By Paul Goble
Few developments in recent years have highlighted the unfortunate and increasing fusion of state and religious functions than the cooperation of Russian officials and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in persecuting the Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to Anton Chivchalov.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activist, who has been forced to flee from Russia to Belarus where the persecution of his denomination is much more infrequent says that “again and again the Russian state helps one elect religious organization deal with another by offering the first its police forces” (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=2225).
This represents “a complete restoration of the medieval system in which the Orthodox Church had state functions and could persecute any it found unsuitable,” Chivchalov says. “Today, the close cooperation of siloviki with ‘Orthodox activists’ in the struggle against law-abiding citizens of the country who believe otherwise is something only the blind do not see.”
The Jehovah’s Witness activist says that he would very much like to ask “sincere honest Orthodox believers: how do you react to the fac that your mother-church understands the Gospel teaching about love to those close to one and even to enemies? Are you prepared to close your eyes to this? And if you are, then what else are you prepared to close them for?”
Chivchalov says he is often asked what the Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted in Russia. “In response,” he says, he “usually enumerates a number of readily accessible facts:
“Patriarch Kirill even before being elected patriarch actively fought with the Witnesses in Kaliningrad and Smolensk and their literature was first held to be ‘extremist’ seven months after his enthronement;
“Procurator Yury Chaika has a church order for ‘work for the good of the Church” and has promised to ‘actively cooperate with the Russian Orthodox Church;
“Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov graduated from the St. Tikhon Orthodox Humanities University;
“Aleksandr Dvorkin, the main ‘sect fighter’ of the country, a professor of the same university and the possessor of four church awards, works in the justice ministry and the State Duma;
“In Voronezh, prohibited literature from the Orthodox ‘anti-sect’ center was planted on the Jehovah’s Witnesses;
“In Arkhangelsk, Governor Igor Orlov said in an interview to the official site of the local bishopric of the ROC MP about his intention to ‘de-legalize’ the Jehovah’s Witnesses in cooperation with the ROC MP; and
“Metropolitan Ilarion called the new persecutions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘a positive step.’”
This list could be expanded “much further,” Chivchalov says; indeed, the government and the church are adding new things to the list, including the involvement of nominally independent Orthodox activists in joint work with the Russian police forces to repress the Jehovah’s Witnesses.