Cold War Lingers At Russian Church In New Jersey ~ Wall Street Journal
New Union With ,
Fearing Putin's Spies
By SUZANNE SATALINE
July 18, 2007; Page A1
BUENA, N.J. -- An unlikely combatant in an international legal battle
over Russian power and religion, Adelaida Nekludoff, age 83, chants
"Lord have mercy," amid flickering candles and the whiff of incense.
The only other worshipper at the Sviato-Pokrovskiy
is her daughter.
Mrs. Nekludoff has led prayer services at the onion-domed church since
2004, when her husband, its only priest, died. When he wasn't replaced,
members opted to attend Orthodox churches nearby rather than hear Mrs.
Nekludoff read. She stayed on, and continued her husband's opposition
to the in and its prelate, a man she calls
Her defiance has landed her in court. A Russian Orthodox diocese in the
U.S. has sued to evict Mrs. Nekludoff and take control of the Sviato-Pokrovskiy
property. The case, scheduled to go to trial next month in , is being
watched by a number of Orthodox dissidents who are defying new orders to
submit to the patriarch because, they say, he aided Soviet Communists
who tried to destroy their faith.
Mrs. Nekludoff argues that she cannot obey an institution that colluded
with atheists. "Where there are lies, there is no God," she says.
Russian Orthodoxy has long been divided, with rivalries over prayers,
personalities and even which fingers to use when blessing oneself. The
largest rift of the modern era occurred in the aftermath of the 1917
Bolshevik Revolution. Bishops who fled, horrified by squads that shot
priests and jailed believers, formed the
Outside of , which eventually chose as its base.
Also known as the Church Abroad, it vowed to "maintain no relations
whatever with the Russian ecclesiastical authorities" while the country
was "subject to Communist rule." For decades, leaders of the Church
Abroad denounced the leadership.
The 1958 document that archivists say links Patriarch Alexy to the KGB,
as translated for . See the original.
"Agent 'Drozdov' -- born in 1929, a priest of the Orthodox church, with
a post-secondary education, graduate theological degree, and possessing
perfect command of Russian, Estonian, and weak German. Recruited 28
February 1958 on the basis of patriotic feelings for exposing and
exploiting anti-Soviet elements among the Orthodox clergy, among whom
he has ties which are of operational interest to the KGB. During
recruitment, consideration was given (after consolidating our hold [on
him] through practical work) to his future promotion, as opportunities
allow, to the office of bishop of and .
"During the period of collaboration with the KGB, 'Drozdov' made a
positive impression, being neat in appearance, energetic and sociable.
He has a good understanding of the theoretical questions concerning
theology and the international situation. With regard to fulfilling our
assignments, he reacts with willingness and has already provided a
number of materials worthy of attention which are being utilized to
document the criminal activities of a member of the governing body of
the Iykhviskii Orthodox church, GURKIN and his wife, who is misusing
her official position by registering pensions for certain citizens
(accepted bribes). Attending to this matter will represent an opportunity to
strengthen 'Drozdov' in practical work with the KGB.
"In addition, "Drozdov' also presented valuable material concerning the
case being formulated against the priest POVEDSKII. At the present time
he is working on perfecting his German.
"After assigning the agent to practical work with the organs of
governmental security on concrete agency matters, we are planning to
also utilize him for promoting our interests among capitalist
governments as a member of church delegations."
--Translated by George Soroka, a Harvard University graduate student
When Communism crumbled, efforts to heal the rift began, culminating
this year in May in a ceremony attended by President Vladimir
Putin. There, the two sides signed the Act of Canonical Communion,
joining members of the Church Abroad with more than 140 million Russian
But dissidents believe the Moscow church hasn't adequately repented for
its sins and is still too close to the Kremlin. About 100 of the 340
Church Abroad clergy around the world have broken away in the past four
years, particularly in recent months. At least 10 of the Church
estimated 145 U.S. parishes have asked other Russian or Greek Orthodox
bishops to lead them instead, while many parishioners have joined
Serbian or Russian Orthodox churches unaffiliated with the Church
Several Church Abroad priests who opposed the canonical union have been
ordered out of rectories and stripped of their parish posts. Seven
clerics quit the Protection of the Mother of God Church in ,
N.Y., splintering the worshipers. In some locales, family members are
attending separate churches.
Mr. Putin helped broker the Canonical Communion and met with U.S.
Orthodox bishops in 2003. The agreement has mutual benefits. The
Moscow-based church gains influence in the U.S., Western and
, where it had little presence. The Church Abroad becomes
part of a major world faith.
Mr. Putin also gains. The union blunts what has been one of his largest
group of critics -- Church Abroad clerics who regularly attacked his
policies and human-rights record. Mr. Putin has used his own Orthodox
faith to soften his autocratic image, vowing to rebuild churches
destroyed by the Soviets, while asking the church to bolster the
country's moral fiber and unite the Russian diaspora.
Sviato-Pokrovskiy in Buena, N.J.
The dissidents decry the relationship between the president and church
leaders, maintaining that his support came even as he clamped down on
the press and government critics. They also say the Moscow church has
done too little to address corruption and poverty in .
The Church Abroad has taken steps to rein in the critics. The church is
suing for the property of a parish that joined a . Internationally, three priests and a bishop have been
told they can no longer administer sacraments.
The dissidents -- including refugees, U.S.-born converts
and some Russian monarchist descendants -- say they will continue the
Church Abroad as they believe it should be run. A particular sore point
with them is the Russian church's links to the KGB.
Archivists who have plumbed Soviet-era records say KGB informers
infiltrated churches for decades, reporting on clergy and parishioners,
at home and abroad. Indrek Jurjo, chief of the publications division of
the State Archives of , says that one of those agents was
Patriarch Alexy II, the current leader of the Moscow church. Mr. Jurjo
says that biographical details of an agent named Drozdov, found in a
1958 KGB annual report, match the cleric's Estonian background, year of
birth, education and career path. Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general
now living in , says Patriarch Alexy told him at a 1991 dinner
party that "I had to collaborate. That is the price of survival."
See the 1958 document that archivists say links Patriarch Alexy to the
Some dissident priests fear for American security, saying Mr. Putin
use the union to send over government agents disguised in cassocks. The
Rev. Victor Dobroff of , who broke with the church, says
that "in a very short time," Russia's current FSB security agency will
have hundreds of "new spy nests all over the world, absolutely
untouchable, working under the cover of the church."
Alexander Abramov, secretary for external affairs in the U.S. for
Alexy's church, says that no one has ever proved the patriarch spied.
Father Abramov says the Estonian document doesn't directly link the
patriarch to the KGB. He recalled that Alexy said in a speech years ago
that bishops who were in contact with Soviet authorities "did not
Alexei Timofeev, press secretary for the Russian Embassy in Washington,
says concerns about spying priests are "old stereotypes of the Cold
no longer applicable.
Sviato-Pokrovskiy, or Holy Protection Church, was built by Cossacks who
had fought the Bolsheviks. They settled in New Jersey's Atlantic County
in the 1950s, and church membership eventually grew to 150. Every
season, the Rev. Nikolai Nekludoff held a service honoring the dead in
the church cemetery, followed by herring and vodka served at tables set
In May 2005, as the union with looked imminent, his widow, Mrs.
Nekludoff and three members of her family voted to leave the Church
Abroad. Father Nikolai had been devoutly anti-Soviet; the Bolsheviks
killed seven of his relatives one night, his daughter says. The family
drew up new corporation papers stating the parish beliefs were
"pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodoxy." They joined a breakaway church
formed by a retired Church Abroad leader who had spurned .
A few months later, Gabriel Chemodakov, Bishop of , told the
Nekludoffs in a letter that the diocese wanted to have the Buena
property cared for by a "brotherhood," which the family assumed would
turn it into a monastery. Mrs. Nekludoff's daughter, Maria, a church
trustee, replied, saying the parish declined the "offer" and was an
independent entity "founded on Russian Orthodox anticommunist
which clearly and categorically reject any conciliation with the Moscow
Patriarchate." Association "with your Diocese or Synod is not
with our religious convictions,'' she wrote.
The diocese asked a Superior Court judge in February 2006 to declare
that the parish was holding the property in trust for the Church
a ruling that would place Sviato-Pokrovskiy under the hierarchy's
control. The church's lawyer, Richard Mongelli, wouldn't comment on the
case. Nicholas Ohotin, a church spokesman, would only say that no
may take its property to a new church.
Write to Suzanne Sataline at