Our Behaviour Must Reflect Christ
7th Annual Conference of the Russian Evangelical Alliance in Moscow
M o s c o w -- „Our words, our behaviour and character must reflect Christ. That will make it possible for us to succeed in our dialogue with the Orthodox.” That was the opinion of the Adventist theology professor Yevgeny Zaitsev (Zaoksky/Tula region), expressed at the 7th annual conference of the Russian Evangelical Alliance (REA) in Moscow’s Pentecostal "Blagiye Vesti" (Good News) church on 3 March. He supported his view with an incident which occurred in Tula region a year ago. After the missions department of the local Orthodox eparchy had placed a defamatory and highly-questionable article in the press, a three-man Adventist delegation paid the Archbishop a visit. After a quick look at the text, the church leader apologised. He also saw to it that a correction appeared in the regional press. The professor concluded: “This shows that we can expect a positive response if we act in a Christian manner. Had we gone to the courts, we would have landed on a dead-end -street.” An aggressive response to aggressive behaviour will only increase tensions.
The one-day conference did not skirt the major difficulties involving inter-church relationships. It was stated that most Orthodox clergy in the country’s vast expanses do not see any necessity for a clarifying conversation between the large and the tiny. According to the Adventist Vice-President Oleg Goncharov (Klimovsk), it has been local politicians and media who have been pouring oil onto the fire. Priests and the mission departments of regional eparchies have seen to it that negative reports on Christians from other denominations appear in the media.
In another lecture, the retired religion specialist Yuri Zuyev pointed to the significant differences in world view between Orthodox and Protestant groups. In Russia, a patriarchal, vertically-structured culture geared towards solidarity and collectivism confronts the Western understanding of democracy and individual self-realisation. “According to Orthodox belief, every division and difference within society is a sign of illness. Healing consists of overcoming the contradictions and re-establishing unity.” Precisely these social contradictions – the illness – are eternalised by the presence of Western missionaries. Zuyev expressed it in the following words: “The desire for a strong hand, protection and traditional values does not support the concept of dialogue with Protestants.”
The recently-appeared „non-traditional“ faiths are regarded not least of all as the unhappy remnants of a bygone, traumatic era – the mishappen experiment of forming a Western-style society in the 1990s. An agreement with Protestant missionaries is complicated further by the fact that they cannot permit their activity to be limited by national or ethnic boundaries.
Numerous speakers pointed out that Orthodox leadership is clearly interested in a limited cooperation with Protestants. Zuyev quoted the deceased Patriarch Alexei II.: “Contact with those of differing faith is important not only for them, but also for us. It is not possible to live in complete isolation.” The professor continued with a text from the Archbishops’ Council of 2000, which stated that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was called to develop its contacts with other denominations “in the spirit of fraternal co-operation with the goal of coordinating matters of public concern”. Charity, culture and the joint struggle for moral values are realms in which co-operation would be welcome. The Council’s statement closes with the note, that its willingness is “coupled to the condition that proselytism is rejected.” Obviously, Orthodox circles can accept Protestant contributions only as supplement to their own. Proselytism on the other hand is a kind of destruction, for it replaces Orthodoxy with Protestantism.
Both large wings of the church contain positive aspects, assured Zuyev. They can therefore supplement each other in a helpful way. In an recent attack Yuri Sipko’s on globalisation – Sipko called it a precursor of the Antichrist – the professor recognised a strong overlapping with Orthodox positions. Sipko is President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. But Zuyev added that middle- and lower-level clergy attempt to avoid dialogue with Protestants and that top leadership is not eager to incite a conflict with them on the matter. Top Orthodox leadership cannot accept a dialogue with the non-Orthodox that would lead to a loss of power for themselves.
The Adventist Zaitsev mentioned the massive contradictions facing Russian society. Despite major church efforts, Russia may be the only country on earth in which the number of abortions exceeds the number of live births. According to his numbers, only 8,5% of those Russians claiming to be Orthodox believe in a life after death. Such deficits could – according to Zaitsev - be reduced through the joint efforts of the various denominations.
Conference participants were convinced that intolerance can only be treated with enlightenment. Professor Zaitsev quoted the Russian writer Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895): „Holy Russia (Rus) may be baptised, but it has not been enlightened.“ REA-head Vladimir Ryaguzov (Krasnodar) assured that Protestants could confront the general lack of knowledge jointly with the Orthodox. The Russian Bible Society, which was represented at the conference, was mentioned as one instance in which Protestants and Orthodox have already contributed jointly to the enlightenment of the Russian people on the basis of the Bible.
On occasion, the conference became very practical. Dr. Ryaguzov appealed for greater fantasy in responding to the Orthodox challenge. One Orthodox participant, a one-time Pentecostal, claimed that joint youth concerts would have good chances of being a hit. “But where can one find Protestant musicians with challenging texts?” he asked. According to him, shallow praise music will not meet the expectations of Orthodox listeners.
Despite the participation of individual Orthodox believers, the Moscow Patriarchate’s official delegation did not appear. Yet the conference’s closing statement remained resolute: “We are hoping for their participation at future conferences.” At least 32 representatives of organisations and churches were present at the year’s Moscow conference.
A regional conference took place afterward in Nizhny Novgorod on 5 and 6 March – the number of participants there reached 45. The topic was entitled “Our Father”; a great deal of praying occurred. “The concept of the Alliance is alive in Nizhny,” concluded Ulrich Materne (Wittenberge), East European consultant for the German Evangelical Alliance. “Even if events do not always occur under the official name of the Alliance.” Indeed, the Alliance appears frequently more alive in the regions than in Moscow.
The national Alliances of the 1846 in London founded Evangelical Alliance are today gathered in the European and World Evangelical Alliances. Its US-partner is the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 9 March 2010
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance
Release #10-05, 1.060 words, 7.019 keystrokes and spaces.