Reasoning Diametrically Counter that of the Nationalists
Orthodox, government and Baptist officials meet in Voronesh
M o s c o w -- Meetings of a Baptist delegation with government and Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) officials in Voronesh on 4 June proved once again the unique status of interconfessional relations in this western Russian city. Rev. Vitaly Vasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the Moscow-based “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB), reported afterward: “Our discussions were hearty and friendly. In Voronesh we have had very good relations with the Orthodox. There, our two churches have never combated each other.” He added that Sergii (surname: Fomin), the kindly Metropolitan of Voronesh and Borisoglebsky, had supported the Finnish-sponsored “Power of Change” evangelistic media campaign when it was held in Voronesh from April to May 2006. The programme, which has been carried out in 20 Russian cities since 2003, is presently confronted with strong Orthodox resistance in Saratov (Volga).
The Metropolitan, who also heads the ROC’s “Department for Social Services and Charity”, was instrumental in forming an anti-narcotic campaign in Voronesh in November 2005 – a project that involved cooperation with Baptists. Perhaps most importantly of all, Sergii helped found a rare “Interconfessional Council” in Voronesh on 8 December 2005. The Council covers six faiths, including Jews and Muslims. At the time of its founding, the Metropolitan stated: “Our Council is not only inter-faith – it also involves local politicians. I think this will be a successful experiment.“ The Council is headed by a politician, but his two deputies are the Orthodox Diocese Secretary Andrei (Tarisov), and Oleg Alekseev, Senior Pastor of Woronesh’s largest Baptist congregation.
Russian Nationalists believe religious pluralism weakens the nation by destroying its unity. Yet the thinking of the Voronesh Council runs diametrically counter. An article on the Council in a regional edition of “Komsomolskaya Pravda” from 22.4.2008 is entitled: “Interconfessional Cooperation – A Foundation for the National Security of Russia”. A booklet published by the Council in the same year states: “Interconfessional Peace in the Country – An Important Factor for the Stabilisation of Society.” A subheading in “Komsomolskaya Pravda” states: “All are different – all are equal.”
Vlasenko reports that Pastor Alekseev is highly-respected in Orthodox circles and has been – or will be - the recipient of more than one government medal. “Alekseev has a highly-unique relationship with the Orthodox. He is very careful not to criticise and his relationship with them is very good.”
Yet the Council distinguishes between “traditional” and “non-traditional” faiths and does not give a blank check to Protestant evangelistic efforts. It states in a report for ex.: “Representatives of one transoceanic faith engaged in missionary activity under the guise of teaching English in a local kindergarten. . . . Government departments should play an active role in resolving such matters.”
Baptist ranks are nevertheless growing. At a meeting of Voloshin and Vlasenko with the Baptist pastors on 5 June, they reported on 24 Baptist congregations within the Voronesh region. “Seventy-percent of our pastors are working in new congregations,” Vlasenko stated: “Twenty years ago there would have been only two or three. The ROC has 400 congregations in the region, but not all of them are active.”
1. On 25 May, RUECB-President Yuri Sipko was invited along with Vitaly Vlasenko and other representatives of Protestant churches to attend a reception with the ROC-Patriarch Kirill (or Cyril) on the occasion of “Saints Cyril and Methodius Day”. It was their first meeting with Kirill since his enthronisation on 1 February. Vlasenko quotes him as having said: “’Brethren, I am so glad to meet you. I am so happy that you have come!’ He assured us that all interconfessional projects, including the Orthodox-Catholic-Protestant ‘Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee’ (CIAC) remain clearly on track. The Patriarch has cancelled nothing.”
2. Russian Baptists are hoping to construct a church in the war-devastated city of Tskhinvali/South Ossetia. Vitaly Vlasenko reports that his department is reticent about beginning a building programme immediately. “We must first of all consult with the Baptists in Georgia proper. They also regard this to be their territory and we must be very sensitive and considerate.” Georgia considers the break-away region of South Ossetia to be a part of its own country.
3. Roughly 55 Ukrainian, 45 Russian and ten Belorussian Baptists are planning to attend the “Amsterdam 400” anniversary celebrations, 24 to 26 July. Those hoping to attend include the Russian “Logos” choir and the Russian-Ukrainian music group “Zhivaya Kaplya” (Living Drop). (Space remains in Amsterdam for additional guests from East and West.) A smaller anniversary event for 250 participants is planned for Kiev from 27 to 29 August.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 11 June 2009
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. May be published freely. Release #09-18, 748 words, 4.935 keystrokes and spaces.