Orthodox churches object to national identity cards

Moscow, April 26 (ENInews)--The Russian and Greek Orthodox churches are
objecting to plans in both countries to introduce electronic national
identity cards intended to streamline bureaucracy and, in the case of Greece,
facilitate integration into the European Union.

Church officials are demanding close study of the cards and asking that
authorities make them optional. They say that the personal and financial
information that would be consolidated on the microchips in the cards could be
manipulated to discriminate against believers.

In an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, an official government newspaper,
earlier this month, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the
Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations, said:
"Credit cards, which a person uses to take money from a bank machine or for
payment in a store, are one thing, but a personal card in which all the
information about a person's life and activities will be entered, about his bank
accounts, health and travels is a different matter. These are different
grades of state control over people."

Conservative and nationalist wings within the churches have held
demonstrations in Athens and Moscow and claim that the cards will compromise
national and religious identity. Many have gone so far as to say that identity
numbers such as 666 are the "mark of the beast" from the Book of Revelation,
the final book of the New Testament.

At a demonstration in Moscow on 16 April, Orthodox nationalists joined
forces with members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The
Communists also oppose the Universal Electronic Card (UEC), which is scheduled
to be introduced in Russia next year., an Internet publication that often covers religious and
nationalist issues, commenting on the demonstration, said, "the introduction of
the UEC makes it possible to build an unheard of, super-totalitarian
electronic dictatorship, in which each individual person becomes a
remote-controllable bio-object, for all practical purposes a robot with a bar code on his
body or a microchip implanted under his skin."

Patriarch Kirill II of the Russian Orthodox Church told a meeting of the
Bishop's Council of the Russian Orthodox in February that "the church
understands the position of people who do not wish to be subject to control that
makes it possible to gather all-encompassing information about their
private life, and could in the long-term be used to discriminate against citizens
based on their world view."

On 27 March, thousands of Greek Orthodox priests, monks, nuns and lay
people marched through Athens to the Greek parliament building in protest.

April, the Synod of Bishops of the Church of Greece expressed its concern
about the cards and said it would hold meetings with top government
officials. Metropolitan Prokopios of Philippi, Neapolis and Thasos, who chairs the
synod's committee on dogmatic and canonical questions, reported that as a
result of preliminary talks with the Greek government, the church had
received assurances that, among other things, the numerals 666 would not appear in
the cards in any form.

Archimandrite Iannuarii Ivliev, a professor of biblical studies at the St.
Petersburg Theological Academy told the May edition of Neskuchny Sad, a
Russian Orthodox magazine, that the obsession with symbols such as 666 are
the result of a primitive interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

"Many years of atheism and the ban on all Christian education has had a
poisonous effect," he said. "Several generations of people have grown up
whose religious consciousness, through no fault of their own, is on the most
primitive level. They are baptized, but unfortunately not enlightened by
the light of Christ's Gospel ... They think that they are under siege from
all sides by 'demonic forces.'"

He said the Bishop's Council of the Russian Orthodox Church asked the
government to make electronic forms of identification optional.

Sophia Kishkovsky

Sophia Kishkovsky writes for Ecumenical News International.

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