May the Orthodox Pray with Protestants?

Russia’s National Prayer Breakfast Reaches New Heights


Eighth National Prayer Breakfast held in Moscow


M o s c o w -- Russia’s National Prayer Breakfast, held in Moscow on 18 March, is bigger than ever. New records were set with over 350 businessmen, pastors and middle- to upper-level politicians - including 50 journalists - in attendance. Even the nationally-respected paediatrician Leonid Roshal (Moscow), whom terrorists had allowed to treat hostages in Beslan as well as in Moscow’s Nord-Ost-Theatre, was present.


“A lot of non-Protestants came to listen to us,” noted Baptist Pastor Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), Board Chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation. “Our leaders are respected, they are becoming accepted by Russian society.” Even the Breakfast’s recent location has been a statement in itself: the top-notch, government-owned President-Hotel, in which many visiting heads-of-state reside. “The government welcomes our presence,” added Rev. Vlasenko. “With this event we can testify that Protestants are an active, healthy and integral part of Russian civil society. We want to tell the nation about our work, our spiritual and moral aspirations.”


The Russian government has designated 2008 as the year of the family – it was also the topic of this year’s Breakfast. Father Alexander Vasyutin (Moscow) from Russian Orthodoxy’s Department for External Relations was quick to note common grounds on the issue of the family. “It is remarkable and pleasant that Christian churches can together bear witness to family values. On matters of the family and Christian values, it is imperitive that we find a common language and cooperate.” He underscored the necessity of collaboration by citing the fact that 83% of Moscow marriages are now ending in divorce. A Protestant pastor added that every fourth child is being born out of wedlock in Russia.


Senator Alexander Torshin (Moscow), Vice-President of Russia’s Federation Council, noted that his country’s demographic crises cannot be solved and families strengthened without the cooperation of the churches. He added that in evangelical churches the problem of the family has been “successfully solved”.


Breakfast leadership made strong efforts to extend the hand of friendship to the Orthodox. A minute of silence was observed at the outset of the programme for Metropolitan Laurus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), who had died in New York state on 16 March. Pastor Vlasenko, who is also Director of External Church Relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB), stated: “Laurus was a courageous person; he did a lot for the unity of the churches.”


Yet the press conference following the Breakfast quickly made clear the contradictory nature of Orthodox church policy. Emphasizing that it was only his personal opinion, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin (Moscow), Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, had stated in an interview early in March that joint prayer between Orthodox and the non-Orthodox should no longer be practiced. Pavel Okara (Moscow), head of the Pentecostal “Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith”, responded to journalists that he had prayed repeatedly with Chaplin at the ecumenical conference near Nairobi, Kenya last November. He added: “I don’t believe he was stating his personal position this time. Joint prayer is a basic necessity, even if not nearly everyone is ready for it.”


Bishop Sergey Ryahovsky (Moscow), head of the charismatic “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith”, insisted that one cannot manage without joint prayer during times of serious duress. “My father was imprisoned three times for his faith and in the GULAG he prayed frequently with Orthodox bishops and priests.” He continued: “We have colossal respect for canonical law. But I believe God creates situations in which we need to circumvent laws and pray with one another. I am not divulging all secrets when I say that even now we are praying jointly with many Russian Orthodox bishops.”


RUECB-President Yuri Sipko (Moscow) added: “We uphold the principle of the priesthood of all believers. That prevents us from placing limitations on prayer.”


During the Breakfast itself, Nikolay Svanidze (Moscow), a well-known television commentator and relative of Stalin´s first wife, had assured: “The day will come when representatives of the differing confessions will join together to honour the one God.”


This was the eighth Russian National Prayer Breakfast since 1995; the event has been annual since 2002. National Prayer Breakfasts are held in over 60 countries; yet there is little international coordination and Russia’s event is funded strictly by Russian Protestant sources.


Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 21 March 2008

A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. May be published freely. Release #08-11, 717 words.