Russia’s Confessions are Closer to Each Other
Conclusions of a worship service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
M o s c o w – Thanks to the lack of liberalism, the Christian confessions of Russia are closer to each other than are the Christian confessions of the West. That was one conclusion drawn by speakers on 20 January at the central worship service commemorating this year’s “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” in Moscow’s “Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. Father Igor Kovalevski, the hosting dignitary and Secretary-General of Russia’s Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated: “In my opinion, the Christian churches of Russia are already unified on the fundamental issues of morality. It is the appearance of more liberal confessions in the West that has deepened divisions.”
Father Igor Vyzhanov, Secretary in the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Department of External Church Relations”, forecast additional confessional divisions and attributed them to the “radical liberalism” some Western churches are demonstrating on the issues of abortion, euthanasia, sexuality and the family. Russia is retaining that which Europe has lost. Dimitry Lotov, Pastor of Moscow’s Lutheran “St. Peter and Paul Cathedral”, assured that the Christians of Russia bear witness to the steadfastness of faith, which “is being lost so rapidly in Europe”-
Cooperation on issues of morality is seen as one primary expression of Christian unity in Russia. Father Vyzhanov, the Orthodox representative, appealed to Christians to “speak with one voice on the issue of fundamental Biblical precepts”. During the week, which ran from 18 to 25 January, denominational cooperation on social and humanitarian projects, on issues of education, culture and the media were also mentioned. A joint, first-ever Baptist and Orthodox children’s celebration in Moscow on 10 January had featured family values. At an ecumenical roundtable on 21 January, the Orthodox deacon Sergey Starokadomsky pointed out that the greater Catholic and Protestant experience in social service could be of major help to his denomination. Concerning the present-day state of his church he conceded: “The Orthodox file on charitable service has not yet been dearchived.” Irina Mitrofanova, “Director for Work with Sunday Schools” in the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, reported: “We presently have massive possibilities for joint work with children and youth.”
In general, the roundtable on 21 January delved heavily into recent history. One Orthodox layperson lauded the “major aid” Catholic and Protestant organisations had offered in making the rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Church possible: “The Orthodox will not be forgetting that help.” The Orthodox artist and lecturer Lilya Ratner reported nostalgically on a joint Finnish-Protestant and Russian-Orthodox effort during the Volga mission of 1992: There was not any kind of “Protestant proselytism”, she insisted. “We simply taught ourselves how to speak with others about Christ.”
The prayer service on 20 January had concluded with music from a local Charismatic choir. That had occurred not for the first time in this Catholic cathedral, yet it indeed does remain a seldom occurrence in Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church no longer supports joint, mutual praying with the non-Orthodox. Igor Kovalevski alluded to this in his sermon on 20 January by noting that prayers at the interconfessional service in his cathedral were simultaneous – but not joint. “We prayed for unity, but we all prayed in differing fashions.”
Yet a case can be made for the claim that ecumenical relations are slowly improving. The disturbing, anti-proselytization draft legislation introduced by the Russian Ministry of Justice on 12 October 2009 still appears far removed from passage in its original form. The Justice Ministry’s Alexander Dvorkin, an avowed cult specialist and the priest most famous for the defamation of religious groups not belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox faith, had amiable and encouraging meetings with Protestants in late 2009. After more than a decade of tensions, an agreement has been reached between the Orthodox and Baptist churches in Lipetsk, south-western Russia. The Baptists will be receiving a centrally-located, former heating plant as compensation for their repairs on the Orthodox church they will be needing to vacate. Moscow’s “Slavic Legal Centre” reports that the stern reprimand dished out to Novosibirsk’s Charismatic “Church of the Covenant” last September for allegedly illegal activates was withdrawn by the regional court on 20 January. The Centre states that most such malpractices of justice have been due to the “incompetence of judicial department staff on matters in the religious realm.”
A larger gathering of the resuscitated Orthodox-Catholic-Protestant “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics” (CIAC) is scheduled for Moscow on 4 February.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance
Moscow, 23 January 2010
Release #10-01, 733 words, 4.881 keystrokes and spaces.
All persons mentioned reside in or near Moscow.