East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring 1995, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

News Notes

Russia's Religious Liberty in Jeopardy Again?
The upper house of the Russian Duma (Parliament), on April 14, 1995, overwhelmingly approved new legislation restricting foreign cults and "totalitarian religions."  The degree to which this law, if signed by President Yeltsin, might be applied to foreign missionaries or indigenous Protestants is a matter of debate.  Religious freedom advocates, including Moscow's Christian Legal Center favored this measure.  They feared that, otherwise, growing pressure from conservative Russian Orthodox Church leaders and ultranationalists might result in legislation even more prejudicial to non-Orthodox faiths and foreign missionaries in Russia.

Earlier a Russian court had banned the Aum Shinri Kyo sect, widely thought to be responsible for the March gas attack in a Tokyo subway which killed ten and injured thousands.  This Eastern cult actually had more followers in Russia (some 30,000) than in Japan.  In the Duma on April 14, Patriarch Alexis II strongly denounced by name Aum Shinri Kyo, the Unification Church (Moonies), and two Russian indigenous cults: the White Brotherhood, and the Virgin Mary Center.

While the Patriarch's point of departure clearly is the more bizarre and dangerous cults, his Duma speech applied charges broadly to any religion not deemed "traditional" (meaning Orthodox, Muslim, and perhaps Jewish): "The impossibility of being further reconciled with the unbridled activities of sectarians," Alexis argued, "is obvious today for every normal person."  Some observers believe that the Patriarch is using the Japanese cult issue as a rallying point to stir up feelings of fear, suspicion, and hostility toward foreign religious organizations.

Gleb Yakunin, defrocked Orthodox priest and Parliament member, has expressed serious alarm at recent events while others believe no further legislation on religion will be passed until after elections in early 1996.  However, some ramifications are being felt from the pointed rhetoric.  The Russian Orthodox Church has begun pressuring the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding visas and visa renewals for missionaries.  Local OVIR (visa) officials and border authorities are becoming increasingly uncooperative, requiring information and documentation, such as work permits, that the law does not currently require.  In addition, foreigners must now leave the country to renew visas, an action that has no legal basis.  Failure to do this can result in steep fines and/or deportation.  Though no one is certain of the possible consequences of the April law, foreign religious workers in any case should be prepared for growing obstacles in the lower levels of government.

In the past several years Yeltsin has repeatedly vetoed legislation that would have given preferential status to the Russian Orthodox Church.  The question is, will he continue to do so?  In late April 1995 it was announced that the Russian president had provided Patriarch Alexis II with an official residence inside the Kremlin.  Non-Orthodox faithful are bound to wonder if such an action is a sign of drift in the direction of a revival of a state church in Russia.

This report was prepared by Mark Elliott, with information from Beverly Nickles, News Network International, and Anita Deyneka, Russian Ministries.


An office to represent the Orthodox Church to the European Union, founded on the initiative of Patriarch Bartholomeos I, Ecumenical Patriarch, opened in January 1995 in Brussels, Belgium.  The office will be headed by Archimandrite Emmanuel Adamakis of Greece.  Contact:

Source:  SYNDESMOS Orthodox Press Service, no. 52, 2 March 1995.


A National Ecclesiastical Assembly of the Armenian Apostolic Church elected Karekin I as its new Patriarch and Catholicos on 4 April 1995. He succeeds Vaskens I who died in August 1994 after a reign of almost 40 years.  Karekin I was born in Syria in 1932, studied at Oxford, and served his church in New York in the mid-1970s and as Catholicos (bishop) of Cilicia in Lebanon since 1977.  "Although a minority of Armenians adhere to the Armenian Catholic Church or various Armenian Protestant bodies, the vast majority are at least nominal members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is very close to the Eastern Orthodox churches in matters of doctrine although in forms of worship it shares much with Roman Catholicism."  New York Times, 11 April 1995, A5.


Russian Law Requires AIDS Tests for Foreigners
President Boris Yeltsin has signed a law requiring foreigners to be tested for AIDS.  The law requires those who are planning to live in Russia for more than three months to submit documentation that they are not infected with the HIV virus, but it does not specifically address expatriates already residing in Russia.

Civil rights groups have been critical of the legislation, and the Moscow Times echoed the concerns of the foreign community of Russia when it called the law an "enforcement nightmare."  Of special concern to foreigners currently residing in Russia is the as-yet- unspecified requirements for current residents applying for renewal of visas.  According to Russian Travel Monthly, "Strong resistance on the part of the foreign community to reporting to Russian medical clinics for testing is a foregone conclusion."

The law is not markedly different from the way the United States handles foreign residents, but it is more strict than the practices of most of the other countries of Europe.  An earlier bill which Yeltsin did not sign would have required all foreigners--including short-term tourists--to undergo testing.  That law met with strong opposition from the Russian tourist industry.

News Notes, East-West Church & Ministry Report, 3 (Spring 1995), 11-12.

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1995 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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