 September.

      But the head of the village administration dismisses these accusations. "We
      didn't threaten anyone," Vasyl Gavrish told Forum 18 from the village the
      same day. One former parishioner, Zinaida Khantevich, told Forum 18 on 4
      October that their priest Fr Aleksandr Leleka has now left the village, the
      parish has been abandoned and the registration application withdrawn, and
      the parishioners now attend the village church under the jurisdiction of
      the Moscow Patriarchate.

      The Holy Martyr Queen Alexandra parish, led by Fr Aleksandr, met for
      worship in Khantevich's home from early in 2005. She said up to 15 people
      would attend the Sunday liturgy on average. Problems began when ten
      parishioners, the number required by law for state registration, signed an
      application and submitted it in early August to the Chernivtsy office of
      the government's religious affairs committee, which is headed by Vasyl Naftas.

      Bishop Agafangel claims that parishioners succumbed to threats that they
      would have problems at work and that their children would be expelled from
      school if they did not renounce their affiliation with his Church. He said
      that Ukraine's security police, the SBU, sent an instruction to Gavrish as
      the head of the village, and that on 1 September Gavrish visited the homes
      of church members. Gavrish is said to have threatened parishioners, to
      persuade them not to retain contact with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
      (ROCA). The bishop believes the impetus for the move came from Metropolitan
      Onufry, the diocesan bishop of the rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the
      Moscow Patriarchate.

      "We were warned," Khantevich reported. "The authorities said they didn't
      want our church - they said it wasn't needed." But she said opposition to
      it mainly came from officials of the Chernivtsy region rather than the village.

      Gavrish admitted to Forum 18 that the regional SBU branch had contacted him
      about the ROCA community, but claimed it had merely informed him that the
      parish existed and asked if he was aware of its existence. He denies that
      he went to the homes of the application signatories and threatened them. "I
      asked Zinaida Khantevich why she held services secretly in her home without
      telling us." Asked by Forum 18 why Khantevich needed to inform the local
      authorities of what she was doing in her own home, he responded: "Because
      it's on the territory of our village." He insisted – in defiance of the law
      – that the ROCA community needed registration before it could meet legally.

      Gavrish pointed to the presence of registered Adventist, Baptist,
      Pentecostal and Jehovah's Witness communities in the village, claiming that
      this proves he does not discriminate against religious minorities. Asked
      whether an Orthodox church of another jurisdiction could gain registration
      he responded: "We already have a parish of the Moscow Patriarchate here."

      Vasyl Svistyuk, press officer at the Chernivtsy regional SBU, denied that
      the security police had played any role in the crushing of the ROCA parish.
      "There was no interference and there will not be," he told Forum 18 from
      Chernivtsy on 28 September. Told that both church members and Gavrish had
      confirmed that the SBU had been involved he replied: "Maybe your informants
      were mistaken." He denied that any SBU officer could have become involved
      at his or her own initiative.

      Vasyl Naftas of the religious affairs office is away on holiday until 11
      October, his colleagues told Forum 18. But a specialist in the office, Ivan
      Lepa, said that on 2 September Fr Aleksandr and a parishioner had arrived
      at the office and had voluntarily withdrawn the registration application.

      Asked why the registration process had not been completed already within
      the 30 days prescribed by law, Lepa said that when "questions" over an
      application arise, the office asks the local administration where the
      religious community is based to confirm that the ten signatories "really
      exist" and that they have signed the application "of their own free will".
      He said that in such cases the office could consider the application for up
      to three months.

      Lepa denied that there was any discrimination against the parish because it
      was affiliated to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) and denied that
      there had been any pressure from the Moscow Patriarchate not to register
      communities of other Orthodox jurisdictions. He said there was no ban on
      registering ROCA communities within the region. "If their documents are in
      order they will get registration," he pledged.

      Asked what parishioners could have done if the village administration had
      refused to confirm the signatures on the registration application, he said
      the ten adult citizen church founders could come together to his office
      with the documents and their passports confirming their residence in the
      village and then "we have to register them".

      Lepa also stressed that the law allows religious believers to hold services
      in private homes, whether or not a religious community has registration.

      Now that the Holy Martyr Queen Alexandra parish in Grozintsy no longer
      exists, Khantevich said she would no longer be hosting services in her home.
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