From Russia with Aeroflot
We'd been invited to Ekaterinburg http://www.ur.ru/~sg/Ekaterinburg.html by Archbishop Vincent of the Ekaterinburg Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church to participate in a three-day conference on dangerous cults sponsored by the Church, with the blessing of Alexey II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia http://www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru/pa2_e.htm, and by the Government of the Urals Federal District.
There were a few over three hundred attendees at the conference, which took place in an auditorium of the Urals Academy of State Service, and perhaps thirty people presented papers on various sociological, psychological or theological topics relating to cults. I gave a talk in three parts on Scientology, which was translated into Russian as I spoke by Professor Alexander Dvorkin http://iriney.vinchi.ru/ . Professor Dvorkin is an internationally recognized cult expert, and the author of the book Sectology now in its third printing. Scientology's internationally recognized hate site on Professor Dvorkin is here: http://www.religiousfreedomwatch.org/extremists/dvorkin1.html. The text of all the conference papers will be published in book form in the next months.
The conference was opened by Archbishop Vincent, Archbishop Ioann (John), Chairman of the Missionary Department of the ROC and Bishop of Belgorod, and the First Deputy to the Presidential Plenipotentiary in the Urals. (I believe he was identified as Sergei Vakhrukov.) A number of TV and print media personnel attended, and at the end of the first morning session we had a press conference in a separate meeting room in the Academy with several TV stations participating.
In the afternoon, a group of twelve of us, including both bishops, had a very positive meeting with the Presidential Plenipotentiary in the Urals Federal District Pyotr Latyshev. http://www.bisnis.doc.gov/bisnis/country/021028UralsContacts.htm I had the opportunity to tell him about my personal experiences and knowledge of Scientology. He seemed genuinely interested in the cult's intelligence structure and activities, which is quite understandable because he was a general in the Federal Security Service (FSB) before being appointed as President Putin's Representative in the Urals.
After I gave one part of my conference talk, a young woman, who was not part of the program, walked onto the stage, up to the podium and began to mouth some promo for Scientology. She was ushered away from the podium and out into the hallway, where I spoke to her and proposed that we have a debate, which she accepted.
The room in the Academy where we had earlier held the press conference was quickly commandeered and a video camera set up by the Novosibirsk conference contingent to record the debate. Just having a debate was a "big win" for me, because, despite my many requests over two decades, all organization Scientologists had previously refused to debate me, or even communicate sociably.
The young woman, who gave her first name as Maria, but whose family name I didn't get, said that she is an employee of the cult in Ekaterinburg, and has been a Scientologist for five years. As it turned out, she really didn't want to debate Scientology, but wanted only to give her commercial for the cult. Nevertheless, I had the opportunity to tell her some of my experiences and ask her some questions to attempt to get her to discuss wogs' concerns about Scientology.
It is always disconcerting to Scientologists like Maria, who are kept ignorant about their cult's actual antisocial goals and practices, to learn that they are "beneficiaries" of the "contract" by which Scientology seeks to suppress my basic human rights http://www.gerryarmstrong.org/50k/legal/a1/625.php, and of the judgment "enforcing" the "contract." http://www.gerryarmstrong.org/50grand/legal/a4/judgment-csi-v-armstrong.html. It's always eye-opening for them to realize that they are in fact bound by contract to be one of the suppressive persons they've been indoctrinated to hate. Maria's only audible response, however, was to say that she couldn't say anything until she had seen the documents I was referring to. She said she couldn't comment on, or even envision being in violation of her cult's "creed" by trying to have me jailed for speaking unless she had seen the documents. The professed inability to consider simple, logical hypotheticals "without seeing the documents" is a common Scientology dodge.
I think our "debate," which Alexander Dvorkin also translated, was a success, because I was able to communicate to Maria the fact, with lots of examples, that Hubbard was a pathological liar, to urge her to read whatever literature she could find that is critical of Hubbard and Scientology and to search the Internet for materials which show her cult's dark side. I suggested that she ask her organization seniors about Hubbard's lies and about critical materials she discovered, to watch carefully their responses to her questions, and to decide if she wanted to be part of an organization that responded to questions or criticisms in that manner. I offered myself, as someone who had done OT III and had over a thousand hours of auditing, as living proof that Scientology does not work. She thanked me, and also invited me, and the people who watched our debate to visit the Ekaterinburg Scientology center.
Over the next two days of the conference, in addition to presenting the second and third parts of my paper, I participated in a flurry of media engagements. We had a second press conference in the Ekaterinburg Media Center building, with nine television channels (or at least cameras) present and several newspaper representatives. Right after the press conference I gave two additional interviews to TV journalists. At a separate TV station, I did an interview for a half-hour show, which will also include talks with Professor Dvorkin and Novosibirsk Archpriest Alexander Novopashin. See photos from 2001 conference in Nizhny-Novgorod at http://cisar.org/russia/010502a.htm . And I did a talk-format show, with Professor Dvorkin participating and translating, which will be televised around Christmas.
On December 12, the twenty-first anniversary of my escape from the Scientology cult, I celebrated by accepting Maria's invitation and visiting the Ekaterinburg Scientology office, along with local priests Father Vladimir Zaitsev and Father Nikita Suroveikin, Professor Dvorkin, Pastor Thomas Gandow, Deacon Michael Plotnikov from Moscow, head of the Missionary Department of the Ufa Diocese Maxim Stepanenko, Paul Broide from Zaporozhye in the Ukraine, and two television station crews. I didn't go inside the cult's office, because the large Scientologist blocking the entrance wouldn't specifically invite me in, but all the others entered and engaged the Scientologists in dueling video cams, and even some precious dialogue.
The Scientologists were apparently giving visitors to their center black PR documents on their designated enemies, including Professor Dvorkin and me, and it was reported that they sent to Ekaterinburg officials an accompanying letter similar to their 2001 black PR letter to Nizhny-Novgorod officials. http://www.gerryarmstrong.org/50grand/cult/osa-ltr-fsb-2001-04-20a.html Someone inside the cult office gave me some of their documents on me, but not a full set, part of which I have webbed at http://www.gerryarmstrong.org/50grand/cult/index.html#russia2002
At one point, the large Scientologist grabbed Dvorkin in a sort of Russian bear hug, and someone else called the police. Two officers arrived and took a number of statements. During our hour or so visit, I engaged the Scientologist man-handler in a discussion about Hubbard's lies and Scientology's unworkability, had similar conversations with a number of people who arrived to do courses or something, and gave interviews to the two TV crews. That evening, our twenty-first anniversary visit to Scientology was top news on both channels.
Pastor Gandow and I also gave a talk to a class of sixty university theology students, and then had a question and answer period with them. Answering live and real questions is more stimulating and enjoyable to me than simply delivering a prepared talk, and these students were very interested in the subject, and quite spirited. A number of them had also attended the conference at the Academy of State Service, so already knew us to some extent, and if time had allowed would have kept us talking for hours.
Our final work day in the Urals, we traveled to Asbest, at the invitation of the Orthodox Church Parish, to give a talk in the city's Cultural Center to about one hundred fifty people. Asbest, named after the nasty mineral, which is still mined there, is perhaps a hundred kilometers northeast of Ekaterinburg, a little deeper into Asia. http://www.eurasia.org/VirtualLibrary/Eurasia%20News/Spring2001/asbest.html http://www.therussiajournal.com/index.htm?obj=3499 A number of the attendees, which included at least two local government representatives, also asked excellent questions, and clearly grasped the danger of certain cults. One of the representatives expressed the observation that the people in his country had for seventy years been suppressed by a cult which became the government.
Thomas is an excellent speaker, who sincerely cares for people, and engages his audiences with wit and wisdom. He had the disadvantage in Russia of not being a native English speaker, and our translator Professor Dvorkin not speaking German. Nevertheless, Thomas's English rose to the occasion through all of his talks on a number of topics, and in all his many conversations with our Russian hosts, friends and acquaintances. He is also a great traveling companion who has cared for me like an older brother (two months), and shared countless laughs with me, in many miles of European, and now Asian, adventures.
The weather was absolutely wonderful throughout the whole trip. During a couple of days in Ekaterinburg the temperature reached the holy number, the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit cross, -40°. We traveled everywhere between airport, hotel, conference, meetings and meals by vans, the insides of which never really got warm, and the windows of which never defrosted. We got everywhere safely and on time, however, and I'm deeply grateful to our various drivers and the good people who organized everything.
With the frosted windows, the prohibitive sightseeing temperatures, and our tight schedules, we got in almost no city tourist action. But we visited some beautiful churches, and I couldn't help but fall in love with the place and the people. There were some wide streets that were lined with long, solid five-story buildings, which must have been the height of elegance a hundred years ago, and the snow, and the cold, and the Russians in great coats and fur hats, and the street cars, had me many times mouth-tromboning Lara's Theme. I don't think Ekaterinburg figured in Doctor Zhivago, but it figured in the Communist Revolution because that is where Tzar Nicholas II and his family were murdered on July 17, 1918.
The conference was during the Russian Orthodox Church's Christmas Lent, so our meals were prepared according to their Lent fasting discipline and tradition. The Orthodox Russians eat no meat, eggs or dairy products during this time, which, as it turned out for me, was very healthy and enjoyable. They eat fish during the Christmas Lent, except Wednesdays and Fridays, and on those days shellfish may be eaten. There is no proscription of vodka, or wine, or beer, since they contain no meat or dairy, although they are not encouraged either, so, as I said, it was healthy and enjoyable. Marvelous feasts of fish and other Lenten delicacies were served to the conference participants at Ekaterinburg's Novotikhvinsky Convent. Normally, wine would be served only at big feasts and on Sundays, but during our visit the Sisters, who cared for and nourished us all in such a loving and splendid way, served wine out of hospitality and to allow us to relax a little bit in a hectic schedule and cold weather.
Some of us also were feasted at times at Ekaterinburg's Elevation of the Cross Monastery, a simple place, which had been neglected and abused during the Communist era, and which is now being restored, as resources permit. The Novotikhvinsky Convent was also ruined and desecrated in the Soviet time, but it was returned to the Church earlier, so they had a head start in its restoration. The young Abbot at the Elevation of the Cross Brother Flavian is a kind soul who welcomed us, even into his cell where we shared Lenten food and drink. In Asbest, we shared an evening meal with the rector, Father Paul, and his assistant, Father Oleg. I got the idea that we conference foreigners were being treated to a more sumptuous fare than the nuns at the convent, the monks at the monastery and the priests at their churches were giving themselves, but I don't think they would have admitted it even if I had asked.
I am very thankful for the stand the Russian Orthodox Church has taken, as a body, to expose and oppose dangerous, totalitarian cults like Scientology. It is disappointing that the religions and churches of North America and Western Europe, with all their advantages and resources, have not had the courage, as organizations or bodies of believers, to embrace this psychowar. The Orthodox Church survived tremendous persecution for seventy years, and has earned its country's respect. Last year in Nizhny-Novgorod and Moscow I got a crash course in Orthodox iconography, and this year in Ekaterinburg I had an intensive of Orthodox humanity.
Just a final word of thanks to all who participated in the Ekaterinburg conference
and the associated events, and to mention a few of these fine people. Alexander
Dvorkin (Sasha), a Russian treasure whose blessed work against the dangerous cults
is done on less than a shoestring, and who needs our support. Deacon Michael,
Professor Dvorkin's assistant, who puts his life into this work. Yuri Kondratiev
from St. Petersburg, who was taught English by the Mormons, and did hours of translating
for me of the Russian conference speakers. Father Vladimir and Father Nikita,
who organized and chaired the conference, and arranged the anniversary visit with
the Scientologists. Father Alexander Novopashin, who added a Russian "Cultbusters"
T-Shirt to my collection, and made me just plain happy.
And Deacon Andrey Kurayev, who made me happy to be just plain.
Well we said our dasvedanyas and flew from Ekaterinburg with Urals Airlines to some well deserved R & R in balmy Moscow, where the temperature never dipped below -20° C. Then, well rested and healthily Lented, we flew back to Berlin, as I mentioned, from Russia with Aeroflot.
Stetson University: Conference on religious extremism
CHURCH AND STATE JOIN FORCES AGAINST SECTARIANISM IN URALS
by Maria Cherkasova, Oksana Alexeeva
Kommersant-Daily, 10 December 2002
Russian Orthodox Targets “Totalitarian Sects”
Date: May 3, 2001
Father Alexander Novopashin
Ekaterinburg Conference 2002
Professor Alexander Dvorkin
St. Irinaeus of Lyon Information and Consultation Center [Russian]
The most exhaustive Russian site for research and critical interpretation of totalitarian sects and destructive cults.