True Orthodoxy in Russia

Appeal to the chiefs of state and rulers of countries that are signatories to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man(Image Credit: un.org)

We, the bishops of various groups of parishes belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church situated outside of Russia, whose brethren in the Russian Federation are currently experiencing terrible persecutions, oppression and pressure from local and federal authorities for the sole reason that they are Orthodox Christians, make this appeal to you.

We are convinced that to believe as we wish is a God-given right; that freedom of religion cannot be infringed by any state, government, individual or group of persons; and that no person should be forced to join any confession, or any religious or non-religious association out of fear, nor be prevented from praying to God however He Himself has seen fit to allow him.

Our convictions are reinforced by the entire history of the Orthodox Church, by the experience of our predecessors, beginning with the holy Apostles and the holy Martyrs and Confessors of the Christian faith who followed the Lord’s path down through the ages. They are also reinforced by the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, which at one time or another was adopted by your governments, which took upon themselves the ideal of protecting these fundamental underpinnings of contemporary civilization. For this reason, we come to you with the following petition:

For the last twelve years, the authorities of the Russian Federation have been waging a campaign of oppression and persecution against Russian Orthodox Christians who refuse to submit themselves to the control of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Our brethren in the Russian Federation have been subjected to insults, humiliation, fear, beatings, and even murder. Parish churches and other church facilities have been vandalized, broken into, and set on fire. Law enforcement agencies and other agencies charged with the right ordering of society, as a rule, make no attempt to find the guilty parties, and do nothing to stop these persecutions against Orthodox Christians.
For example, the Ascension Church of Fr. George Titov in the city of Barnaul (Russian Federation), has been set on fire four times over the last two years. The perpetrators have never been brought to justice. The Holy Protection Church in the village of Vyrystaikino (Ulianov obl.), with the approval of local authorities, was attacked by persons belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, and taken away from the priest, Fr. Nicholas Sukhorukov and his parishioners in 2011. At the same time, in October of 2011, law enforcement agencies and the local district attorney initiated a search of the Church of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God (rector: Fr. Alexander Sukhov) in the village of Dudachkino (Leningrad obl.). On the July 1, 2012, yet another attack (the ninth) and attempt to seize church property was made against the parish in Malin (Ukraine), where the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate Russian Orthodox Church beat up the rector, the Very Rev. Archpriest Vasily Demchenko. Earlier, in 2006, the same tactics were used to confiscate the temple built by the parishioners of the church dedicated to St. Olga, the Grand Duchess and Equal to the Apostles in the city of Zheleznovodsk (rector: the Very Rev. Archpriest Roman Novakovsky).

As long as twelve years ago, administrative authorities at different levels of government, together with court officials and members of the mass media (print and television) came up with a new twist in their anti-Christian campaign. At that time, false and slanderous accusations against Metropolitan Valentine (Rusantsov) of pedophilia were turned into a campaign against the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. This campaign is still going on, despite the fact that Metropolitan Valentine reposed in January of 2012.

At the present time, the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church has had to endure the confiscation of 13 of its churches through the actions of the courts in the city of Suzdal, and in other places. In each case the organization bringing suit against the church belonged to the administrative structure of state, i. e. the government. The latest action on the part of the authorities of the Russian Federation take it beyond the boundaries of normal civilized society; in the summer of 2012, government officials claimed rights to the relics of Saints. The relics of Saints are essential for the performance of Orthodox services. The courts handed down resolutions satisfying these demands of the government.
This is not the first time that the government, in areas that were once inhabited mainly by Orthodox Christians, has persecuted its own citizens for their confession of faith.

During the time of the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), when Lenin ruled the country, thousands of bishops, priests, deacons, monks and nuns were executed for their religious convictions. Churches were robbed. Sacred vessels, vestments, icons, crosses and other items made from precious metals and decorated with precious stones, were confiscated. Anyone who dared to oppose this looting of church property was repressed. Today, many of these people have been canonized as New Martyrs by the Orthodox Church.

Starting in 1927, during the rule of Stalin, a wide-spread campaign aimed at the complete destruction of the Church of Christ in the USSR was begun by the Soviet government. Thousands of churches were destroyed, blown up, sacred items were desecrated, the relics of Saints were dumped out of their reliquaries and publicly ridiculed. Icons were chopped to pieces, and holy books burned. This campaign continued up to the onset of World War II, and manifested itself in the repression and execution of tens of thousands of Russian Orthodox bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people.

During the Second World War, the Soviet authorities founded the Moscow Patriarchate, and made some concessions to people of faith, allowing some of them to pray and restore a few churches. However, this reprieve on the part of the authorities had one simple goal–to engage believers in the prosecution of the war, and to collect further material support from them. The establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate as an organization under the control of atheistic authorities was a violation of the canon law of the Orthodox Church.

After the Second World War, towards the end of Stalin’s rule, and during the rule of Khrushchev, repression directed against Orthodox Christians was renewed. Cathedrals and churches were again being destroyed, monasteries were being closed and dismantled, people active in church life were again subjected to arrest, convicted and sent to labor camps, and a new campaign of continual harassment was begun.

In this manner, over the decades of Soviet rule, an atheistic society took root in the USSR. People of faith were assigned to the social niche of the Moscow Patriarchate–an anti-canonical contrivance, in the service of the KGB. Right believing Orthodox Christians were forced to hide in the “catacombs,” were subjected to persecution, defamed in the press, thrown into prisons, and doomed to die in labor camps.

During the second half of the 1980s, with Gorbachev’s rise to power, and then Yeltsin’s, right-believing Orthodox Christians in the Godless and atheistic society that Russia has become were finally able to re-establish church life in an open and legal way. New ecclesiastical entities sprang to life, which refused to acknowledge the corrupt and spiritually bankrupt Moscow Patriarchate. Thousands of believers began to attend services at parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which were then being opened across the territory of the Russian Federation, as well as in other republics that had once been part of the Soviet empire.

Putin’s rise to power was accompanied by a return of the worst aspects of the government’s anti-Christian politics–a return to a policy of suppression of the rights and freedoms of its citizens. The persecutions against Orthodox Christians were reinstated with renewed vigor. The Moscow Patriarchate, having become the replacement for the idealogical department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, constantly requests the involvement of governmental authorities, whether administrative, juridical or law enforcement, in its war against true Orthodox Christians. More and more often, officers of the FSB take part in this new campaign against Orthodox Christians in Russia. Recently, it has also become more and more common for extremist groups, supported by law enforcement agencies, and special forces to become involved.

And so, at the present time, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the officials of the Russian Federation continue to trample upon the basic rights of its citizens, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, the precedence of human dignity, the rights and freedoms of mankind, the equality of each individual before the law, and equal protection under the law. The rights of each citizen to personal freedom, freedom of thought and religion, exchange of information, and cultural and spiritual development.

We, the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, appeal to you leaders of countries and governments that have signed the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1948, to put an end to this Godless and anti-Christian Bacchanalia, which is now proliferating across Russia and several of its neighboring countries thanks to Putin’s regime. We ask you to utilize the force of international law, and any means at the disposal of your governments and the international community, whether diplomatic, financial or humanitarian, to defend true-Orthodox Christians, presently enduring persecution in the Russian Federation.

+ Bishop Andrew of Pavlovskoye
+ Joseph Bishop of Washington.

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