Thursday, September 6, 2012
Shock at Moscow church demolition
‘A kind of selective persecution reared its ugly head with the destruction — in the middle of the night — of the Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church,’ says Dr. Frank Wright of NRB
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (ANS) -- Unknown workers – backed by police and druzhinniki (civil volunteers) – began tearing down Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church on the eastern edge of Moscow soon after midnight today (September 6, 2012), the Church's Pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, told Forum 18 News Service (www.forum18.org) from the Russian capital.
“This is the Soviet approach – to come in the middle of the night with mechanical diggers,” Mikhail Odintsov, an aide to Russia's Ombudsperson for Human Rights, told Forum 18. “This is unacceptable.” The church has struggled to legalese the building it put up with its own money in 1995-6. Andrei Ivanov, spokesperson for the prefect of Moscow's Eastern Administrative District, defended the destruction.
“Everything was done at the decision of the court,” he told Forum 18.
Human rights defenders and church members have expressed shock and outrage at the sudden destruction of a Pentecostal Church in Moscow's eastern suburbs, Forum 18 News Service has learnt.
Odintsov added that members of Holy Trinity Church in Kosino-Ukhtomsky District in Moscow's Eastern Administrative District (Okrug) had already spoken to the Ombudsperson's Office by telephone earlier in the day and are expected to lodge a written appeal to Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin about the church destruction.
The two writers said that Holy Trinity Church was established in 1979 by Serafim Marin, a Pentecostal who had spent 18 years in Soviet labor camps for his faith. It gained registration with the Soviet authorities as an autonomous Pentecostal community in the late 1970s. However, the city authorities forced it out of its first building in 1995. The replacement “temporary” church – bulldozed today - was built on the current site in 1995-6.
Officials consistently refused to legalize the building and prevented it from being linked to the water and electricity supply and sewerage. Holy Trinity's Pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, and the congregation have long battled to save their church from confiscation and destruction. “We put a lot of our resources into this building,” he told Forum 18.
Pastor Romanyuk said he will lead Sunday worship at 11 am on September 9th in the ruins of his church. “Everyone is warmly invited,” he told Forum 18.
Church members expressed concern not only for their own property. “This precedent shows that the authorities can unilaterally cancel a rental contract and can then seize the building from any church community,” church members complained in a web post.
Insecurity over property has left many religious communities vulnerable to arbitrary action by state officials, as has happened with Glorification Pentecostal Church in the Siberian city of Abakan and a mosque in Astrakhan
Ivanov defended the church destruction. “There was a court decision,” he insisted to Forum 18 from Moscow today. “Everything was done at the decision of the court.” He did not know which court had taken the decision or when and said he would look into it. Asked whether the authorities would have bulldozed a Russian Orthodox Church in this way, Ivanov said he did not know.
Officials at the administration of Kosino-Ukhtomsky District told Forum 18 they had no information about the church destruction. “Bulldozers don’t just arrive to demolish buildings,” one official – who would not give her name – told Forum 18.
The acting head of Kosino-Ukhtomsky District Police, Mikhail Sidelnikov, was not in his office when Forum 18 called. The duty officer – who did not give his name - initially told Forum 18 that no District officers had been at the scene. Then he added: “Our officers were there to defend public order.” He declined to elaborate. The duty officer said that five church members had visited the police station to write complaints about events during the night.
Workers accompanied by the police arrived at the church building soon after midnight today, Pastor Romanyuk told Forum 18 and church members reported on church-related websites. They broke into the building, cut all the telephone lines and seized the mobile phone of the female caretaker. She was taken off to the police station, where she was held for the next three hours while the destruction began. She was not allowed to contact other church members while she was held.
“While the caretaker was at the police, all the church’s valuables were removed, including service books and chalices for the Eucharist. Two mechanical diggers then began demolishing the building,” said the Forum 18 story.
Church members say that while the destruction was underway, men in plain clothes, who called themselves druzhinniki (civil volunteers), circled the site. As church members began to arrive to try to salvage what they could from the wreckage of the building, the men in plain clothes refused to allow them access, and behaved “highly aggressively”, church members complained.
Aleksandr Rodionov, who arrived at the site of the ruined church at 5 am, noted that the church's main sanctuary, the pastor's office and the room for the church's youth club and had already been destroyed completely. “Only part of the roof and a room at the top remained undamaged,” he reported.
Once the workers had gone, church members spent several hours digging in the ruins to save what they could, including church books and items of furniture which were still usable.
Church members have posted testimony, photographs and videos on church-related websites, including on the site www.word4you.ru/news/16700/.
In 1992 Moscow's city government authorised Holy Trinity Church to situate its cultural center in the outlying district of Novokosino, and ordered a plot of land to be reserved for it there. The corresponding decree (29 May 1992, rasporiazhenie no. 1323-RZP) was issued in the name of First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin, who remained in that post until elected to the State Duma in December 2011. Resin now advises Patriarch Kirill on church construction.
According to the Pentecostals, the Moscow authorities subsequently withheld permission to build on the plot allocated, and the city's Land Resources Department annulled its land rental agreement with the church in 2005.
In 2010 the public prosecutor of Moscow's Eastern Administrative District filed suit against Holy Trinity, demanding that the church remove all construction from and vacate the site. Primarily, this involves a 17-by-8-metre church building. The demand to remove all construction was successively upheld by the district court in nearby Perovo (September 3, 2010), Moscow City Court (November 26, 2010) and Russia's Supreme Court (May 10, 2011).
The May 2011 Supreme Court ruling further claims that Holy Trinity is occupying “disputed land without any legal basis” and did not fulfil its construction targets within the time limit for which it was allotted land.
On October 18, 2011 Moscow Arbitration Court additionally ruled that the Pentecostals must pay the city's Land Resources Department damages of 4,888,271 Roubles ($150,000 US Dollars) for unlawful land use.
No official warning
Dr. Frank Wright, President & CEO of National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), told the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net), that hw had met the pastor of this Moscow-area Pentecostal Church when he attended the Association of Christian Broadcasters Russia conference two years ago.
He told ANS, "Religious persecution takes many forms. In Moscow earlier today, a kind of selective persecution reared its ugly head with the destruction — in the middle of the night — of the Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church. It is hard to imagine the government doing this to a Russian Orthodox Church."
Note: ANS would like to thank Kenneth Chan, Director of Communications for NRB, for sending along most of the photographs for publication.
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