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‘The Russian Orthodox Church Is Betraying Religious Freedom’ Says London Consultation to Discuss Religious Freedom in Ukraine


Date:                    May 23, 2015


By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries and the ASSIST News Service

Orthodox Priest talking Lambeth Palace

LONDON, UK (ANS - May 22, 2015)-- A meeting at Lambeth Palace in London, England, on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, has agreed that the Russian Orthodox Church is “betraying religious freedom,” said human rights defender, Michael Bourdeaux, in a story for the London Times.

The Revd. Canon Michael Bourdeaux, who in 1969 founded the Keston Institute (Keston College) --  -- an organization based in Oxford, England, and dedicated to the study of religion and communist countries, went on to say, “The Russian Orthodox Church has been heavily criticized in recent months for its perceived tacit support of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

“The view that the closeness between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state is undermining religious freedom there and in Russia was reiterated during a meeting at Lambeth Palace last week to discuss religion in Ukraine.”

Michael Bourdeaux Lambeth PalaceBourdeaux said that some 30 church leaders meeting at the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin Welby), signed a document to commit to “formal and informal partnerships that will advocate religious freedom and social justice in Ukraine through international networking and the sharing of resources.”

Archbishop Evstratiy Zoria, representing the Kiev Patriarchate, was among those attending the gathering.

The event was co-hosted BMS World Mission and Mission Eurasia, was told that the situation in Ukraine was dire.

With more than 6,000 people had been killed and 1.2 million internally displaced in the last year, around 60 delegates grappled with the question of how should the global Church respond to the Ukrainian conflict?

A report from BMS World Mission said, “Around a horseshoe of tables were delegates from Ukraine, Russia, the UK and across Europe from a variety of denominations, Christian organizations and humanitarian agencies. Surrounding the delegates were observers, including a number of Baptist ministers invited by BMS.

“The event was conducted in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, with simultaneous translations available to delegates working across boundaries of nationality, church and culture.

“Over four sessions, speakers explored different aspects arising from the conflict: the concept of the ‘Russian worldview’ and how certain ideologies within it may be driving the current crisis in Ukraine, how Christians should react to Ukraine's humanitarian needs, threats to religious freedom and human rights and developing a reconciliation process. The day also included a session of spirited open discussion.”

The report went on to say that at the close of the Consultation, a resolution was signed by delegates. The resolution calls on the global Christian community and humanitarian agencies to acknowledge what is happening in Ukraine, and to develop a practical response to support the Ukrainian people.

Lambeth Palace group discuss Religious Freedom in Ukraine

At the signing, BMS Global Ambassador Rev. Dr. David Coffey joined hands with Rev Yuri Sipko, former President of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia and Bishop Mykhailo Panochko, President of the Evangelical Faith of Ukraine, and each prayed in their own language. The symbolism of them joining together in prayer for Ukraine was an abiding image from a conference that hopefully bear fruit of solidarity, justice and reconciliation.

The Moscow Patriarchate, the official body that rules the Orthodox Church in Russia and also has jurisdiction over the majority of the churches in Ukraine, did not attend the meeting.

One report said that The Russian Orthodox Church continues to dominate the scene in Central and Eastern Ukraine and that the late Fr. Gleb Yakunin claimed that the close relationship between the Church and the President was a betrayal of the basic Christian - and democratic - belief in freedom of conscience. This view was reiterated at the Lambeth consultation.

Gleb Pavlovich Yakunin was a Russian priest and dissident, who fought for the principle of freedom of conscience in the Soviet Union. He was a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and was elected member of the Russian Parliament from 1990 to 1995. He died in December of last year at the age of 80.

According to Sophia Kishkovsky, writing in the New York Times, he spent much of the 1980s in a prison camp and exile, died on Thursday in Moscow. He was 80.

“The cause was complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, his daughter Maria said,” Kishkovsky wrote.

Fr. Gleb has died

She said that in 1965 Father Yakunin and another priest, the Rev. Nikolai Eshliman, sent a long letter to Patriarch Alexy I, then the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, detailing the state’s repression of believers under Nikita S. Khrushchev and castigating the church leadership for failing to stand up to the government.

“With each passing day the awareness of the intolerability of further subjection to lawlessness intensifies,” read one passage in the 40-page letter. “With each day grows the salutary thirst in the Russian church for cleansing from that abomination that has accumulated due to the fault of the church authorities; with each day the thirst deepens in the church for authentic conciliar communion.”

The letter, she added, was also sent to Soviet government officials, including Alexei N. Kosygin, the premier.

In 1966, the two priests were barred by the church from serving as priests until they repented. Although some bishops agreed with the substance of the letter, Father Yakunin’s appeal was seen as violating Orthodox practice.

Gleb Pavlovich Yakunin was born in Moscow on March 4, 1934. His father was a musician, and Father Yakunin studied clarinet. In the 1950s, he studied biology in Irkutsk, where he became religious. He was ordained in 1962.

“In 1987, after his release under an amnesty by the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, he was restored to the priesthood. But his political activity led to a new conflict with the church hierarchy,” she wrote.

“Father Yakunin was among the activists who helped re-establish the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1989. He served as a member of Parliament, first in the Supreme Soviet of Russia and later in the State Duma, from 1990 until 1995. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he co-wrote legislation protecting religious freedom and helped enable the reopening of places of worship.

“After the Soviet Union collapsed, he gained access to K.G.B. archives as a member of a parliamentary committee investigating the August 1991 coup against Mr. Gorbachev. Father Yakunin angered the church by publishing materials that he claimed proved that Patriarch Alexy II, who was elected in 1990, and other senior bishops were K.G.B. agents. When asked, he acknowledged that other religious bodies in the Soviet Union were also co-opted by the K.G.B.”

In 1993, he was defrocked by the church for refusing to leave politics. Nonetheless, he won a seat in the first post-Soviet legislature, the Duma. He was excommunicated in 1997 for “anti-church activities.”

Father Yakunin was also condemned for associating with a breakaway Ukrainian church, the Kiev Patriarchate, and then for creating another breakaway church, the Apostolic Orthodox Church.

In 2012, he spoke out in defense of Pussy Riot, the female punk collective jailed for offending religious believers after offering a “punk prayer” against President Vladimir V. Putin at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

Besides his daughter Maria, Father Yakunin is survived by his wife, Iraida; another daughter, Anna; a son, Alexander; and six grandchildren.

Photo captions: 1) Ukraine priests speaking to the crowd at the backdrop of armed guards in this February 2014 photo (Reuters) 2) Michael Bourdeaux. 3) Group outside of Lambeth Palace.) 4) The Rev. Gleb Yakunin. 5) Dan Wooding (left) with the Billy Graham media team in Moscow.

Billy Graham media team in MoscowAbout the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and he hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on the KWVE Radio Network in Southern California and which is also carried throughout the United States and around the world, and also “His Channel Live,” a TV show beamed to 192 countries. Dan has reported from Russia and Ukraine and has cooperated with Michael Bourdeaux on many stories.

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