The Moscow Times, July 23, 2002
By Andrei Zolotov Jr. (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Roman Catholic Church is not the only religious organization to have its foreign spiritual leaders blacklisted and barred from Russia without explanation.
Several foreigners long involved with local groups at the other end of the Christian spectrum — in the growing neo-Pentecostal, or charismatic, movement — have also had their visas revoked at the border in recent months, while dozens more have had their visa requests denied, Pentecostal leaders said.
There is no agreement among non-Orthodox religious leaders on how acute the visa problem is for their churches, which are often dependent on foreign pastors, or whether it deserves publicity. But the leader of one of Russia’s two Pentecostal umbrella organizations, Bishop Sergei Ryakhovsky, expressed concern and traced the problem either to the government’s drive against extremism or to an apparent desire by some officials, most likely in the secret services, to help the Russian Orthodox Church limit its competition.
“It seems to me that someone wants to help the Russian Orthodox Church, so that it is not hindered from the West,” Ryakhovsky said in an interview last week.
In the latest case, radical charismatic leader Alexei Ledyayev — the founder of the Riga-based New Generation Church, which has thousands of followers across Russia — had his yearlong visa annulled at the border June 7, his church said in a statement.
Ryakhovsky said that two other foreign evangelists, who had traveled frequently to Russia during the past decade and had close ties with Ledyayev’s and other charismatic groups, have also been barred from Russia.
Bob Weiner, who heads the Florida-based Weiner Ministries International, had his latest visa application denied in March. In an e-mail to Ryakhovsky, Weiner’s representatives said they were told by Foreign Ministry officials that he was banned from Russia for five years and could not reapply until 2007 — a measure usually reserved for spies. Weiner’s office in the United States did not return a telephone call.
A preacher from the Swedish-based Word of Life church, Karl Gustav Severin, had his visa annulled at Sheremetyevo Airport on Oct. 19, Ryakhovsky said.
“Until recently, I did not think there was any system in the visa denials,” said Ryakhovsky, who heads the Russian Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals). The organization was formed in 1997 to create a legal umbrella for hundreds of new churches, often described here as sects, which would otherwise have lost their official status under the protectionist religion law adopted that year.
“I thought it could be retaliation for U.S. visa denials to Russians or something similar,” he said.”Now it appears to become a chaotic and inconsistent practice, but nonetheless a practice. As if someone is telling us: You can do here what you are doing, but we are watching from above and can decide what is permissible and what is not.”
An official at another union, which comprises more traditional Pentecostal churches dating back to the late 19th and early 20th century, said that its guests have also been barred from Russia. Vera Okara, an official at the Union of Pentecostal Christians of Evangelical Faith in Russia, said a missionary team that has been active in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia has had trouble returning this year.
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