Baptists are a Part of Russia and Ukraine
In Odessa Patriarch Kirill reported on the Baptists
M o s c o w -- During celebrations at the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre on 22 July, Kirill I. (Gundyayev), the “Patriarch of Moscow and All of Russia” (or Rus), devoted a full paragraph of his speech to the Baptist faith. Baptists were the only non-Orthodox Christian faith mentioned in the speech; this highly-festive occasion in Odessa’s world-famous theatre would have offered the Moscow Patriarchate a first-rate opportunity to mention and celebrate only itself.
The Patriarch stressed the Slavic character of the Russian and Ukrainian Baptist movement, distancing himself from the traditional, century-old claim that Baptists are undercover, fifth-column outposts of the West. Kirill reported on how he once responded to a long conversation with Baptists by stating: “Listen, brethren, you are exceedingly Orthodox Baptists! In all that you say, you sound just like us Orthodox.” One of the Baptists responded: “But how could it be otherwise? All of us are living in an Orthodox country.” The Patriarch added: “That really is how it is. Baptists remain Baptists with their own special doctrines and Protestant theology, but they cannot extricate themselves from the general stream of history. Therefore, much which divides us Orthodox from the Protestant world also divides Baptists living in an Orthodox environment from the Protestant world.”
In his speech, the Patriarch spoke of two major dangers threatening the growth of international understanding: nationalism and multiculturalism. The Orthodox believe multiculturalism places Christianity on an equal plane with all other religions. As indicators, Kirill mentioned the occasional banning of crosses or Christmas trees. He concluded: “The creation of a multinational, multireligious society purged of its religious elements will result in an atheistic, non-religious society willing to tolerate the existence of religion only among its least-enlightened members. We have gone through all of this before.” He described attempts to either internationalise people or to force them to live within a ghetto as equally harmful.
Kirill’s programmatic speech in Odessa was maked by caution and moderation. He stated for ex.: “If you hear from the mouth of a pastor of the need to fight or build walls, then this indicates clearly that the person to whom you are listening is not really a pastor. A pastor can preach only the following: “Peace to all. May the peace of Christ be among you. Learn to get along with each other.’” The church dare not become an ideological appendage; it may never instigate “hatred, rage and aggression.”
Essentially, the Moscow Patriarchate is committed to creating an East European Christian consensus to the right of Western Europe’s ethical consensus. Responding to the Odessa speech, Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) added: “We have similar views on non-traditional sexual orientations and abortion. We highly respect the work of women in church life, but we also support the Orthodox position on the role of women in church leadership. We are united with the Orthodox in their call for the highest of moral and ethical values in society. After all, these views are not only Orthodox – they are above all Biblical. They represent basic values which should unite all Christians.”
The Department Director pointed out that Russian Baptists use the Russian Synodal Bible published by the Orthodox in 1876: “We all pray, preach and worship with this version.” This is one example of how “Orthodoxy has influenced the development of the Russian evangelical movement”. Vlasenko knows Kirill well from dozens of conversations held prior to his election as Patriarch in early 2009 and explained: “In Odessa, the Patriarch spoke out of respect not only for our own Baptist position. What is true for us, is also true for many other of Russia’s evangelicals. We as Baptists do not want to be sorted out and divided from other evangelicals.”
Pastor Vlasenko, who just returned from the “World Baptist Alliance” convention in Hawaii, hastened to add that allegiance to the nation of Russia dare not be understood as separation from the world’s remaining 110 million Baptists. In Russia, evangelism as well as respect for the human rights and religious freedom of all will remain treasured Baptist values. He requested of the world community to recall that the Baptists of the former Soviet Union stem from a highly-unique setting. Slavic Baptists were persecuted for over a century as Western Baptists were enjoying ever-increasing amounts of recognition and acceptance.
An additional factor is the obvious truth that avoiding the majority faith is not an option in settings involving a mighty, historic Christian church,. Ignoring the Orthodox until that point of time at which they become evangelical is illusory. Vlasenko concluded: “Thriving in the present demands that an understanding with the majority be achieved.”
Less than 1% of Russia’s 146 million citizens are Protestants.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 15 August 2010
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance
Release #10-21, 786 words, 5.033 keystrokes and spaces.