An unholy row has broken out between the Russian Orthodox Church and a rival church that claims to be the true successor of the pre-Revolutionary organization.
The Orthodox Church is in a "deep crisis" and must undertake urgent reform if is to maintain its place in society, according to Gleb Yakunin, a controversial priest who started the True-Orthodox Church organization in a bid to spur change.
Announcing the formation of a new public movement "For the Rebirth of Orthodoxy" Yakunin urged the Russian Orthodox Church to "undertake serious reforms to make it a healthier structure."
But Russian Orthodox leaders say they see no need for reform, and they reject the new church's suggestions, claiming its opinions carry no weight because its leaders have either been excommunicated or left the Orthodox Church of their own accord.
Yakunin is a former deputy of the Soviet National Congress and former priest with the Russian Orthodox Church which excommunicated him for giving Orthodox services in modern Russian instead of the traditional old-Slavonic.
He is seen broadly as a "Raskolnik," or dissenter, according to officials from the Moscow Patriarchy.
The True-Orthodox Church registered with the state in 1996 and claims to be the only successor to the pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, much debate has swirled around the modern Russian Orthodox Church both in terms of the backgrounds of its priests and the transparency of its administration.
During the Soviet period, the Russian Orthodox Church was believed to have been heavily infiltrated by the KGB, and many critics say some of these people retain high positions in the Church hierarchy today. The Church also enjoys vast economic privileges in post-Soviet Russia including tax breaks on importing cigarettes and alcohol leading some to accuse senior Church figures of corruption.
However, as with many church administrations in theContinued from Page 2
world, the Russian Orthodox Church remains a closed structure, meaning that a clear picture of its operations are often hard to determine.
Part of the program of Yakunin's "Rebirth of Orthodoxy" is aimed at addressing these issues, he said. But his movement also seeks to go much further than simply improving transparency and ensuring the population can trust church authorities.
Yakunin says the Russian Orthodox Church was the only church that missed the reformation process that took place in Medieval Europe and that all subsequent attempts to carry out reforms suffered defeat at the hands of conservative church leaders.
The True-Orthodox Church's leaders say their movement is at an early stage of development, but they say they aim to convince official Orthodox Church believers and priests of the of the necessity of reforms. They hope to do this by delivering an eight-page declaration in printed form or by the Internet to all Orthodox congregations in the country, according to the leaders.
Yakunin and his followers target several specific issues in their reform drive:
Regular Church councils;
Democratic principles of elections;
Implementation of the Gregorian calendar;
Revision of the fasting system;
Simpler and shorter services;
Preaching to follow each service;
Abolition of church orders, which they say nourish careerism and corruption among clergymen;
More transparency in the patriarchy's financial issues.
But officials from the Moscow Patriarchy dismiss the True-Orthodox Church. They view it as a separate religious organization and refuse to recognize it as a branch of Orthodoxy. "Therefore, granting churches or temples to them is out of the question," said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchy.
The problem of getting premises to hold services for various non-Orthodox religious organizations was one of those mentioned during the conference.
The Patriarchy's Chaplin said he is not impressed with Yakunin's arguments. "This is a rather strange situation when people who actually are not adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church [who were excommunicated or left the Church] talk of its reformation," he said.
Yakunin and his allies also argue that the modern Russian Orthodox Church is failing to follow proper church procedure.
They accuse the Patriarchy of violating the principles of the Pomestny Council a policy-setting congress of priests from each district and representatives of laymen. The council, first held in 1918, declared that the Pomestny councils should be held every three years.
The Soviet era was a forced break, and in 1990, the last council which elected Aleksy II as a Patriarch of all Russia was held. Despite the passing of a decade since the fall of communism, no new council has been held which, Yakunin said, is "is an indication of the totalitarian structure of the official church in Russia."
However, the Patriarchy's Chaplin refuted this allegation, saying the councils have simply not been held because of financial and technical difficulties.