Cooperation between the Orthodox and Baptists of Russia Will Continue
Initial meeting with the new Chairman of External Church Relations
M o s c o w -- The high-level and long-standing cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate (ROC) and the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), strengthened through the efforts of Kirill, the present “Patriarch of Moscow and All of Rus”, will continue. That was solid conclusion of Vitaly Vlasenko, the RUECB’s “Director of External Church Affairs”, following his first-ever meeting with Hilarion Alfeyev on 15 May in Moscow. The 42-year-old Hilarion (also known as Ilarion), Archbishop of Volokolamsk located 130 km west of Moscow, succeeded Kirill in early 2009 as head of the ROC’s Department of External Church Relations.
Rev. Vlasenko described his new counterpart as “a very wise and godly man. I am impressed by his view of the Bible. He is highly-educated and knows the history of Baptists well. I really enjoyed meeting with him and believe we could have a wonderful relationship in the future.” Hilarion, who already has a long history of work in international ecumenical and Orthodox-Catholic relations, served as Bishop of Vienna and Austria from 2003 to 2009. He expressed strong interest in continuing the work of the “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee” (CIAC). This committee of Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants met last 2 October following a hiatus of nearly seven years. Protestants are represented on the committee’s three-man leadership team by Rev. Vlasenko. A convinced advocate of bilateral relations, the Archbishop also spoke out in favour of a continuation of theological consultations between the ROC and RUECB. He believes the appointment of a rabid nationalist priest, Alexander Dvorkin, to oversee the Justice Department’s “Commission for the Implementation of State Expertise on Religious Science”, does not need to cast a shadow on Orthodox-Baptist relations.
The Moscow-born Hilarion, an Archbishop only since March, has criticised Western Protestantism as “Christianity light” in view of its lack of apostolic succession and dearth of dogmatic teachings. Yet both he and Vlasenko see the consensus between Russian Orthodox and Baptists on moral and family issues as a strong basis for cooperation.
The Archbishop, a person of wide scholarly interests, has authored 30 books and over 500 articles. At least four of his monographs have appeared in English. He is even active as a composer – his “Christmas Oratorium” was first performed in Vienna last December.
Baptist visits Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
On the previous day, 14 May, Vitaly Vlasenko was hosted by Oleg Vasnetsov, a Vice-President of the foreign ministry department responsible for relations with Russian civic organisations. One concern was that fact that it is no longer possible for church representatives to receive an official visa to Russia on short notice. Until a year ago, Russian Protestants had been able to receive from their foreign ministry, often within 24 hours, the invitation necessary to apply for official visas. Today, that procedure can last as long as a month. Vasnetsov promised to pursue the matter; Vlasenko noted that a conversation with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov could be essential.
Vlasenko commented after the session: “It was a good meeting and the people were very open. They did not know much about Protestants and were surprised to hear that around a million of their citizens are Protestants. This shows again how vitally important it is that we seek and cultivate relations with the political authorities of our country.”
RUECB Visits EBM in Switzerland
This year, the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists was officially present at the annual conference of the European Baptist Mission (EBM) for the first time. It took place from 7 to 9 May in Bülach near Zurich. After the visit, the RUECB’s delegate, Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, reported: “It was a wonderful visit. I enjoyed hearing the mission reports from Africa, South America and India. But now I must consult with my colleagues in Russia - Russian Baptists are already active in India Foreign mission societies from North America would also like to cooperate with us and we must decide what will best further the work of Christ both in our congregations and in foreign settings.” This will require much consultation with Ruvim Voloshin (Moscow), the RUECB’s Director for both home and foreign mission. Vlasenko added: “I do not believe that a decision can be made prior to the inauguration of our new Union President in March 2010.” The new President will be Viktor Ryaguzov, Senior Presbyter (Bishop) in the Samara region.
The EBM, formed in 1954, was joined by MASA (Mission Activities in South America) in 1979. The mission works closely with the Prague-based “European Baptist Federation” and has its headquarters on the Baptist campus in Elstal near Berlin. Its General-Secretary is a German, Rev. Christoph Haus (Elstal). The 18 member unions of EBM now include Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Western Cuba. The EBM’s address is: “ebm-masa.de”.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Odessa/Moscow, 23 May 2009
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #09-16, 754 words, 4.783 keystrokes and spaces.
Note from October 2020: Plans changed and Viktor Ryaguzov die NOT succeed Yuri Sipko as president of the Baptist Union. That turned out to be Alexey Smirnov.