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RUSSIA: Alternative Orthodox denied legal status

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  • kato_ny
    RUSSIA: Alternative Orthodox denied legal status By Geraldine Fagan, Moscow Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service Norway Although most True Orthodox communities
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2 6:20 AM
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      RUSSIA: Alternative Orthodox denied legal status
      By Geraldine Fagan, Moscow Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service
      Norway

      Although most True Orthodox communities do not register with the
      state, due to a lingering fear of persecution, rejection of the state
      and a lack of the organisational skills required to register, Forum
      18 News Service has found indications that local authorities
      sometimes bar attempts to register by the True Orthodox, as well as
      other Orthodox who are opposed to the Moscow Patriarchate. Without
      legal status, such religious groups have the right only to worship
      and teach existing followers on premises provided by their own
      members. They cannot, for example, produce or distribute literature,
      or engage in other activities for which a 'legal personality' is
      necessary.

      Often elderly and without a regular priest, most True Orthodox
      communities maintain a house church existence due to lingering fear
      of persecution, rejection of the state and a lack of the
      organisational skills required to register. Forum 18 News Service has
      however, found indications that local authorities sometimes bar
      attempts to register by groups adhering to the True Orthodox
      tradition, as well as other Orthodox opposed to the Moscow
      Patriarchate. Without legal status, such religious groups have the
      right only to worship and teach existing followers on premises
      provided by their own members.
      The True Orthodox Church emerged in the wake of the 1917 Revolution,
      when sections of the Orthodox hierarchy and laity within the Soviet
      Union refused to accept their Patriarchate's recognition of the new
      atheist regime. A particular target of religious persecution, they
      claim to have preserved legitimate apostolic succession via a series
      of largely undocumented episcopal consecrations. None of the various
      groups who today claim to have inherited the True Orthodox tradition
      are recognised by the Moscow Patriarchate, and many do not accept the
      legitimacy of one another.

      On 12 January 2004 the Supreme Court of the Russian republic of
      Chuvashiya (approximately 600km east of Moscow) upheld a 5 December
      2003 ruling by a district court in the republic's capital,
      Cheboksary, denying registration to the True Orthodox parish of St
      Elijah on the basis of the 1997 federal law on religion. Under
      Article 11 of this law, a religious group seeking initial
      registration must provide either confirmation from its local
      authority that it has existed in the vicinity for a period of 15
      years, or proof of affiliation to a centralised religious
      organisation. Unlike most Protestant congregations, the latter is
      usually not a viable option for True Orthodox due to the
      aforementioned issue of apostolic legitimacy.

      According to Cheboksary's Lenin District Court, the municipal
      administration requested that the registration application from the
      True Orthodox parish of St Elijah be rejected because it had received
      no documentation from the group prior to its 16 April 2003 request
      for confirmation of 15 years' existence. While noting the group's
      claim that it "existed in private flats from 25 March 1988 because
      their confession was persecuted under the communist regime," the
      court determined that, in accordance with the 1997 religion
      law, "confirmation by organs of local government of the existence of
      a religious group for no fewer than 15 years is possible only after
      15 years has elapsed from the moment when they inform [the
      authorities] of the creation of the group." In the case of the True
      Orthodox parish of St Elijah, it concluded, the 15-year period may
      thus be considered to have begun only with the inclusion of the group
      in the records of the Chuvash department of justice – on 3 May 2003.

      "For the authorities, our case is closed," Galina Chekmaryova of St
      Elijah parish told Forum 18 from Cheboksary on 23 March. Personal
      testimonies that the group had existed since 1988 had proved
      insufficient for registration, she said, and the 13 parishioners had
      found the whole process "very difficult" since it had involved
      copious amounts of correspondence with various municipal departments
      in the quest for the necessary documentation. While Chekmaryova
      estimated that there were several thousand followers of the late True
      Orthodox Bishop Guri (Pavlov) operating without registration in his
      native Chuvashiya, her community had decided to seek legal status
      because "we believe the time has come to be open about the True
      Orthodox Church."

      On 2 February, St Elijah parish's Moscow-based archbishop, Amvrosi
      (von Sievers) of the Goths, told Forum 18 that none of his parishes
      in at least nine regions of European Russia had state registration,
      although he acknowledged that this was partially due to rejection of
      all forms of state contact, including military service, participation
      in elections and possession of passports. In Moscow, he said,
      officials had refused even to receive a registration
      application: "You hand it in one window and they throw back at you
      out of the next one."

      According to Moscow department of justice statistics following the
      religion law's 2000 re-registration deadline, there are eight
      registered True Orthodox parishes in the Russian capital. Five of
      these belong to the Russian Orthodox Catholic ("Kafolicheskaya," or
      catholic with a small "c") Church, which claims True Orthodox
      provenance. Telling Forum 18 on 30 November that the Church had
      managed to register three parishes in Kaluga region (100km south-west
      of Moscow) in 2000, Fr Aleksi Kurakhtin of its St Philip,
      Metropolitan of Moscow parish added that three more parishes in
      Moscow region had more recently been denied registration.

      Thus, on 12 November 2001 Moscow region's department of justice
      informed a representative of the parish of SS Cyprian and Justina
      that it could not accept proof of the group's affiliation to the
      centrally registered Moscow archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox
      Catholic Church in place of confirmation of 15 years' existence. The
      reason, explained the department, was that the parish lies in Moscow
      region, whereas the statutes of the archdiocese stipulate its area of
      activity to be Moscow city. In a 23 July 2002 response to a query
      from the archdiocese regarding this refusal, Viktor Korolev of the
      Department for Social and Religious Organisations at Russia's
      Ministry of Justice wrote that, by law, his ministry "did not have
      the right" to explain legislation or its application, and pointed out
      that regional departments of justice were entitled to
      take "independent decisions" regarding the state registration of
      religious organisations.

      Speaking to Forum 18 on 24 March, Bishop Nikon (Lamekin) said that
      his parish had registered as the "Moscow community of the True-
      Orthodox Church" on 8 July 1992, but had not re-registered under the
      1997 religion law by choice. He commented that it was "very
      difficult" to register a True Orthodox centralised organisation, and
      that local officials remain largely unaware of the February 2002
      Constitutional Court decision which determined that an active
      religious organisation registered before the 1997 law came into
      effect could not be deprived of its legal status for failing to re-
      register. In particular, he cited pressure in recent years by the tax
      authorities, who have demanded confirmation from the local housing
      department that his parish has permission to be registered at a
      residential address.

      Also on 24 March, a representative of another Orthodox body opposed
      by the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev
      Patriarchate), told Forum 18 from the Ukrainian city of
      Dnepropetrovsk that his Church's 15 parishes in Russia's Belgorod and
      Kursk regions (approximately 500km south-east of Moscow) and two
      parishes in Moscow city and Moscow region had successfully re-
      registered, "but it wasn't easy." Although his Church has a
      centralised religious organisation in Russia, a second parish in
      Moscow city, SS Peter and Paul, failed to re-register, added
      Metropolitan Adrian (Starina) of Dnepropetrovsk and Krivoi Rog. "They
      kept drawing out the process, losing documents and so on until the
      deadline had passed, when they said it was too late." According to
      Moscow department of justice figures, no registration refusals have
      been issued to Kiev Patriarchate parishes in the city.

      For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious
      freedom survey at
      http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=116

      A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at
      http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?
      Parent=europe&Rootmap=russi
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