The following posting was written for WEA RLC by Anneta Vyssotskaia. Anneta monitors religious liberty in Russia and has written both News & Analysis and Religious Liberty Prayer (RLP) bulletins for WEA. An earlier WEA RLC News & Analysis piece by Anneta, entitled "SECURITY DETERIORATING FOR RUSSIA'S PROTESTANT CHURCHES" (6 May 2005) can be found on the WEA website <http://www.ea.org.au/rlc/>.
In today's posting Anneta reports further on a rising culture of intolerance, which demonstrates itself in rights violations and violent attacks against Protestants and their church property. She also reports on the positive response of Protestant pastors and leaders. A most disturbing element of Anneta's report is the news
that one Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church is requiring that priests spy and report on the activities of Protestant fellowships, and on those who support or show favour to them. As she notes, this should cause alarm, as it is reminiscent of Soviet times when such spying and reporting led to accusation of sedition or treason, followed by intense persecution.
WATCHING TRENDS IN RUSSIA
By Anneta Vyssotskaia
Monitoring conducted by the Slavic Law Centre has determined that in Russia the first four months of 2005 yielded more cases of religious discrimination and violation of the believers' rights than 2003 and 2004 combined. Rights violations against Christian believers were registered in such big cities as Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Tymen, Tula, Izhevsk; and the smaller cities of Podolsk, Chekhov,
Balashikha; and in Krasnodarskii Region, Khanty-Mansiiskii Okrug and Voronezhskaya Oblast.
Reported cases include attempts to seize church buildings or destroy them through arson or explosions. Protestant Christians have suffered physical attacks, verbal insults and beatings from the police and from groups of fanatics. Also it has been reported that a number of churches, some with over 1,000 members, are having huge problems getting permission to construct church buildings.
PROTESTANT COURAGE GROWING
As a result, a new trend is emerging where Protestant churches are becoming more active in raising their voice to remind the authorities and society about their constitutional rights. Protestant churches are also urging Russians to resist the constant stream of lies about Protestants emanating from mass- media, from
representatives of authorities, and from the Russian Orthodox Church.
In May and July two joint protest meetings of Protestant Christians from different denominations took place in Moscow and in Voronezh. Pastors and church representatives from other cities also participated in these forums. The Moscow Emmanual church organised regular pickets to protest against the systematic discrimination and violation of the constitutional rights of Protestant Christians.
A number of distinguished Protestant leaders openly expressed their opinion about the discrimination against Protestants in Russia. Among them were Yuri Sipko, the Chairman of the Russian Baptist Union; Sergei Ryakhovsky, the head of the Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals); and the President of Western Russian Union of Church of Seventh Day Adventists.
CONFRONTATION AND REPORTING
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP) continues confronting the activities of the "sects", amongst which they include almost all Protestant churches. This confrontation takes different forms, from distributing printed materials warning the local population about the danger of the "sects", to organising protest pickets against Christian festivals
and other Protestant activities.
It must be noted however, there have been some changes for the better in the ROC MP, such as some churches starting to pay more attention to the problems of society and to the spiritual education of their own church members. Not all sincere Orthodox believers support the position of their church leadership regarding the
"sects". Some Russian Orthodox believers find such behaviour by their priests very disappointing, and are indignant.
Evidence of how serious ROC MP resistance is can be seen in a most striking and absurd document that was recently published on a well-trusted Christian news web-site . The document, which was signed by Archibishop German, was meant for "inner circulation" within Kursk-Rylskaya eparchy (ROC MP). It obliges all priests to provide a report on the activities of "totalitarian sects" in their locality every three months.
Amongst the items the priest must report are: name of organisation ("sect"); confessional affiliation; approximate membership; leaders; places of worship; approximate age percentage and growth of membership; missionary methods used by the church (e.g., house visiting, street evangelism, camps, concerts, festivals, free meals, free literature); degree of activity or aggression; if the ROC is openly confronted; and planned events.
The most shocking element of this is the order for the priests to report on key people in society who show favour to "sectarians": heads of city administration, directors of factories and other enterprises, businessmen, mass-media people, deputy members, workers from hospitals and educational institutions.
Those at the protest forums commented that this reporting is very much like in Stalin's time when people were encouraged to spy on their neighbours and colleagues. One of the participants of the forum who introduced himself as Father Superior of an Orthodox monastery expressed his opinion that there is nothing wrong with such an order because it helps to collect the necessary information
for the important part of church work - ideological confrontation of the sects. He thinks that the main task of all sectarians is to divide Russia along religious lines and for this reason there is nothing wrong with collecting such information about them.
Russia (in the former USSR) was once a country where millions of people perished after being labeled "enemy of the State" on the basis of such secretly collected information. Therefore the behaviour of the Russian Orthodox Church leadership cannot but give rise to serious concern.
The secular authorities who support the ROC MP also try to resist the activities of the "sects", even though they are in most cases registered organisations operating within the law. In one case, the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights in Chelyabinsk, Ekaterina Gorina, attempted to impede the Easter Festival in that city.
Furthermore, as a result of a TV program organised at her initiative, a local Baptist church was set on fire the night before the Russian Easter.
The cases of such violation of the rights of Protestant Christians are numerous.
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