A sermon by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944) - a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church - was added to Russia's Federal List of Extremist Materials on 4 October (No. 2087). Its distribution is consequently banned across Russia and possession of it renders the possessor liable to criminal prosecution.
Republished in 1990 in the Polish city of Lublin, the banned edition of Sheptytsky's "The True Faith" ["Pravdiva Vira"] was among 16 Ukrainian-language texts ruled "extremist" by Moscow's Meshchansky District Court on 14 March 2013. The other 15 texts – which were not written by Sheptytsky - appear to be secular Ukrainian nationalist works, with titles such as "The Ukrainian National Idea" and "Ukrainian Liberation Concept".
From 1901 until his death, Sheptytsky headed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which resembles the Orthodox Church but recognises the Pope. The Metropolitan is particularly revered by Greek Catholics around the world. For example, the Ottawa, Canada-based Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies was named in his honour. Its website notes his attempts to improve Catholic-Orthodox relations among many other examples of "heroic virtue". Sheptytsky was in October honoured by the Anti-Defamation League for protecting Jҽωs from the ɧơƖơcαųst, by supplying false identification papers and shelter from the Nazis, at a time when such acts were punishable by death.
The now banned edition of "The True Faith", which Forum 18 has seen, is a sermon Sheptytsky gave in 1900 to Greek Catholics in Bukovina Region, now partly in western Ukraine. Unlike the titles of the other 15 Ukrainian texts simultaneously ruled "extremist", however, the sermon's focus is on faith rather than nation. Insisting that "Christ's Church has to be a transnational institution," for example, Sheptytsky warns that anyone who wishes to turn it "into a number of purely national institutions is forgetting about the Church's divine foundation and not understanding it in a Christian way".
For the most part, the Metropolitan urges his audience to uphold the Catholic faith: "We Ukrainians are filled with love for the Catholic Church, we always saw her as our own mother." He argues that the Catholic Church is the true Church due to its papacy, claiming that this is inherited from St Peter: "Christ gave supreme authority to Peter and all his heirs (..) In other words, the Pope of Rome is recognised as the visible head of the Church."
Sheptytsky nowhere criticises other religious communities, however, let alone expresses hatred or advocate violence. He refers to non-Catholic beliefs only when considering if non-Catholics might obtain salvation. Here, he suggests people unfamiliar with the Catholic faith and "who live in another faith, observing all its prescriptions, purely and sincerely convinced that this other faith is true, may also be saved by the love of Jesus Christ." While Sheptytsky adds that an atheist "who knows the true faith but does not hold to it will not be saved," he does not call for any action against atheists.
The freedom to make claims about the relative merits of religious or non-religious views is a central part of freedom of religion or belief. Confusion between claiming the superiority of particular views and claiming the superiority of particular people is made in every attempt to ban religious "extremist" literature in Russia with which Forum 18 is familiar (see Forum 18's "extremism" Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1724
It remains unclear why "The True Faith" was ruled "extremist". Records on the website of Meshchansky District Court show that Judge Maria Kudryavtseva heard 18 civil cases in succession on the afternoon of 14 March 2013, devoting just 10 minutes to each one. She found in the state's favour in all but one case, where the plaintiff did not turn up. All were filed "in the interests of an undetermined group of people" by Meshchansky Interdistrict Public Prosecutor on 9 January. Written rulings were produced between 14 and 22 March, but are not available on the website.
The records do not reveal the nature or content of the cases, and it is unclear why there are 17 rulings when the Federal List has only 16 matching titles.
The 14 March rulings all determine printed materials "extremist", a spokesperson at Meshchansky District Court confirmed to Forum 18 on 20 November. She declined to comment further, however, remarking only that, "The text of those rulings – of that category of case – may not be published."
Reached on 22 November, a spokesperson for Meshchansky Interdistrict Public Prosecutor asked, "And what do you want from us?" when Forum 18 began by noting that the Prosecutor was plaintiff in cases determining printed materials "extremist" at Meshchansky District Court on 14 March. When Forum 18 went on to ask why the Ukrainian text "The True Faith" was ruled "extremist", however, she maintained that she could not hear what was being said and put the phone down. Subsequent calls went unanswered.
In the asbestos-mining town of Asbest (Sverdlovsk Region), Pentecostal pensioner Petr Tkalich is under investigation for "incitement of hatred [nenavist] or enmity [vrazhda], as well as the humiliation of human dignity" (Criminal Code, Article 282, Part 1), he told Forum 18 on 27 August. Tkalich is a member of Rock of Salvation Pentecostal Church, whose parent congregation came under pressure from the Asbest authorities in the early 2000s (see F18News 2 August 2004 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=383
Tkalich told Forum 18 that the investigation is due to "Boiling Pot", a two-part article criticising the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) that he wrote on his blog in 2006. The investigation was opened in late July 2013, Tkalich recalled, after his home was searched and computer equipment seized by law enforcement agents on 21 May. An "expert" analysis of the article as found on this equipment continues, he added, and will possibly not be completed until 2014.
"Expert analyses" commissioned by the prosecution in such cases often contain numerous flaws (see eg. F18News 28 February 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1808