Christians Do Not Take Things Away from Each Other
Resolution to the struggle between Baptists and Orthodox in Lipetsk foreseeable
M o s c o w -- “Christians should not settle their problems with each other in court.” Quoting from Matthew 7:1, Nikon, the Orthodox Bishop of Lipetsk and Yelets added: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The occasion was the first visit of an official delegation of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) to the Bishop in Lipetsk on 9 February. The issue at hand is whether the city’s “Trinity Church”, which was restored by Baptists and has been under their care since 1989, should be returned without compensation to its original owners.
Delegation head Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), Director of the RUECB’s Department of External Church Affairs, reported afterward: “I cannot confirm that the court case has been called off, but it is our sincere hope that all on-going proceedings will be dropped and the case settled out of court.” Rev. Vlasenko added: “The Bishop was very positive and cordial. I appealed to the cause of Christian solidarity and he agreed that it makes a very bad impression when Christians take things away from each other. We must think about our long-term relationship and how things will look in the eyes of unbelievers. I assured Nikon that the world will believe if they see that we have love for each other. Our spiritual concerns must take precedence over material ones. The Bishop responded positively and said he will try and do his best to find a good place for the Baptists to worship.”
Lipetsk, a provincial capital located 235 miles (373 km) southeast of Moscow, has long been a focal point of tension between Orthodox and Baptists. As early as 1993, city officials had reversed their ruling and decreed that Baptists return the building for appropriate compensation. (The value of Baptist investments was given as 22 million roubles ($53.000 in Dec. 1992.) The position of the 100-member Baptist congregation has been that it will return the building for monetary compensation or for usage of a building of similar value and size. In April 2008, the court decreed that Baptists must give up the building without compensation and even dissolved the congregation’s legal status. (See our press release of 11.11.2008.) Baptists are for the first time very hopeful that legal registration will be restored and a new place of worship found – the congregation continues to meet in “Trinity Church”.
Other members of the RUECB delegation on 9 February were Valentin Vasilizhenko (Moscow), Secretary of the Baptist "Public Council" (Obshestveny Soviet), and Sergey Khokhlov, the pastor of a Baptist congregation in Bryansk.
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, 13 February 2009
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #09-03, 437 words, 2.714 keystrokes and spaces.