03/21/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Arkhangelsk, Orthodox Church against sects, including yoga

Local authorities write to eparchy to invite them to keep "destructive cults" such as Jehovah's Witnesses away from schools. But yoga also presents problem for religious leaders, a practice that relies on "recruitment" in public spaces.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The authorities in Arkhangelsk have written to the local Russian Orthodox Church leaders to underscore the need for vigilance over the activities of "new religious movements" in schools. In his letter, the head of the City Department of Education cites in particular the Jehovah's Witnesses as a sect to be kept away from educational institutions. But for the Eparchy there is another danger looming over the community; yoga classes. They are regarded as a religion, which practices proselytizing through lessons held in public spaces.

As reported by the Sova Information Centre, on 9 March, the Education Department sent a letter to the Eparch Danijl of Arkhangelsk and Kholmogorsky- north of Moscow – stating that the city authorities are committed to "fighting the spread of religious associations in schools. " The project "Prevention of destructive cults" has been launched in the area involving social workers, educators and psychologists. There are also ongoing workshops on specific topics such as "Prevention of dependence on destructive cults" and "concepts and essence of totalitarian and destructive cults."

In Russia sects or destructive cults in often means many of the religious bodies that can not be classified among traditional faiths and denominations or in most cases, are not acceptable to the political and Orthodox authorities. Throughout the country, focus is centred on the Jehovah's Witnesses, who are subjected to persecution, even in the courts. Arkhangelsk authorities also point the finger against the Witnesses and invite the Eparchy and educational leaders to keep them away from school areas. The letter also calls for schools to keep programs strictly along Orthodox lines both in content and standards of tuition as well as in optional courses.

In its reply, the Eparchy’s information centre accepted the authorities invitation. Not only are Jehovah's Witnesses a concern, but also "yoga teachers" who enter public schools from "often without being noticed". The religious leaders refer to yoga classes held in public spaces. Like the museum in the city of Arkhangelsk, which hosts conferences on "Tantric yoga," one of the oldest forms of yoga. What the local church does not like is that the teachers say that yoga can be practiced by believers of every religion and that at the end of the public demonstration often advertise paid courses that are held in one of the city schools, such as No. 11 or the House of Art for children in Solombala. The director of school No. 11 rebuts that the classes are perfectly legitimate adding that those responsible for the courses rent the institute space, but for religious authorities yoga is in effect a "religious practice" and teachers, by promoting their courses, are only "recruiting" members. The Church asks for the support of political power in stemming the phenomenon and to erect a "barrier against these unscrupulous people." "They have to understand that time for “omnivorous religions” is over" concludes the letter. (N.A.)

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