Holy Russia, keep the Orthodox faith and you will be established in it!

The well-being of Russia, and its political and economical prosperity depend to a great extent on the inner world of Russian people. Unfortunately, years of atheistic power have done a lot of harm to the spirit of Russian nation. The conclusion of international conference "Totalitarian Sects are a Threat in the XXI Century" held in Nizhniy Novgorod last year was: the country (meaning Russia), where the spirit of ethical monotheism is being destroyed, appears to be unprotected against destructive pseudo-Christian, neo-pagan, occult doctrines, which originate from Western Europe, the USA, and are being established in our country.

Leaders of destructive cults try to gain unlimited power over adepts in order to gain financial, economic and political profits. They use various means to increase the number of their followers: they perform their activities under cover of political, religious, cultural, health, research and psychotherapeutic centers. In such organizations both candid and covert recruitment of people into sects is being carried out. They trample human rights, and use non-ethical means to keep people inside these groups, including psychological pressure and even threats.

Under the circumstances there is a dire need to inform the population about totalitarian sects, and the development of their activities in Russia. We must expose the essence of destructive cults, and warn people of the danger.

It must be said that on the whole we have succeeded: the majority of the adult population has a skeptical attitude towards different sects. But for young people who are unsatisfied with their spiritual state and who search for Truth, the danger of being recruited into sects still exists. Such a danger also menaces adults, sometimes those who are chronically ill, mostly single, not satisfied with their perceived lower social status, and who see themselves without possibilities to change their lives. These "lost" people, as a rule, have no idea about real spirituality and in their striving for finding "sense of life" they appear to be easy prey for sectarians. Sectarians begin to take care of such people, help them with money and job, and in exchange for it they get the heart of a person and finally his soul. Unfortunately it happens very often.

Religious ignorance can be met often among well-to-do people also – businessmen, directors of factories and even representatives of local governmental authorities. Followers of different pseudo-Christian cults get financial support and benefits using gospel ideas, and sometimes when we ask affluent people for help they tell us: "We’ve already helped the Christians!".

So, we must intensify our work on the point using mass media.

However cooperation with mass media requires specific knowledge, knowledge that provides proper distribution of information. Without such knowledge all our work can be reduced to zero or even result in a negative effect.

I want to share my experience of cooperation with local mass media, and at the same time to warn against potential mistakes one can do working with journalists.

In the early 90s, when Russia was flooded with different sects, journalists had been very interested in the theme. Some of them tried to estimate sects' activities independently, some asked the Church for the explanations, on the whole one could not complain of lack of information. In the middle of 90s the situation had become the absolute opposite. Interest in the subject had disappeared. Journalists ceased asking us for information, we had to overcome obstacles to cooperate with editors. Our materials had not been published at all or they had been edited such way that they lost their effectiveness. We asked the reason why they had done it and were answered that "the subject is not current," the "editors are not interested in it", "it can produce discord among religions", "it can be understood as persecution of religious ideas" and so on. Obviously, interest reduced not only because the point had become not current but also because editors feared to be called "religious extremists".

Then the situation has changed again. Interest on the sectarianism has been growing since the beginning of 2000. Effective materials about totalitarian sects are being published, programs on the topic are on the air both on TV and radio, the Orthodox priests are being interviewed. Before newspapers used to publish "familiarizing" articles, which had been written in accordance with sect leader words, now it happens very seldom. Journalists trust only the Orthodox Church and ask for information more only from us. And what is more, the Orthodox priests are regularly invited to take part in seminars held for representatives of local authorities, employees of the youth problems Department. Time has confirmed that the Orthodox Church can best explain the problems of the point.

Nevertheless, a lot of people are not aware of totalitarian sects' activities. Often "front organizations" of such sects name themselves cultural, political, healthy centers. How can we warn people of it?

At the end of the last year we began to send informational issues via e-mail to local mass media (radio, television, newspapers, magazines). It is worthwhile to distribute information rapidly (day-to-day). The informational research agency's experience has shown that news would be brought to the audience by at least half of sources.

At the end of every issue we give our phone numbers, so reporters can contact us and get more detailed information. The address of our site in I-net, where we've placed information about destructive cults of our region and Russia, is given there also. Experience has proved this way of working to be rather effective.

Internet has also already become mass media. We can get a lot of information concerning destructive cults' activities visiting both Russian Orthodox sites and foreign, German and American. What is more, we visit sites of active sects, of their front organizations regularly, so we are in the know as to whether a sect settled down on our territory, of organizations sects maintain good relations with, about their plans for future.

And I'd like to add some words about television. On some channels the Orthodox sermons are broadcast. As a rule, such programs last for about 5 minutes, and the audience consists mostly of the Orthodox Christians. We may try to enlarge the audience by adding short (1-2 min.) stories about destructive totalitarian cults to such programs. During one program we can tell 3-4 facts about sects' activities, I think, not only the believers will be interested in it. It even can raise the rating of a program. Probably it is reasonable to give such information in programs about criminal events or programs concerning safety and law.

Also we should try to enlarge listening audience. Undoubtedly, much attention must be paid to municipal radio (so-called "kitchen radio"). But we ought not to forget about numerous radio stations, which have appeared recently. Those are not only broadcasting music but also news. And we should not neglect their audience, which is rather big.

It is necessary to cooperate with the medical press, which exists in any city. Under conditions of good relations with an editor, it is even possible to open the rubric "SPIRITUAL HEALTH"; it is connected with health of body and mind directly. It might be as well to place information about sects in rubric "SAFETY", which is almost in any newspaper.

But we have some problems. I'd like to tell about the main, appearing very often.

The first one: not every editor wants to publish information that comes from a priest, they don't want materials written in the spirit of Orthodoxy. The reason is not that the editor is against it, he may even consider himself to be the Orthodox believer, probably he has been christened by the Orthodox Church, but nevertheless he doesn't want to publish such a material. Most likely, it happens due to fear of an editor to lose the readers, who consider Orthodoxy to be religion of aged, low-educated, even stupid people. Other editors may be too practical and absolutely not interested in spiritual aspects of the problem. In these cases we should release information through our specialists – the Orthodox doctors, psychologists, lawyers, officials who can discuss the problem of sectarians from the different points.

The second problem is: having got information from us, reporters very often publish it out of context. As a result, non-correct, truth-distorting articles are published. If sects bring legal action against us, they even may win a trial due to such articles, which turn out to be in sectarians' favor. Finally, it twists into "anti-advertising" of us. So, we should cooperate with journalists on condition they agree to give us review of articles before publishing.

The third problem: having published a critical article about activities of destructive cults, some publications chasing after popularity begin to dwell on the subject, exaggerating the meaning of a sect, overemphasizing unimportant facts and so on. And here is example: scandalous article about the humanitarian organization "Project Aid Siberia" covering the "The Family" cult that had been published in Novosibirsk paper was a severe blow to the sect. Another publication in another Novosibirsk paper hit on it again. That article evoked a great response of population and authorities. After that the first newspaper began to publish articles about the sect every week, and the subject has become to be boring.

Reporters I've managed to talk to, confessed that frequent discussions of the theme caused negative effect. Any subject loses its effectiveness, people get tired of it. After printing material, it is better to return to the topic in 2-3 weeks and give information, for example, in "Feedback to our publication" rubric.

The forth one: information, that is to be published or go on the air must be checked out. Of course journalists are to do it, but it is not guaranteed, that they would do it thoroughly and that distortion would not happen. As I have already mentioned, this only helps sectarians. That is why it's better to check out facts ourselves.

The fifth problem: we should present information properly. We have to learn how to make an editor or journalist become interested in the subject. For instance, a reporter suggested to an editor that they publish article about sects and the reaction of the editor was : "I'm not interested in that, I support freedom of conscience". Further explanations were useless. If the reporter had presented information in another way, the editor's reaction could have been positive. He might have said, for example: "because a lot of destructive cults are implicated in crimes, sect monitoring groups are created under the Oblast Departments of Internal Affairs, with the Orthodox priests as consultants". Probably, the editor would have become interested in such information.

Besides, we should present information properly in order to lessen the risk of appearing to respond to negative campaigns. Some years ago disciples of Sun Myung Moon distributed candies to people in the streets of Novosibirsk. Thus they involved unaware people in their ritual. Those candies had been sprinkled with special solution consisting of 21 components including Myung’s semen. Insane Myung wanted to adopt all the mankind by this way. We gave this information in the local press, but had not told about the exact composition, had not said anything about violation of human rights. As a result very soon a squalid article casting a false color on our activity appeared in another newspaper.

We should remember about this negative experience. If we give information about the appearance of biscuits "Tortini" in the city and advise to avoid buying those, because they've been spread by the sect "Transcendental Medicine", petulant or even derisive articles may be published in the yellow press in response. To prevent that, in presenting information we ought to emphasize that the distribution of the product involves unaware people into the sect's ritual, that turns out to be violation of both human rights, rights of believers especially, and new law about freedom of religion.

To sum up I'd like to say that experience of cooperation with the mass media in the struggle against destructive organizations illustrates that we can influence public opinion seriously, and that we can warn our people of danger coming from total sects.

Archpriest Alexander Novopashin,
the dean of the Cathedral of Holy Prince Alexander Neva