Russians Still Strangers in the West

Russian Baptist Union present at the Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu


M o s c o w -- “For European society we Russians are still strangers – and that includes me.” That was the comment of Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), Director of External Church Relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), following the subdued response to the lecture of Metropolitan Cyril on 5 September at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania. Cyril, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, had appealed for a revival of European conservatism and the Christian society. Vlasenko had agreed with many of his basic premises. The contrast between East and West was sharpened by the fact that the previous speaker, the German Catholic Cardinal Walter Casper, is a favourite among the ecumenically-minded of Western Europe.


Vlasenko, the only Protestant delegate to the Assembly from the countries of the Former Soviet Union (excluding the Baltic states), added: “Our participation in the Conference of European Churches (CEC) is therefore very important. We must become acquainted with the European spirit, after all, we are also a part of Europe! We must get to know the Catholic point of view. Sibiu was a great platform for discussion – also about our own situation as Protestants in Russia.” The CEC was a major organiser of the event, only the third such meeting of all major Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches in Europe. From 4 to 9 September the Assembly hosted 1.500 delegates as well as 1.000 more interested Christians and journalists in Sibiu.


Russian Baptists share with other Baptists a common confession; with the Russian Orthodox they share a common language and culture. This bridge function was apparent in Vlasenko`s description of his contacts with Russian Orthodox delegates: “We had a great time together, we had a lot of discussions. All 20 of them were very helpful and open, they were willing to discuss anything.” His contacts with the 20 other Baptist delegates from throughout Western Europe were no less pleasant. “I was accepted fully. They were very grateful that our Union came. We have some theological differences among us and we speak different languages, but we experienced a true brother- and sisterhood. We were truly united in our love for Jesus Christ.”


At Moscow Baptist headquarters afterwards Vlasenko noted that the three-member (Catholic – Orthodox – Protestant) “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee” created last 20 December has not yet met. It is hoped that discussions in foreign countries could strengthen inter-church relations in Russia and help bring a breakthrough for this committee.


Despite the joyful encounters in Sibiu, the External Relations Director emphasises that Russian Baptists are not a part of the ecumenical movement as represented by Geneva´s World Council of Churches. “We are only indirectly members of CEC. The European Baptist Federation (EBF) is a member of CEC, and we are members of EBF.”


In a paper the Baptist delegates in Sibiu expressed disappointment over the fact that the Assembly´s closing document does not reflect Baptist concerns. Due to differences in the understanding of baptism, Baptists do not view baptism as a topic which could bring together the confessions of Europe.


The RUECB, Russia`s largest Protestant church, represents approximately 78.000 adult members meeting in 1.740 local congregations and groups.Its President is Pastor Yuri Sipko.


Dr. William Yoder

Department for External Church Relations, RUECB

Moscow, 13 September 2007


A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-33, 526 words.