Vladimir Ryakhovsky has set himself an ambitious task--to strike down a law that has the might of Russia's establishment--from devout Orthodox churchmen to atheistic Communist lawmakers--ranged behind it. But the middle-aged lawyer is undaunted by the scale of the challenge facing him and says he has Russia's post-Soviet constitution firmly on his side. The target of his ire is Russia's [September 1997] law "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations," which has been condemned by human rights groups, the United States, and the Vatican as discriminatory and repressive. "It contradicts both the Russian constitution and all Western legal norms on human rights," Ryakhovsky said.
Ryakhovsky, a practicing Protestant, and several evangelical Christian groups have appealed to the Constitutional Court. If the court backs them, part or even the whole law would have to be dropped, embarrassing Russia's establishment. Alexei Malashenko, a political analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank in Moscow, said the law's fate was tied closely to the broader political situation in Russia. "Without amendments the law is bound to cause more problems after the next presidential election in 2000," he said, noting that the strongest candidates to replace Yeltsin were nationalists little swayed by Western ideas about human rights.
Lawyer Yekaterina Smislova, who is involved in the bid to overturn the law on religion, said she hoped the Constitutional Court would make its ruling within the next six months. "Russia is now a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, so this law has attracted great interest abroad. Russia's credentials as a free, open society that respects basic human rights are what is at stake here," Smislova said.
Excerpt of a 15 July 1998 Reuters news dispatch reprinted with permission.
Editor's note: Vladimir Ryakhovsky's associate, Anatoly Pchelintsev, director of the Institute for Religion and Law, challenged the 1997 Russian religion law in a suit filed on 1 July 1998 on behalf of the Christian Orthodox Center and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission, both in Khakassia; the Christian Center New Generation, Yaroslavl; and Zion Presbyterian Church, Reutov, Moscow Region. Also, on 15 July 1998, Yaroslavl Jehovah's Witnesses filed suit with the Constitutional Court, contending that the 15-year provision for registration is unconstitutional.
"Centralized Religious Organizations" (CROs) Registered Under the 1997 Russian Law on Religion1
||Number of Churches||Source|
|17 March 1998||Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostal) - Vladimir M. Murza, president||1,000||E-mail from Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service, Moscow, 11 August 1998|
|30 March 1998||Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostal) - Sergei Ryakhovsky, president||1,000||Radiotserkov, 1 April 1998|
|22 April 1998||Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia||1,200||Radiotserkov, 6 May 1998|
|15 May 1998||Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)||128||Associated Press, 15 May 1998|
|26 May 1998||Christian Charismatic Association||30||Radiotserkov, 1 June 1998|
|28 May 1998||"Calvary Fellowship" Association of Christians of Evangelical Faith (an affiliate of the Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith)||2382||Radiotserkov, 5 June 1998|
|10 June 1998||Association for Spiritual Renewal3 (a parachurch body affiliated with U.S.-based Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries||Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries news release, 22 June 1998|
|22 June 1998||Association of Christian Churches in Russia (Charismatic)||63||ChristianNet News Service, 3 August 1998|
Editor's Note: The Association of Christian Evangelical Churches of Russia, formally established in Moscow, 27 May 1998, does not yet have CRO status.
1The Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patiarchate and
Islamic directories of Russian have not formally received designation
of "centralized religious organizations," but enjoy this status de
facto. Churches not confirmed to have been present in Russia for 15
years and those not registered as CROs face potentially severe
restrictions under the September 1997 law on religion. See East-West Church & Ministry Report 5, Issues 3 and 4, and Vol. 6, Issue 2.
2The 238 churches are part of the Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith.
3ASR is the only Protestant parachurch body to have received CRO status to date.
Jaroslav Pelikan, renowned Lutheran scholar and professor emeritus of Yale University, was received into the Eastern Orthodox Church at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, Crestwood, NY, 27 March 1998. Dr. Pelikan, a prolific church historian, is perhaps best known for his masterful five-volume work on The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (© 1971 - 89). Mikhail Kulakov, Jr., of the Russian Bible Society, is involved in a Russian translation project for volume two in the series, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).
On 5 May 1998 Russian Orthodox Church conservatives burned "heretical" books on the grounds of the Orthodox seminary in Yekaterinburg, 1300 km east of Moscow. Among the books destroyed were works written by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983), Fr. John Meyendorff (1926-1992), and Fr. Alexander Men (1935-1990). Schmemann and Meyendorff were successive deans of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, Crestwood, NY. Men was a popular Russian priest and prolific apologist for the faith who was murdered in 1990 near Moscow. Orthodox distressed by the action state that Bishop Nikon of Yekaterinburg was responsible, although the bishop denies the book-burning. Moscow correspondent Andrei Zolotov notes that while "Men's views have always been considered controversial," Schmemann and Meyendorff "are widely respected as mainstream Orthodox thinkers....Patriarch Alexei II has often expressed his admiration for Schmemann and Meyendorff, whose books are studied in seminaries and religious schools across Russia."
Source: Ecumenical News International Bulletin, no. 11, 10 June 1998, 16-17.
Ecumenical News International reported on 27 July 1998 that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church will withdraw from the World Council of Churches. In 1997 the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the former Soviet Union's Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church left the WCC.
Two Hungarian church workers held hostage 275 days in Chechnya in the Russian Caucasus were released 25 July 1998. Gabor Dunajski and Istvan Olah, of Hungarian Interchurch Aid, had been kidnapped in Grozny, Chechya, 23 October 1997. "The men are in good condition despite being chained and denied sleep, light, and fresh air for most of their captivity" (Religion Today, 29 July 1998). A Swedish Pentecostal couple, Daniel and Paulina Brolin, were released 23 June 1998, having been held hostage in Dagestan, Russia, since 8 January 1998. Russian Dmitry Penkovsky, of International Orthodox Christian Charities, seized on 20 September 1997 in Ingushetia, Russia, was freed in March 1998, while his coworker Dmitry Petrov, kidnapped with him, remains in captivity.
Sources: Felix Corley, "Pentecostal Missionary Couple Freed in Dagestan," Compass Direct, 17 July 1998, 6-7. and Religion Today, 29 July 1998; For more information on the Brolins' captivity, consult the Hope for Europe home page at http://www.hfe.org/prayer2.htm.
Death of a Leading Scholar of the Russian Church
The Institute for East-West Christian Studies regrets to announce the death of Jane Ellis, one of the Western world's leading specialists on the Russian Orthodox Church. The funeral was held 14 July 1998 at the Anglican Parish Church of St. Peter, Wolvercote, Oxford, England.
Jane Ellis, who studied at the University of Birmingham and Oxford University, was a senior researcher at Keston College, a leading center for the study of religion under communism, from 1973 to 1994. She served as editor of Keston's serials, Religion in Communist Lands (1981-86) and Frontier (1987-89). She also was the founder of Aid to Russian Christians, a charitable organization which provides literature and material aid to Russian believers. Concerned for growing tensions among Christians in Russia, Jane Ellis in recent years also organized a number of Orthodox-Protestant dialogues in Moscow.
She is the author of two major studies on Russian church life since World War II: The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History (London: Routledge, 1986), and The Russian Orthodox Church: Triumphalism and Defensiveness (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996). Her most recent research, which will be published posthumously, focused on Russian attitudes toward Western missionaries.
Upon receiving the sad news of the death of Jane Ellis, Institute for East-West Christian Studies director Mark Elliott made the following comments: "I have known Jane Ellis since 1982 when I made my first research visit to Keston College. Jane has been a good friend through the years and I know many will mourn her passing. I have always had great respect for her scholarship and equally for her great compassion for the longsuffering Russian people. I know I speak for many when I say she will be greatly missed."
Announcing the Web Site of the Institue for East-West Christian Studies
As part of its mission to provide the church, academia, and the media with a better understanding of Christianity in the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe, Wheaton College's Institute for East-West Christian Studies has established a web site at http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/iewcs. As well as selected articles from the East-West Church & Ministry Report, this page contains subscription information and tables of contents of all back issues, order information for other Institute resources, and a short history of the Institute. Of special interest are dozens of links to other web sites on religion in post-Soviet societies.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 1998 East-West Church and Ministry Report