Forum 18 News Service, Norway (Sept. 6)
By Felix Corley and Geraldine Fagan
“In human terms, this is barbarism..”
Mikhail Odintsov, aide to Russia's Ombudsperson for Human Rights
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 (6 September), the Church's Pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, told Forum 18 News Service from the Russian capital. By morning almost the entire three-storey building had been destroyed. "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 legalize 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.
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 told Forum 18 he had been woken in the early hours and had rushed to the site to try to halt the destruction, but was too late. "The workers didn't say who they were or who had sent them," Pastor Romanyuk complained. "They showed no documents. They did all this with the protection of the police, so some state body must have done this."
Pastor Romanyuk said he will lead Sunday worship at 11 am on 9 September in the ruins of his church. "Everyone is warmly invited," he told Forum 18.
Workers accompanied by the police arrived at the church building soon after midnight on 6 September, 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.
[Andrei] Ivanov [press secretary of the Perfect of Moscow’s Eastern Administration District] defended the church destruction. "There was a court decision," he insisted to Forum 18 from Moscow on 6 September. "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.
"A car was destroyed, while a generator, the mixing desk with microphones, musical instruments and other valuable items were taken away," church members complained in a web post. A safe had also been broken open. "Eyewitnesses report that violence occurred too. A hail of stones rained down on church members trying to take photographs. Mechanical diggers destroyed most of the building."
In 1992 Moscow's city government authorized 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 (3 September 2010), Moscow City Court (26 November 2010) and Russia's Supreme Court (10 May 2011).
The May 2011 Supreme Court ruling further claims that Holy Trinity is occupying "disputed land without any legal basis" and did not fulfill its construction targets within the time limit for which it was allotted land.
On 18 October 2011 Moscow Arbitration Court additionally ruled that the Pentecostals must pay the city's Land Resources Department damages of 4,888,271 Roubles (900,000 Norwegian Kroner, 120,000 Euros or 150,000 US Dollars) for unlawful land use.
No official warning
Although church members had long struggled to retain the church building, Pastor Romanyuk said that they had no official warning of the destruction. "In late August a district official told us verbally and unofficially that they would go ahead with the destruction by 15 September," he told Forum 18. "We didn't believe they would just do this."
Please pray for the strengthening of our brothers and sisters in Moscow in this trial, that they are fully compensated for their losses, and that this act of state repression does not lead to the further persecution of Christians in Russia. Please also pray for those responsible.
http://www.word4you.ru/news/16700/ (web post by church members)
(both web pages include photos)