Supplementing Dialogue with Deeds
Interdenominational Russian committee planning to visit Georgia
M o s c o w -- Before the end of 2008, Moscow’s “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee” (CIAC) is planning to send a delegation of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders to Georgia. The Protestant member of the triumvirate heading the CIAC, the Baptist Pastor Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), explained: “We must go and meet with political and religious leaders as well as with people in general. We must grasp what is happening there and see how best we can help. Russian churches have been very involved in helping South Ossetia, but we have done very little in Georgia. It is my hope that not only words, but that also deeds might result from the on-going church dialogue between Russia and Georgia.” Vlasenko, who is Director of External Church Relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), explained that in view of the wide variety of Christian groups present in Georgia, it would be much more helpful if the delegation also included Orthodox and Catholics.
This desire to form a Russian delegation is one result of a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian Baptist leaders at Irpen near Kiev on 30 October. Since RUECB-President Yuri Sipko (Moscow) had not accompanied Vlasenko to the European Baptist Federation’s Council sessions in Lisbon/Portugal at the end of September, Georgian Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili (Tbilisi) had requested that an additional meeting between the two sides take place.
Pastor Vlasenko described the meeting in Irpen as “extremely warm”: “We are old friends and we talked accordingly. I felt total love and acceptance. This terrific atmosphere will be a good foundation for future talks.” He conceded that Sipko’s absence in Portugal supported lingering doubts as to whether the RUECB truly was committed to in-depth relations with the Georgian side. Yet through his actions in Irpen, President Sipko “has proven that our hand of friendship truly is extended towards Georgia. Three very positive things have happened in sequence - our statement on friendship in August as well as the meetings in Lisbon and Irpen – and this should prove that we Russian Baptists are serious and committed in our relationship with Georgian Baptists.”
The Director of External Church Relations cautioned that full agreement has not yet been attained, “but we are continuing to work on a relationship that goes down deeply. We are willing to learn more about our differences and we hope to find unity in our differences. Each national union has the right to be unique. If its special traditions help us to understand God better and to love each other more, then they indeed will be helpful to all of us.”
Georgian Baptist introduction of icons and Orthodox-style garb for clergy has raised eyebrows in the Baptist world – and especially in Eastern Europe, Georgian Baptists now regard themselves as an episcopal, hierarchical church - no longer as a traditional, congregationally-based Baptist union. Pastor Vlasenko does not know how Georgian Orthodoxy has reacted to this transition and wants personally to ask the Orthodox in Georgia soon.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 03 November 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #08-51, 493 words.