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BLOG "FRIENDS OF ST.ELIZABETHS": Excerpts from the Interview of Bishop Gregory (Lourie) on Radio Liberty

RL: I ask bishop Gregory to tell us about the history of his parish, and about causes of current attacks against him by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

BG: I would say that while there is indeed an attack, it is not an attack from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is coming from, well, I don't *know* exactly from who, but it's coming from those people who organized that smear campaign in the media. As for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they are currently doing their routine job, and are not interfering with the life of our parish.

Now, a brief introduction to the history of our parish. It started in 1997, when our parish, with a newly-built church, left the Moscow Patriarchate. After that, in the same year 1997, a tragedy happened, when our rector was murdered, and I, as a second person after him in the parish, became the first. After some time, in 1999, I was ordained a priest by the Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal, and since then our church became a part of Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC), to which it belongs to this day. This church is an officially registered religious organization in Russian Federation. And our parish is a local religious organization within ROAC, and we also have the official registration.

We serve on the same grounds, as far as outside observers are concerned, as any church in Moscow Patriarchate. But there is a sign on the doors of our church, which says which jurisdiction we belong to, so there is no "anonymity" here. Not to mention that if someone takes Communion in our church, he takes Communion only in our Church, and not in Moscow Patriarchate. This is the matter of choice for a believer. That sums up the history of our parish.

Further circumstances led to my ordination as Bishop of Petrograd and Gdov in 2008. It's the same title as the one held by the last Metropolitan who we consider to be canonical, Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, who was executed in 1937. He is revered as a holy Martyr in our Church, but not in Moscow Patriarchate.

And now about our current problems. There are multiple levels here, but to speak in general, right now in our country there are changes in the political system with regards to religious affairs. We all see that Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, is becoming a quasi-state structure. Of course, it can not become one de jure, but de facto this is what is happening. And, naturally, different officials and representatives of the state have started to treat the interests of Moscow Patriarchate as, more or less, interests of the state. And they organize their own workings accordingly. This is what our story is connected with.

I should like to emphasize two levels in this story. On the first level are these actual criminal cases which were opened, certain charges made against us, and the work of "E" Department, that created a base for those charges. And then there is a higher second level, this campaign in the media, unprecedented by its scale. TV shows alone numbered a dozen, including main state channels, I just can't remember when anything like that has ever happened before in connection to religious issues...

RL: Your Eminence, what is this "E" Department?

BG: It is a special department within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, created recently for the purpose of combating extremism. It has its own structure, which is the same in all the regions of the country. And that structure includes a wing for combating religious extremism. There are also other wings for other kinds of extremism. But we can't really say the religious extremism is the same in all the regions of the country, can we? We might say that in Russia today combating religious extremism would largely amount to catching Islamic militants. But what to do in St. Petersburg, where there aren't many Islamic militants? Not to mention that Federal Security Bureau is also actively catching them (i.e. Islamic militants).

RL: (Regarding the accusations about funeral services in the nearby morgue, which were made by priests not of Moscow Patriarchate)

BG: Indeed, in Petersburg there is this established practice of performing funeral services in morgues. But in that morgue near our church, as a rule, funeral services were performed by a priest from Moscow Patriarchate. And only in rare cases, only occasionally, they were performed by our priest. But contrary to what "E" Department stated, we never claimed to be priests from Moscow Patriarchate. What is true is that there is a sign on the wall that funeral services in this morgue started with a blessing of Metropolitan John. It hang there ever since that blessing was given. But that services in the morgue are performed specifically by Moscow Patriarchate priests, or that the morgue chapel belongs to Moscow Patriarchate - none of that is true, and it can't possibly be true, because that chapel is, quite literally, a property of the morgue. So when people come, and they want an Orthodox funeral service for their relative, they typically mean an Orthodox service, not a Moscow Patriarchate presence. Putting a question like that is substituting the question of Orthodoxy with a question of being under the jurisdiction of Moscow Patriarchate.

Today Moscow Patriarchate tries to claim that it "issues" some kind of  a "certificate" of Orthodoxy. And without it you find yourself in some kind of a non-certified high seas of fraudulent pseudo-orthodoxy. But we have same legal rights for performing the same services.

RL: (Regarding the murder of Father Alexander Zharkov, as it is presented in the "Moskoski' Komsomolets" article)

BG: This time all the facts were presented correctly, which is not always the case. The investigation still continues. And from my recent conversations with officers from Ministry of Internal Affairs - not those who chase virtual extremists, but those who actually catch murderers - I can conclude that they still have hope to solve the case.

Of course, we have some hypotheses. And this case will not be closed due to the time limitation. But at this point, the case is not solved.

And the reasons here are not, of course, that someone could get killed for transferring to ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). The thing is that Father Alexander didn't just transfer to ROCOR, but he had done it in such a way that the church building didn't stay with Moscow Patriarchate, where it never belonged legally anyway.

And when it became clear that Moscow Patriarchate, without Father Alexander, the new rector (who was assigned to the church) could not perform the services in the parish, the church was closed by the construction company, who were owners of the building at the time. And legally, nothing could be done with that decision, they tried to appeal against it, and learned that nothing would come out of it. And shortly after, Father Alexander was killed. Now, if we look at the case from purely legal point of view, we have nothing but questions marks, and I really can't say anything else. But, of course, I have my own hypotheses about what actually happened.

RL: Is this year's Pascha any different for you compared with previous years? How are you encouraging yourself and your parishioners?

BG: For me it's not at all different from previous years. All these years we knew that  attack on our church will come. We never imagined that there will be a guarantee, that we will live to next Pascha in our church. And I have never had even the slightest doubt that such a situation will come, with criminal charges against me - such are the unwritten rules of these games. So now, when the story reached a more or less determined phase, I even feel some relief.


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