Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Sobor Raises Hopes

     Using the occasion of this year's Millennium, the Moscow Patriarchate convened a Local Council, the first since 1971 which met June 6-9 at Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra in Zagorsk. One of the most Important items on the agenda was the adoption of a new Statute (Ustav) as a guide for church government. Although the final text has yet to be published, Keston College reports that to date all comments indicate that the new Ustav “represents a success for the church."

     A Draft Statute, drawn up by a committee headed by Archbishop Kirill of Smolensk, was discussed by a council of bishops in March. During the Local Council debate several suggestions were made for strengthening some of the clauses, but on the whole the Draft was favorably received and was unanimously approved with few amendments.

    The new Ustav is much longer (34 pages single spaced typescript) than the previous Statute of 1945, and it is essentially a replacement rather than a revision of its ill-begotten predecessor.

     Perhaps the moat significant and welcome change effected by the new Statute is the reinstatement of the priest ss head of the parish. In 1961, at the height of Kruschev’s anti-religious campaign, the State forced a measure which pre governing authority of parish affairs to a parish council, whose 20 members were approved by the State, reducing the role of the priest to a "performer of the cult." Under the new ruling priests should be able to attend more freely to pastoral matters. The Statute also reduces the number on the parish council to 3 and limits their term of office to 3 years (previously there had been no limit).

    Church involvement' in charitable affairs was the subject of another measure adopted as part of the new Statute. Inasmuch as such activity in the past has been illegal, or restricted to such obligations as "donations" to the Soviet Peace Fund, this measure doubtless anticipates changes in the Law on Religious Associations, which is also under revision this year.

    Indeed, this State-revised Law will have much greater bearing on the life of the Church in the Soviet Union than the new Ustav. Drafts of this Law suggest that it brings an easing of restrictions on religious practice and carries the possibility for improved Church State relations. However, as Keston researcher Dr. John Anderson points out, its apparent merits must be weighed against the fact that "at present the USSR is not a law-governed state" (KNS '306). And until this situation changes, believers are left, as before, with no more certain assurance than hope against hope, and prayer.

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