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Russian Church Battles for Future in NJ

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jQwjNvYZkO3MVvsqCwNsxLTrWdug Russian Church Battles for Future in NJ By REBECCA SANTANA – 7 hours ago BUENA, N.J. (AP) —
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2007
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      Russian Church Battles for Future in NJ

      By REBECCA SANTANA – 7 hours ago

      BUENA, N.J. (AP) — The Cold War lives on in this
      wooded corner of New Jersey under golden
      onion-shaped domes of a Russian Orthodox church.

      A small group of worshippers gathered Sunday at
      the Sviato-Pokrovskiy Russian Orthodox Church for
      what may have been their last service. The tiny
      congregation is facing eviction because they
      disagree with their parent church's decision to
      reconcile with the Moscow Patriarchate in Russia.

      Their fate could be determined this week, when a
      judge is expected to rule on a lawsuit brought by
      the diocese seeking control of the roughly
      five-acre church property located halfway between
      Atlantic City and Philadelphia in an area that
      was settled by Russian immigrants.

      The diocese's decision to reconcile was abhorrent
      to worshippers like those in Buena, who revile
      the Moscow Patriarchate for its cooperation with
      the Soviets years ago and for its close ties with the Russian government today.

      "This was seen as just a Soviet church, a
      man-made arm of the government," said Maria
      Nekludoff, 56, one of the Buena church's three
      trustees along with her husband and mother. "I
      just don't understand how suddenly this became
      'the mother church,' and we need to unite with
      it. It just doesn't make any sense to me."

      The church has been without a full-time priest
      since Maria Nekludoff's father, Nikolai, died in
      2004, so a full service is held only when a
      priest can travel to the church every month or
      so. A typical service attracts about 20 people.

      Adelaida Nekludoff, Maria Nekludoff's 83-year-old
      mother from Ukraine, dismissed the legitimacy of
      the Moscow church with a shake of her scarfed head: "It's not a church."

      The Sviato-Pokrovskiy church was established in
      1957 as part of the Russian Orthodox Church
      Outside of Russia, an extensive network of
      churches created after the Bolshevik Revolution
      by people who'd fled the Soviet Union.

      The Soviets tried to destroy religious belief in
      a country that had been mostly Orthodox for
      hundreds of years, slaughtering thousands of
      priests and destroying churches. Many believers
      who survived the purges made their way to the United States.

      But the fear of persecution was never far away.
      For example, in Buena, the church's elaborate
      iconostasis, a central part of any Russian
      Orthodox church that holds paintings of saints,
      was built so it could be taken down in an hour if members had to flee.

      Even with the fall of the Soviet Union, it was
      not until recently that the Church Abroad decided
      to reconcile with the Moscow Patriarchate.

      But for worshippers like those in Buena, the
      Moscow Patriarchate is still thought to be
      riddled with people who collaborated with the Soviet government.

      There's also a worry that the Patriarchate is too
      closely aligned with the current Russian
      government, which they feel is sugarcoating
      Communism in order to revive Russians' pride in Soviet-era history.

      A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington
      D.C., Alexey Timofeev, said the unification was
      something desired by all Russians, in and out of the country.

      Although there's no official count of how many
      parishes or parishioners have left the Church
      Abroad, priests and worshippers say it has driven
      apart churches, priests — even families.

      "Husband and wives, mothers and sons, everybody
      has been divided. It is a very big tragedy," said
      Bishop Vladimir Tselichtchev, 41, who led what
      may be the last service at the Buena church.

      Many Russian Orthodox churches and worshippers
      are following the Buena lawsuit closely, to see
      what effect it may have on their own situation.

      "Maybe the Cold War is not the same but it's not
      over," said the Rev. Stefan Sabelnik, who has led
      the Trenton-based Assumption of Holy Virgin
      Church, which also broke away over the reconciliation with Moscow.

      Nicholas Ohotin, a spokesman for the Russian
      Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, said people
      are allowed to leave the church but they can't
      take church property with them. Ohotin said the
      agreement with the Moscow Patriarchate allows for
      a "very broad independence," and Orthodox
      believers shouldn't fear they'll be subject to Moscow's rule.

      "The church hopes that all of its parishioners,
      any of its members that left the church do find
      their way back to the bosom of the church," Ohotin said.

      Maria Nekludoff grew up attending the Buena
      church and her father, uncle, brother and
      grandmother are buried in the well-tended
      cemetery. She said her parents and parishioners
      put their life into building up the church.

      "That would break my heart to see that basically
      their life's work was taken away," she said. "I
      feel blessed that I was able to defend these
      people who were defenseless ... I felt it was my duty."
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