MOSCOW, March 29 (JTA) — A new interfaith group in the former Soviet Union has passed a resolution condemning terrorism — and could become a defender of minority rights in the region. “True-believing Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists would never step onto a path of terror. We are convinced that the people who have conscientiously become terrorists have denied their own faith,” read the resolution passed earlier this month at the Interreligious Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The organization was formed at the Second Interreligious Peacemaking Forum of CIS Countries, held in Moscow under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church, the region’s largest faith. Some observers believe the forum and the interfaith group it created signaled an important political and diplomatic victory for the Russian Orthodox Church, which has seen its political influence over the Russian leadership grow in recent years. The new interfaith organization “should strengthen the position of the Moscow patriarchate in Russia itself, forcing the government to view it as an influential participant in international relations,” said a commentary posted at Portal-credo.ru, an independent Russian Web site devoted to religious affairs. Jewish religious leaders joined clerics representing major faiths from across the former Soviet Union in the interfaith group, which seeks to maintain peace and religious and ethnic stability in the region. The event at Moscow’s St. Daniel’s Orthodox Monastery was attended by Russian Orthodox clergy and leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, and Muslim and Buddhist clerics from all of the region’s post-Soviet states, except for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Notably absent from the forum and the new interfaith structure were Catholics and members of various Protestant churches. Most of the former Soviet countries denied those groups the preferential status accorded to Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews. The Jewish community was represented at the forum by leaders of two major competing groups: the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Communities and the Federation of Jewish Communities. Jewish leaders gave high marks to the forum, saying the region’s minorities would benefit from the ties that clerics of different faiths forged at the two-day event. “The most important thing at this forum is our communication, the fact that it’s taking place,” Aron Vagner, a Chabad rabbi from Siberia, told a news agency. “When we get back to our communities, people will be pleased to learn that representatives of different confessions can find areas of common interest, the issues where all of us can come to an agreement.” Some of the participants proposed that clerics serve as peacekeepers in conflict zones in parts of the former Soviet Union. The composition of the Interreligious Council’s presidium reflected the division between Jewish groups in Russia and Ukraine — two chief rabbis from each country became members of the group’s 22-member governing body. “The Interreligious Council can become a powerful defender of the minorities in our countries,” said Zinovy Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Communities of Russia, who became treasurer of the interfaith group. “The new organization is undoubtedly a political breakthrough” for the Russian Orthodox Church, he said. “But having Judaism under the wing of politically more powerful religious groups — this could benefit the Jewish community.” Kogan and other Jewish participants said they expected the new group would coordinate clerics’ responses on cases of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and hate crimes.
Religious leaders of the FSU unite