Orthodox March to Baptist Church in Lipetsk
Orthodox demand the handing-over of a church without compensation
M o s c o w -- On 4 November, an annual Orthodox procession was held from the central Orthodox cathedral in Lipetsk to the “Church of the Trinity’s Conception” in the outlying region of “Sokol Metal Workers”. But not all of the 200 marchers had spiritual intentions. Traditionally-martial Cossacks and the nationalist „Slavic Union“ were part of the procession. Two nights later, 28 windows were destroyed in the Baptist-run structure.
In recent years, this provincial capital 235 miles (373 km) southeast of Moscow has become a focal point of tension between Orthodox and Baptists. In 1989, city fathers had handed over the Trinity church to the Baptists for their usage. The church’s pastor, Vladimir Ilovaisky states that Orthodox offices had at that time not protested the ruling that Baptists take on the heavily-damaged structure.
Actually, the dispute may revolve above all around money. Already in 1993, city officials had reversed their ruling and decreed that the Baptists return the building for appropriate compensation. (The value of Baptist investments is given as 22 million roubles ($53.000 US in Dec. 1992.) The Orthodox side did not agree to pay compensation. In the ensuing years, it refused any form of direction negotiation and accused the Baptists of seizing an Orthodox sanctuary. The position of the 100-member Baptist congregation has been that it will return the building for monetary compensation or for the usage of a building of similar value and size. In April 2008, the city decreed that Baptists must give up the building without compensation. Citing neglect in the filing of required tax statements, the government side underscored its position by dissolving the Baptist congregation as a legal entity.
Pastor Ilovaisky responds: “We have always handed in our tax reports on time. If we are guilty of something, then tax offices should inform us accordingly or levy a fine. They have instead taken away our legal status.” He adds: “We are not Barbarians and have no intention of defending the building by force. We know they can also take the building through deceit or trickery. But we still hope for a settlement of the matter through legal means.”
In its struggle for compensation and for restoration of its legal status, the congregation is being defended by Anatoly Pchelintsev of Moscow’s “Slavic Legal Centre”. The SLC, an official branch of the Washington-based “American Center for Law and Justice”, is Russia’s most experienced defender of Protestant legal concerns.
Vandalism also occurs elsewhere: Arson attacts on Protestant facilities in Russia continue at a rate of roughly one per month. On 23 October, a summer camp building owned by the Baptists in Smolensk near the border with Belarus was heavily damaged by arsonists. The building is regarded as a total loss. “The Outreach Foundation” of Franklin/Tennessee, a ministry of the “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)”, will be engaged in efforts to finance its rebuilding.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 11 November 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. Release #08-54, 470 words.