Voices from Russia

Monday, 30 June 2008

Acclamations and Anathemas: The MP Archpastoral Council Completes its Work in Moscow

The final acts of the Archpastoral Council of the MP, which was in session last week in Moscow, were services held in the Kremlin and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in honour of the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia. The assembled bishops met with the leading figures of the government and also passed disciplinary actions against clergy who attacked the “common position” of the MP. On Friday, the leading hierarchs of the Council, as widely-expected, condemned the ultra-conservative faction led by Bishop Diomid of Anadyr and Chukotka. For activity “combining both the violation of canonical standards and by introducing temptation into church life, which was expressed in slanderous lies against the hierarchy”, Bishop Diomid was placed under an interdict, that is, he is barred from all sacerdotal functions such as serving the divine liturgy, performing the sacraments, and public preaching from the ambo. In his place, Archbishop Mark of Khabarovsk and Priamursky was appointed locum tenems of the Chukotka see.

Furthermore, the Council called Vladyki Diomid “on the carpet” at the next regular session of the Holy Synod scheduled for mid-July on the feastday of St Sergei of Radonezh. If the renegade bishop persists in his actions and if he does not repent, just as he did not come to the Archpastoral Council (let us recall that Diomid claimed that he was in ill-health, but, the patriarchate did not find this explanation convincing), then, the Holy Synod can “remove him from his post”.

“If Vladyki Diomid persists in his errors and disputes the decision of the Synod, then, after he is deposed from the episcopal office, he can also be degraded from the monastic to the lay state, and, finally, it can lead to an anathema against him, that is, excommunication from the church”, an MP spokesman explained to the Interfax press agency. It is quite likely that events shall work out that way, as yesterday, Diomid, in spite of the interdict laid against him, served liturgy at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Anadyr. The nephew of the disgraced bishop reported to journalists that Diomid intends neither to repent nor accede to the decision of the MP Holy Synod.

It is possible that “the Diomid Affair” shall be brought before the ecclesiastical tribunal, the formal charter of which was adopted by the Archpastoral Council at the end of last week. This sort of tribunal, which investigated canonical transgressions of the clergy, was in existence until 1917. The decision of the Council says that such tribunals “are intended to restore order in the institutions of the church when its life is disrupted, to encourage the observance of the holy canons and establishments of the Orthodox Church”. The Council appointed Metropolitan Isidor of Yekaterinodar and the Kuban as chairman of the ecclesiastical tribunal.

Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin

After work on all items on the agreed agenda was complete the Council switched from the consideration of practical questions to its holiday schedule. On Saturday morning, in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, which is used for only the most solemn occasions, a molieben in honour of the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia was celebrated. All of the delegates of the Council attended, more than 180 bishops, including clerics from the ROCOR. The clergy present were reminded of the celebrations this spring marking the first anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the MP and the ROCOR by the singing of the chorus of the Sretensky Monastery of Moscow, an ensemble which had a world-wide tour in honour of that anniversary. At the conclusion of the molieben, Patriarch Aleksei of Moscow and all the Russias thanked the participants in the Council “for their oneness of mind, their union in prayer, and for the joy of their human friendship”.

In order to strengthen church unity even more completely, the highest church hierarchs issued a call to the governments of four Orthodox countries, Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Moldova to declare 28 July, the feastday of the Baptiser of Russia, Grand Prince Equal-to-the-Apostles St Vladimir, a public state holiday.

Festivities marking the anniversary of the Baptism of Russia were also held in the State Kremlin Palace. The assembly that formally opened the celebration began with an address by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, “from the depths of my soul, I wish to thank all of you who contributed their share to the unity of the Russian world, for it is a good work. From this time forward, the state intends to support the programmes of the church directed towards secular and interreligious harmony, its social work, its efforts in the support and preservation of our cultural heritage, and its charitable mission”, Mr Putin emphasised. He noted, “Orthodoxy was always very tolerant of those who belonged to other confessions, and this very position of the Russian Orthodox Church contributed to the creation of a Russian state that was not only multi-national, but, multi-confessional as well”. It is interesting to note that one of the charges hurled by Bishop Diomid against the MP was that it embraced “the heresy of ecumenism and advocated permissive relations with the heterodox”. For instance, he accused Patriarch Aleksei of common prayer with the Roman Catholics during his visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Mr Putin also expressed satisfaction that “we have a substantial and multi-faceted dialogue between the Church and the State”. Bishop Diomid considered this interaction with the state gravely sinful.

President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- ) with his wife Svetlana Medvedeva (1965- )

On Sunday, the festivities moved from the Kremlin to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The last day of the Archpastoral Council began with a divine liturgy and a molieben served by Patriarch Aleksei. Once again, His Holiness stressed the importance of the maintenance of church unity and the integrity of the canonical territory of the MP. President Dmitri Medvedev congratulated the council delegates on the successful completion of their work. In addition, he confirmed the words of Prime Minister Putin regarding increased cooperation between the Church and the State by transferring holy relics now kept in the Moscow Kremlin State Museum back to Church control, free of all charges. “Amongst these treasures are a part of the robe of the Mother of God and a relic of the Baptiser of Russia, Grand Prince St Vladimir”, Mr Medvedev stated, adding that he understands “how important this news is for believers both here and in the entire Orthodox world”. In his thanks to the President, the patriarch emphasised, “the return to the Church of these long-lost ancient holy relics signifies, by itself, the restoration of good relations between the Church and the State”. It is worthwhile to note that several thousand believers (including Mr Medvedev) were present during the molieben in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and the archdeacon intoned the “Many Years” for long life and health to the President.

30 June 2008

Mikhail Moshkin

Vremya Novostei (News Time)

Quoted in Interfax-Religion



Meanwhile, in Chukotka… The Conclusion of the Archpastoral Council of the United Russian Church at Home and Abroad

Pochaev Lavra of the Assumpton, two of the three dissenters voting against the deposition of Diomid claimed they were following the elders of this monastery. Were they?

Yesterday, the first Archpastoral Council that united the Church at home and the Church abroad concluded. The hierarchs of the Church assemble every four years to consider matters of church policy, and, it must be said, that the meeting was harmonious. President Dmitri Medvedev was present for the closing ceremony. He prayed in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour after the liturgy and spoke to the 182 bishops present. The day before that, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke to the bishops in the Kremlin.

President Medvedev returned to the Church holy relics that have been in the museums of the Kremlin since they were confiscated from the Church in the 1920s. This was Mr Medvedev’s first speech to the bishops, and he declared that the Council confirmed the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church in its fullness, and it had erected a strong defence against any attempts at schism. However, the situation surrounding the disgraced Bishop Diomid of Anadyr and Chukotka continued to disrupt the serenity of the proceedings. Over some 18 months, the Bishop of Chukotka has circulated internet postings in criticism of the policies of the hierarchy of the MP. He laments that the Archpastoral Council has erected barriers so that the bishops cannot hear the voice of the people in the church, they do not heed their miserable cries, and they do not see the poverty of the people or their powerlessness before the secular government.

At the opening of the Council on Tuesday, several hundred people with posters in defence of Diomid assembled in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. They met members of the youth group Nashi (Ours), who were carrying placards supporting Patriarch Aleksei. Many of the placards were destroyed in the ensuing brawl, and the police moved the disputing demonstrators to different areas. The Nashi group was around the Engels monument and the Diomid supporters walked along the parapet to the cathedral. The only hierarch who accepted leaflets from the group and chatted with them was Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev and all the Ukraine.

It was only on the fourth day of its sessions that the Council turned its attention to the subject of the rebel Diomid. With only three dissenting votes and three abstentions, the Council voted to depose Diomid from the episcopal dignity if he does not repent of his actions. Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of the ROCOR was amongst those abstaining from the ballot. Those casting dissenting votes were Bishop Pitirim of Sytktvkarsk and Vorkuta, Bishop Fyodor of Kaments-Podolsky, and Bishop Vladimir of Pochaev. The last two bishops named claimed that they were expressing the opinions of the elders of the Monastery of Pochaev in the Ukraine. The Holy Synod, assembled in haste after the Council adjourned, laid an interdict upon Diomid. However, yesterday, Diomid served liturgy in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Anadyr.

Yelena Chavchavadze, the vice president of the Russian Cultural Fund, fears that Diomid shall mislead people who are relatively new to the Church. “There is a fight going on in the Church for truth and integrity. Non-church people perceive the measure of the Council as cruelty, but, it holds out to the bishop a chance, there were many who went down such blind alleys, but, they repented and returned”, she noted. One item of concern for Ms Chavchavadze is the support given [by some of Diomid’s faction] to the glorification of Tsar Ivan Grozny and the mystic Rasputin.

Fr Nikon Belavinets, the chaplain to the Faith and Motherland Association is disturbed that Vladyki Diomid did not come. “He was hierodeacon to the patriarch in 1990-91, he personally knows His Holiness, he was his assistant, and, so, they could easily come to an understanding. But, there is no gain, only confrontation”, he said to our Gazeta correspondent. Bishop Diomid attended the Council of 2004, but, he did not speak there.

Aleksandr Ogorodnikov, the director of the Orthodox shelter The Island of Hope, who served nine years in the camps for his participation in the Christian Seminar, considers that this is the wrong treatment for the disease. “Hundreds of people from all over the country stand in the freezing rain to express their feelings. Diomid spoke their opinions, not his. To think that they are just blowing off steam and shall forget it is naïve. Indeed, the laity is the main support of the church and the hierarchs fear them. Truly, one can only depose a bishop for heresy, but, not for his opinions, and not even for insubordination. It must be taken to a proper court so that the bishop can give his defence. The Church should grieve over persecutions and reveal the persecutors, not chase their defenders”, Mr Ogorodnikov stated.

30 June 2008

Nadezhda Kevorkova

Gazeta (The Newspaper)

Quoted in Interfax-Religion


O God, Preserve Guus! Yesterday, Prayers were raised in Russian Parishes for our Footballers

Guus Hiddink (1946- ), the Dutch coach of Team Russia, the “Guus” referred to in the title. By the way, parents have named their little sons “Guus” with no peep of protest from any priest. We should learn from that.

The sociologists at the research centre of the website superJob.ru estimate that the number of Russians who are actively following the Russian National Football team at Euro 2008 has risen from 68 percent to 92 percent. The clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church did not stand aloof. On the eves of the matches that our side played, moliebens were served and the names of the players were intoned in the prayers. The next morning, after the victories, many parishes held public moliebens of thanksgiving. However, our priests did not go as far in supporting our boys as did the clergy in Germany, where, several times a day, they hold “football services”.

The present European championship did not pass without its quota of mysticism, both on the playing field and beyond it. The players created miracles and they mostly explained them in terms of fan support. However, these fans did not only cheer on their favourites with shouts and singing from the terraces, they also sent up fervent prayers for their side.

The pastors of the two largest Protestant parishes in Berlin, the Cathedral Church and the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, decided to carry out “football services” for the entire duration of Euro 2008. The Catholic bishops of Austria and Switzerland organised the distribution of SMS messages with scriptural quotations and statements of the pope concerning sport, and also messages from trainers and athletes concerning religion.

If these activities on the part of Western churchmen are nothing new, then, perhaps, we saw for the first time an upsurge of support for our players from the Russian Orthodox Church, beginning with the patriarch himself. After placing a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 22 June, His Holiness said, “Today’s grief, connected with the anniversary of the beginning of World War II, is mitigated by the happiness over yesterday’s victory of our Russian team” (that is, when we smashed the Dutch).

As the match with the Spaniards neared, the more zealously our pastors prayed for our football players. We heard that the Spanish fans intended to conduct a voodoo witchcraft ritual using a doll of our player Ignashevich (with his number “4” on its breast) with four pins thrust into its heart. The manufacturer of the doll even stated, “This gives 100 percent success. Prick it in order to be the champions”.

The reply of the Russian Orthodox Church was massive and instantaneous. In thousands of churches, prayers were raised for the victory of the Russian footballers.

“Most of our parishioners are praying for the success of the Russian footballers. Many priests, as, for example, I do, are serving moliebens”, stated Fr Vladimir Zaitsev, the rector of St Innocent of Moscow parish in Yekaterinburg. “If God grants us the victory, tomorrow morning we shall serve a molieben of thanksgiving. Of course, this must be done in the proper spirit, and we should serve one at the conclusion of the championship, no matter who wins, for all are worthy of appreciation”. In Sakhalin, there were prayers raised for our team, “the evening before the semi-final match there shall be a public molieben served at the Cathedral of the Annunciation for the victory of our footballers”, reported Fr Viktor Gorbach. According to Fr Viktor, Bishop Daniil Dorovskikh is in Moscow, attending the Archpastoral Council, but, he plans to follow the game on TV.

However, it is rightly said, “Hope in God, but, don’t make a mistake”. The chief trainer of the Italian team, Roberto Donadoni, received a message on the eve of the game with the Spaniards from the Vatican, stating that masses of special intention had been served for the success of his team. Prayers on the behalf of the Italian team were also raised in several monasteries.

It did not help.

27 June 2008

Mikhail Pozdnyaev

Novoye Izvestiya (New Proceedings)

Quoted in Interfax-Religion


A Result of the Council: Diomid is under an Interdict

Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral of New York and Eastern America (1948- ) (left), First Hierarch of the ROCOR, champion of church unity at the Archpastoral Council

Over the past week, the main event in the country has been the Archpastoral Council of the MP and the circumstances surrounding it. Orthodox hierarchs assembled in Moscow and, amongst other things, condemned the activity of Bishop Diomid Dzyuban of Anadyr and Chukotka, formally opened the celebrations of the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, and approved a number of important internal church documents.

Since Tuesday, when Patriarch Aleksei of Moscow and all the Russias officially opened the session of the Council, supporters of the Chukotka bishop picketed the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. His fate immediately became a hot topic in the media. The week was marked by increased activity from the youth group Nashi (Ours), which marched in the streets with placards saying Osudit Diomid! (Condemn Diomid!) Tension grew until Friday, when the decision of the Council was announced. Bishop Diomid was to be deposed from the episcopal office if he did not repent of his disobedience to the Church hierarchy before the next session of the Holy Synod. A scandal ensued at the public press conference. A female Orthodox journalist, one of the supporters of Bishop Diomid, started a contentious row with Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad concerning the validity of Bishop Diomid’s absence from the Council. It is obvious that the controversy surrounding Bishop Diomid has stretched everyone’s nerves to the limit. It is interesting to note that the decision concerning the deposition of the disgraced hierarch was only accepted on the next day, when there was an emergency meeting of the Holy Synod after the official closure of the Council. In the absence of a functioning bishop, the locum tenems of the Diocese of Anadyr and Chukotka is Bishop Mark Tuzhikov of Khabarovsk and Primaursky. It is highly improbable that Bishop Diomid, who called Patriarch Aleksei “an ecumenist heretic”, shall kneel in repentance before the Synod.

Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral, the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, spoke to the Archpastoral Council on the problems surrounding ecumenical activity. He reminded his brother-bishops of the negative attitude of most Russian Orthodox believers abroad towards the membership of the MP in the World Council of Churches. According to some sources, Metropolitan Hilarion abstained from voting when the measure regarding Bishop Diomid was brought forward. In spite of sharing the same sceptical attitude towards ecumenism as do the supporters of Diomid, the delegation of the ROCOR showed much pleasure with the results of the Archpastoral Council. In reply to the monarchist pronouncements of the Diomidites, Metropolitan Hilarion asserted that “it is not dishonourable” for the Church to use the fruits of democracy. Indeed, the hierarchs were greatly pleased with the pronouncement of Metropolitan Hilarion regarding the necessity of the unity of the Church, that Russians, Byelorussians, and Ukrainians should not form separate church jurisdictions.

The Council began its deliberations on the problems of church life in the Ukraine with a very knowledgeable and nuanced address by Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev and all the Ukraine. He took an objective view of the positions regarding both the positive and negative aspects of Ukrainian “autocephaly”. As a result, he concluded that “a change in the canonical status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would not be healthy in the context of contemporary church life in the Ukraine”. The question of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was thereby shelved. The Archpastoral Council also called the Ecumenical Patriarchate to dialogue regarding the situation surrounding the church schism in Estonia, and called the Patriarchate of Romania to likewise dialogue on the similar problems in Moldova.

The Archpastoral Council also approved a document concerning the freedom and rights of man drafted by the Department of External Church Relations under the direction of Metropolitan Kirill. It states that the realisation of the rights of man must not oppose traditional morality or contradict the interests of the state and the family. A formal paper delineating the functions of the ecclesiastical tribunal was adopted, for this topic has been neglected for the last twenty years. This sets down formally what has been used in actual practise. However, as Metropolitan Kirill reported to journalists, the matter of the deposition of Bishop Diomid shall not be brought before the ecclesiastical tribunal. The Archpastoral Council is the highest body in the Church, and it possesses the right to judge bishops and order their deposition, if such is warranted.

30 June 2008

Pavel Krug

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (The Independent Newspaper)

Quoted in Interfax-Religion


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