09/16/2004, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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First Orthodox monastery founded in Central Asia

Tashkent (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Five monks have established the first Orthodox monastic community for men in Uzbekistan. The monastery is located in Chirchik, about 30 km north-east of the capital Tashkent. Three monks –ranging from 23-year-old Father Naktariy to 81-yers-old Father Fedor Polishuk– took their vows in the last few weeks.

The Chirchik monastery is the only one in the Russian Orthodox Eparchy (the equivalent of a Catholic diocese) of Central Asia, which includes the former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Holy Trinity church, originally constructed in 1900 to serve Russian residents, was re-established in 1996 to serve as a monastery, but has been occupied by its new residents only since June of this year.

According to its superior, Fr Gregory Palekhov, the monastery will not only serve as a place of worship but will also be a centre of knowledge. "We shall welcome pilgrims who want to spend some days in prayer and follow our monastic rules," Father Palekhov said.

One of the goals of a monastery in Uzbekistan is to "contribute to the Christian presence in a predominantly Muslim country," said Fr Danat Misykov, a Russian monk who came to Chirchik to help found the new monastic community. "There are fewer and fewer Christians in Uzbekistan because more and more ethnic Russians and Orthodox are moving to Russia or Europe to seek better lives."

Uzbekistan has a population of 25 million, approximately 88 per cent Muslim. Orthodox believers represent 9 per cent of the total. Catholics number only 500.

The Orthodox Eparchy of Central Asia has 101 parishes, 3 nunneries e now one monastery for men.

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