The Synod of Bishops, clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church respectfully turn to you, as the head of a major human rights organization, with a matter of utmost importance. We request that you take note of certain violations against the Constitution of the Russian Federation, against the Freedom of Conscience Law, and against the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and to take the appropriate measures to see that these violations are not repeated.
This matter concerns the October 13th beating that was sustained by the First Hierarch of our Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal and Vladimir, while he was inside his home in Suzdal. The elderly and ailing Metropolitan, who is afflicted with an acute case of diabetes, among other things, who has had more than one heart bypass surgery, and who suffers from deep foot ulcers, was accosted by unknown criminals, who tied him up hands and feet, taped his mouth shut, and then wrapped him up in a rug and repeatedly kicked him. In order to increase the pain, they first tore off the dressings that had been covering the sores on his feet.
These atrocities, perpetrated on a defenseless old man, can be compared only with the tortures and atrocities that the Bolsheviks perpetrated on various members of the episcopacy, clergy and laity, first, because they dared to believe in God, and secondly, because they refused to join the “Renovationist Church” that had been set up by the commisars, and later, because they refused to submit to the NKVD and its special department, the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), founded by Stalin and Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky). Across the USSR, from Kolyma to Alma Ata, the blood of those martyrs was poured out in torrents, and the murderers of those new martyrs have yet to be tried till this day. Now, blood is again flowing from the persecuted successors of the Church of the New Martyrs of Russia, in Suzdal, the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church.
Without any doubt, this sad fact is connected with the discrimination on the part of local government officials against the rights of the faithful of the ROAC, which has been taking place for a long time already. From the very first moments of our separation from the ROC MP in 1989, we became the object of persecution by local authorities, and started to have problems with transferring ownership of churches and other church properties. At the present time, it has become practically impossible to incorporate any new parishes or dioceses.
The community of St. Xenia in Novaya Kupavna, Moscow region, after the three long years of hard work required to incorporate, cannot get the permission needed to finish building a church on its own land. In Vologda, while reincorporating its religious center under the Suzdal diocese, the community was told by local authorities that there would be no problems transferring the church as long as it had incorporation papers issued by the government. However, the community’s request was denied nevertheless, on the basis that all of the churches had already been transferred to the Vologda diocese of the ROC MP. The community then asked for any building or parcel of land so that it could erect a church, but this request was also denied. The reasoning went something like this: “There are already enough churches in the area. Go and pray in one of them. You all have the same God anyway.”
In the Bryansk region, our priests have been threatened not only by the representatives of the Bryansk diocese of the ROC MP, but also by regional officials who have made statements to the effect that, notwithstanding the legally incorporated status of the ROAC, it is only a quasi-legal organization, which is in a special category, and under scrutiny, and they advised its priests that they had better be concerned about the future of their children.
In the Vladimir region, according to an unspoken order of Gov. Vinogradov to his officials, the deed to the church of St. John the Forerunner in the town of Pavlovskoye, Suzdal region, which has been restored from its ruins by active members of the ROAC, has yet to be transferred to the faithful, in spite of all of the court decisions awarding it to them.
Parishes of the ROAC in the Khabarovsk area are not permitted to incorporate, as well as in the regions of Chelyabinsk, Orenburg, Perm, et al. Instead of processing their applications to incorporate, officials there try to talk the priests into returning to the Moscow Patriarchate, tell them what their opinion is about Metropolitan Valentine, inform the local dioceses of the MP about every attempt of ROAC communities to incorporate, and fulfill their every directive.
In this way, government workers end up acting as agents of organizations, which by virtue of their legal standing, are separated from the government. A complicated situation has developed in the city of Suzdal itself, center of the Suzdal diocese. Two newly built churches, built by request of city officials themselves, (the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in the new micro-region, and the cemetery church of St. Vladimir), have not been given legal status for five years now, as a result of the express spoken instructions of the governor of the Vladimir region, Mr. Vinogradov, together with the collusion of the former mayor of Suzdal, a Mr. Ryzhov, himself one-time chief of the Suzdal department of the FSB. These churches, with the permission of the authorities, have more than once been the targets of blasphemous desecration by people belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, who have organized the “Committee to Fight the ROAC on Suzdal Territory.”
Two years ago in Suzdal, from 2001-2003, hoodlums from the “Chechen Veterans Union” and from “Nashe Delo” (Cosa Nostra) repeatedly beat up several of our clergymen and lay people, and set fire to their homes and to our monastery. The local authorities (the mayor of Suzdal, A.Y. Ryzhov, the chief of GROVD, S.V. Belousov, the district attorney of Suzdal, A.A. Smirnov, the regional district attorney, A.V. Shaykov, and the governor of the Vladimir region, N. Vinogradov), did absolutely NOTHING to protect the faithful. All of these criminal cases were closed. All written appeals, whether they were addressed to the city or to the regional DA’s, ended up with the standard ambiguous phrase, “no sign of criminal activity found.” The horrendous campaign of character assassination against Metropolitan Valentine on the pages of the newspapers also continues to go unpunished (Russky Vestnik, Sovershenno Secretno, Prizyv), with their calls to “physically destroy,” “cut off Metropolitan Valentine’s ears and threaten him that his head will be next,” “squish” Metropolitan Valentine (Vladimir regional newspaper Prizyv, June 14, 2001), “to twist the little pig’s head off” (Russky Vestnik, #17-18, 2002), “to follow through to the end with this matter and cleanse the land of Suzdal” (Russky Vestnik, 29-30, 2002). On July 5, 2001, the newspaper Prizyv openly stated that, “Father Valentine should be shot. For his sake we should temporarily forget about the ban on capital punishment, put a bullet in the back of his head, and put the whole thing on TV.” The made-to-order court case and improper conviction, which followed thereupon, have also gone unpunished, and there is no justice to be found anywhere. It seems like we’re living back in the days of 1937 all over again.
We are convinced, that the above-mentioned facts will leave no doubt that the ROC MP, in concert with local authorities, have assigned themselves the task of destroying the ROAC and its First Hierarch. This idea is supported by the above-cited publications, in which it is openly stated that if Metropolitan Valentine is removed from the scene, “his autonomous church will be swallowed up by the MP, since the ROAC has no other leader of his caliber” (Prizyv, #146, August 15, 2001). And now, we see a violent act perpetrated on the head of the ROAC, Metropolitan Valentine.
Again and again, we implore you to do everything possible to bring the discrimination and violations of the rights of the ROAC faithful to an end, to stop the unbridledness, and to express your protest against the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church and its First Hierarch, Metropolitan Valentine.
(signatures of 75 clergymen and lay persons follow)