01/16/2010, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Moscow patriarchate to boost mission in Siberia, Far East and Europe

Kirill reshapes Missionary Department. A new college run by theologians and missionaries is created to serve foreign missions. There are concerns about the nature of the teaching provided and possible hostility towards sects, Protestants, Catholics and other religious minorities.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Russian Orthodox Church plans to revive its missionary activities both inside and outside the Russian Federation. Moscow Patriarch Kirill has taken personal charge and ordered the expansion of the Missionary Department of the Central Office of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The announcement was made on the Patriarchate’s official website last Sunday. Even though there are no details about the plan, Kirill’s new policy raises challenges for Russia’s “non-traditional” religions, this according to Paul Globe, a expert on religion in the former Soviet Union.

Kirill confirmed proposals made by Archbishop Ioann of Belgorod and Starooskol, who heads the Missionary Department, to expand and reorganise it. The revamped body will now include a central administration, a missionary foundation, an “anti-sect and spiritual security” section, as well as a publication and an education division. Above all, the new department will see the establishment of a college run by theologians, missionaries and division chiefs.

As of next summer, priests will be sent to Siberia and the Far East on mission.

Discussions on a number of religion-oriented websites and blogs suggest that most priests and students at the new college come from the missionary seminary of the diocese of Belgorod, considered the most conservative in Russia, known for its great hostility towards Protestants, Catholics and other religious minorities.

According to Mikhail Zherebyatyev, an expert at the Moscow International Institute of Humanitarian and Political Research, the new structure represents the end of the system of synodal management of departments, as it existed under the late Patriarch Aleksij in favour of a more centralised one. Some suggest that the changes within the Church represent the “verticalisation of power” that former President and current Prime Minister Putin has imposed on the Russian state.

Kirill’s new emphasis on the Orthodox mission has also led to the opening of the first new Orthodox seminary outside the former Soviet Empire. The seminary, which is located at Epinay-sous-Senart (France), has taken over a former Catholic convent and now has 12 students. Its goal is to recruit seminarians not only from the nations of the former Soviet Union, but also from Western nations.

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