Unidentified workers, backed by police and civil volunteers, tore down the Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church in east Moscow in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, then accused the pastor of holding an unapproved meeting for the worship service he led on the grounds of the destroyed church two days later. The workers came at midnight with bulldozers and diggers, looting the building of sound equipment, musical instruments, service books and Communion materials before using heavy equipment to demolish the structure. A church caretaker was taken to the police station and prevented from contacting church members for three hours.
The church’s pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, rushed to the church in the middle of the night to halt the destruction, but it was too late. As other church members arrived to help salvage church property, civil volunteers surrounded the site and refused to allow them access. “A car was destroyed, while a generator, the mixing desk with microphones, musical instruments and other valuable items were taken away,” church members complained in a Web post.
By morning, the church building was a pile of rubble. “The workers didn’t say who they were or who had sent them,” said Pastor Romanyuk. “[But] they did all this with the protection of the police.”
The church held a service on Sept. 8 at the site of the destroyed church, using chairs and other materials salvaged from the church.
Holy Trinity Church was established in 1979 by Serfim Marin, a man who spent 18 years in Soviet labor camps for his faith, and the church was officially registered with Soviet authorities. The church’s destruction follows a long-running court case between the church and city officials. In 1995, city authorities forced the congregation out of their first building and provided a new site. The church erected a temporary building at the new site, but Moscow authorities withheld permission to build on the allocated land. The city’s Land Resources Department annulled its land rental agreement with the church in 2005.
In 2010, the public prosecutor filed suit against the church, demanding that it remove all construction and vacate the site. A May 2011 court ruling stated that the church is occupying “disputed land without any legal basis.”
Church members had long struggled to retain the church building, and Pastor Romanyuk said they were given no official warning of the destruction. “In late August, a district official told us verbally and unofficially that they would go ahead with the destruction by Sept. 15,” he said. “We didn’t believe they would just do this.”
Sources: Forum 18 News, VOM Contacts