No Alternative to Dialogue
10th National Prayer Breakfast held in Moscow
M o s c o w -- Kind things were said about both Protestants and Orthodox at Russia’s 10th Anniversary Prayer Breakfast in Moscow’s top-notch “President-Hotel” on 16 March. Sergey Ryakhovsky, Bishop of Russia’s largest Protestant church umbrella, the Charismatic “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith”, (ROSKhVE), is regarded by not a few conservative Orthodox as their greatest church adversary. Yet at this 10th Breakfast since 1995, he assured that only the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) “can lead the process of spiritual revival in Russia”. Educating and instilling moral values in the young was the topic of this Breakfast, and Ryakhovsky called on all Christian confessions “to create Sunday schools on a massive scale”. The Bishop notes a revival within Orthodox circles: „They are moving out of their churches and going to the people. But Protestants also need to change: They too need to leave their houses of prayer and approach the people.”
At the close of the event, Alexander Borisov, a co-worker of the murdered Alexander Men and a long-time Orthodox supporter of inter-confessional cooperation, was presented with an award for his work as head of the Russian Bible Society. “Thanks to God, in our Bible Society people from different confessions have been working together to publish Bibles for 20 years!” he exclaimed. Protestants noted in their laudatio that Father Borisov had been a courageous spokesman of inter-confessional solidarity even during Soviet times. He and another Orthodox speaker addressed the assembled as “brothers and sisters”.
Praise from government quarters was also available in abundance. Sergey Melnikov from the Russian Federation’s Presidential Administration assured for ex. that Protestants are an “irremovable part of Russia’s social and political map”.
But spirits were dampened by the premature departure of the youthful Alexander Vasyutin from the ROC’s Department for External Church Relations. After a one-year hiatus, the Moscow Patriarchate had agreed to send an official representative to the Breakfast. In his short speech near the outset of the meeting, Vasyutin assured that the moral vacuum among the young could only be filled “by the joint efforts of religious organisations, government authorities and all of society in general”. But he added that the imported, Western values of liberalism and pluralism “have not produced answers for our society and continue to negatively influence the upcoming generation”.
A following speaker, Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan of Moscow’s Bronnaya Synagogue, championed precisely the democratic values of tolerance and plurality as the basis for a successful Russian society. When the Pentecostal pastor Viktor Filyk (Murmansk) plead for a retainment of the secular school as a means of maintaining social peace, Father Vasyutin chose to exit the meeting for good. Filyk had stated: “It is important that secular schools retain their secular character.” His comments were motivated by the fear that strong discrepancies between that which children hear in school and at home can lead to traumatic relationships between parents and their children.
Also in other respects, this 10th Prayer Breakfast was a study in contrasts. In one of his last functions as President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), Pastor Yuri Sipko presented an award to Alexander Soldatov, Chief Editor of the “Portal-Credo” dissident Orthodox news service, for independent and objective reporting. A moved Alexander Soldatov responded that his reporters “frequently work under life-threatening conditions”. Religious discrimination is on the increase by the month, he maintained, and will lead to his service being forced to transfer to a completely new Internet format after 1 April. “Our destiny is in the hands of God,” the editor stated. The professional choir responded also to this award with a traditional tune wishing the recipient 100 years of continued service. Not many minutes before, Bishop Ryakhovsky had praised Russian President Dimitry Medvedev for having “a highly spiritual approach” in leading his country.
In contrast to last year, virtually all wings of the Protestant movement were among the 400 participants. Inner-Protestant relations have improved. All three Protestant members of the “Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations at the Seat of the Russian President” (Ryakhovsky, the Evangelical-Christian businessman Alexander Semchenko and the Adventist President Vassily Stolyar) were present. None of the three had attended a year ago. For the first time, the representatives of at least five African embassies were present along with diplomats from the USA, Hungary and Finland.
After the event, Baptist pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, Board Chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation and
Director of the RUECB’s Department for External Church Relations, explained: “When all of us are together, differences are bound to surface. We Protestants along with the Catholic and Orthodox
stress differing aspects of Russian achievements and failures. That is why our dialogue is vital. We have no alternative other than to carry on and strive to improve our chances of spiritual
Vlasenko noted that 11 prayer breakfasts are to take place this year in Russia. An important regional one is scheduled for Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg on 18 May.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 19 March 2010
National Prayer Breakfast Foundation
Release #10-06, 818 words, 5.401 keystrokes and spaces.
All persons mentioned reside in Moscow unless stated otherwise.