Repaying the Patriarch for His Kindness
Russian Baptists official guests at funeral of Alexei II
M o s c o w -- Rev. Yuri Sipko, President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), and Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, this Union’s Director of External Church Relations, were among the roughly 500 invited guests who participated in the funeral procession of Alexei II, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, in Moscow on a rainy 9 December 2008. “It was very important for us to repay the Patriarch in kind for his cordiality,” Vlasenko explained. “He had always spoken very kindly to us and would respond to our greetings by saying: ‘May God bless you’.”
At the reception which followed, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stressed that the Patriarch’s efforts in instigating interconfessional dialogue were among the greatest of his achievements. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin added that church and state are indeed now separate in Russia. Vlasenko stated in an interview afterward: “We Baptists find ourselves in a truly new situation, and we also have Alexei to thank for this progress. We are living for the first time in a state committed to confessional neutrality; we need to avail ourselves of the opportunities this presents. The present situation is very different from Czarist or Communist times. We do not know what will happen in the future, but that is indeed the case now.” Other Russian Protestants present at the reception included Lutherans, Charismatics, Pentecostals and Adventists.
Vlasenko conceded that numerous regional Orthodox dignitaries treat Baptists and other Protestants badly. According to Vlasenko, when they stoop to taking repressive measures against the non-Orthodox, they are infringing against Russian law and not least of all against the principles of religious tolerance as propagated by their own Patriarch.
The Russian Orthodox Church has many detractors in Western societies. The Baptist Director of External Church Relations appealed to such persons to remember that the Orthodox Patriarch is respected by the Christian leaders of Russia. “We Protestants are part of a very large Christian family. When upholding Christian moral values, the Patriarch is speaking for us, too. We are an independent denomination, but we are also Russian and therefore cannot be completely separate.”
Rev. Tony Peck (Prague), General-Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, and Rev. Neville Callam (Falls Church/USA), General-Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, have both addressed letters of condolence to the Russian Orthodox. The new Patriarch is to be elected on 28 or 29 January 2009, and is to be inaugurated on 1 February.
The RUECB, Russia's largest, unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 11 December 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Release #08-57, 412 words.