In 1948, the Soviet government ordered that every church have a "committee of twenty" of the faithful, and allowed them, in accord with a "contract" drawn up by the government, to rent their own churches, which the government had confiscated. If the committee did not sign the contract, the church was threatened with closure.
No one doubted that Stalin was capable of carrying out this threat. The country was cowed: People were being hauled off to Siberia, prisons and dungeons were packed with innocent people, in the city squares lay the mutilated bodies of partisans, a third of the priests were in the Gulag Archipelago, and the only bishop left
in all of Lithuania, Kazimieras Paltarokas, hoping to save priests and faithful, did not oppose the compulsory signing of the "contract" too strenuously.
Here is the kind of "contract" which was foisted on the faithful of Lithuania:
"1. We, the undersigned citizens, contract to take care of the house of prayer consigned to us, together with all property belonging to it, and to use it exclusively for the purposes for which it has been assigned. We accept the responsibility of keeping up and guarding the property consigned to us, and of carrying out all the responsibilities which this contract places upon us.
"2. We contract to use the bulding, and to make it available to all others of the same faith, exclusively for purposes of religious worship and not to allow to perform therein such religious services, any ministers of cult not registered with the Deputy for the Lithuanian SSR, of the Council for Religious Cults attached to the Council of Ministers of the USSR.
"3. We contract to do everything necessary, so that the property entrusted to us would not be used for purposes not in accord with Paragraphs 1 and 2 of this contract.
"4. We contract to pay from our own resources all expenditures for the maintenance of the house of prayer, and also all other expenses necessary for the repair, heating, insurance, safety, local taxes, etc.
"5. We contract to keep an inventory list of all appurtenances of cult, including articles of religious cult newly acquired by gift or by other means, and which are not personal property.
"6. We agree to allow persons deputed by the Executive Committee of the city, or by the Deputy of the Council for Affairs of Religious Cult, to examine the property, though not during the hours of services.
"7. For destruction or damaging of property entrusted to us, we assume collective responsibility.
"8. In case of the return of property received, we contract to return it in the same condition, in which it was received for use and care.
"9. In case of transgression of the terms set forth in this contract, we are liable before the law, and moreover, the Executive Committee of the city has the right to terminate the contract.
"10. In the event that we find it necessary to terminate this agreement, we are required so to inform the Executive Committee of the city in writing. Moreover, within a week after the submission of said resignation in writing, we are not relieved of responsibility for care of the property, provided in the contract, and we bear all responsibility for the carrying out of the contract. We also agree within that time to return the property received, in good order.
"11. Each of us signing this contract, has the right to withdraw from the number of those involved, by submitting our resignation in writing to the Executive Committee of the District. This, however, does not relieve the individual resigning, from liability incurred for damages to the house of prayer or to other property received, incurred while the person resigning was a member of the management of the property.
"12. None of us, individually or collectively, has the right to prevent any citizen belonging to our confession, and whose rights have not been taken away by law, from signing this contract at a later date, and becoming a full-fledged participant in the management of the property, together with all who have signed this contract."
Soviet propaganda is constantly condemning capitalists, who unlawfully take possession of material goods belonging to others. Is there another such capitalist in the world, who would take everything from a person, and then rent back to that same person the very things which are his, forcing him to pay rent, confiscating those things which the tenant might in the future obtain, and which might be given him?
This tenant is so bereft of rights, that he must at all times be prepared to turn over to the capitalist all his material goods. The tenant is not allowed to admit anyone whom this capitalist does not like, but must always let the capitalist in to examine the stolen goods. Such a capitalist exploiter can be found nowhere, but in the Soviet Union.
The atheistic government boasts that it turns churches over to believers to use free of charge. But this is a lie! Paragraph 4 of the contract obliges the believers to pay insurance and local taxes, and to pay six times the going rate for electricity—25 kopeks per kilo-watthour.—These charges bring in huge sums for the government.
In this contract, only the tenant assumes obligations, while the "owner"—the Soviet government—assumes no responsibilities. Such a one-sided "contract" demeans and cheats the faithful. The faithful would gladly enter into a reasonable bi-partite contract, but that is not possible.
Recently, the government has come up with an even more rigid "contract". For the past five years, the government has been forcing parish committees to sign the new agreement. Some have signed, while others are trying to resist.
Neither church leaders nor the faithful were consulted in the drafting of the new contract. It is most regrettable that the church leadership itself never took a clear stand against this unjust and unreasonable contract.
The government, conscious of its own dishonesty and fearing sharp reaction, delayed the signing of the new contract for a number of years. The government keeps angling, as it were, to see whom it can catch first: Some it frightens with threats of closing down the church, others it simply deceives, or, it finds some pastor sympathetic to itself, who helps make the signing of the contract palatable, etc.
How does the new contract differ from the one in Stalin's days?
"We, the undersigned, residing in and making up the religious group called , registered ..................................... 19 in accord with the determined procedure, hereinafter called 'PERSONS', and the Executive Committee of the Council of Deputies of the Working People of the city (rayon) of hereinafter called 'THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE', have entered into the following contract:
"1. 'The Executive Committee' assigns, and 'the persons' accept for use without charge the following property:
a. A masonry, wooden (underline which) house of worship, located at (address) and enclosed by a masonry, wooden (underline which) fence;
b. Religious objects named in the attached list ................................................
c. A dwelling, located at .... (exact address) .... containing sq. meters of useful space, and the following buildings .......... (name them)
d. Other property .... (list) .........
"2. The 'persons' signing the contract, assume the responsibility:
a. To care for and safeguard the house of worship and other property assigned to the religious group for its use.
b. To keep the house of worship in repair, and to pay from its own resources the necessary expenses: heating, insurance, safety and other tariffs connected with the use and care of this property.
c. To reimburse the state for all losses inflicted on it by damage or loss of this property;
d. To use the house of worship and other property only for purposes of religious cult.
e. To keep an inventory list (book) of the property assigned, in which would be entered all objects of cult newly acquired (whether by purchase, by donation, or by transfer from other houses of prayer, etc.) so long as it is not the personal property of any individual.
"3. The 'persons' agree at any time, except during religious services, to allow representatives of the Executive Committee of the Rayon (City), periodically to examine the property, to ascertain whether the religious group is making correct use of the property assigned to it, and to obtain information necessary to set the rate of reimbursement for the ministers of cult and other persons.
"4. This contract can be terminated:
a. If the believers using the structure terminate the contract;
b. If the religious group fails to fulfill the conditions of the contract;
c. If, in keeping with established procedure, it is decided to close the house of prayer (worship structure), the use of which was permitted by this contract.
"5. This contract shall be drawn up and signed in triplicate: one copy to be kept in the files of the Executive Committee of the Council of Deputies of the Working People, the second in the files of the religious group, and the third in the files of the Deputy of the Council for Religious Affairs, attached to the
Council of Ministers of the USSR, for the Republic of Lithuania.
For the Executive Committee of the Supreme Soviet of Working People The "Persons": Name, Patronymic, Address, Signature, of each.
"All believers of the appropriate confession have the right to sign this contract saying that they are being allowed to use the house of worship and other property, even after the religious property has been turned over, thereby becoming full-fledged participants in the use and discretion of said property.
"Each individual signing this contract has the right to revoke said signature, provided that he submits an appropriate declaration to this end to the Executive Committee of the City (Rayon) Committee of the Working People. However, this will not relieve him of responsibility for the care of the property and its safekeeping up to the time he submitted the required resignation." (Date)
In the new contract, the executive committee of the religious group is obliged to report how much the priest receives for religious services. Undoubtedly, the government seeks to introduce in Lithuania the system already in effect throughout Russia; e.g., Parents wishing to have an infant baptized apply not to the clergyman, but to the treasurer of the religious group.
The parents are obliged to submit a written request to have their infant baptized; they submit their personal documents, a certificate is made out and a receipt is issued. This receipt is taken to the clergyman, who then baptizes the child. The government is interested not only in how much the clergyman makes, but also in who makes use of religious ministrations.
Will private matters of conscience remain secret if they must be shared with all manner of treasurers and chairpersons, who are often people in the service of the government? Paragraph No. 14 of the Order of the Praesidium of the Supreme Court, dated July 28, 1976, grants the Executive Committee the power to expell from the list of the religious group anyone unacceptable to the government.
In forcing the faithful to sign the new agreement, the government obliges them to agree that "in accord with established procedure" the church can be closed. That "established procedure" consists of unknown conditions yet to be determined by dictation of the Soviet government.
Who knows whether in a few years the Soviet government will not require, as it has in Byelorussia, that representatives of the religious community be stationed at the door of the church to turn back students and youth up to eighteen years of age, because otherwise "by established procedure" the church might be closed? The requirement to sign such a contract is tantamount to placing a noose about one's own neck.
According to the new contract and the new order of the Prae-sidium of the Supreme Court, the faithful, upon closing of the church, are required to surrender to the government everything, including the sacred vessels, which can then be placed on exhibition in museums of atheism or put to other profane use.
Is it possible to offend and humiliate the faithful any more than this?
There was a time when the government forced people to join communes, and hauled them off to Siberia, while proclaiming that Lithuanians voluntarily joined the communes, and that they moved to Krasnoyarsk on their own. Equally "voluntarily" now parish committees are signing this unreasonable "contract". So the Helsinki accords remain just a hypocritical document.