Lutherans in the West of the Former USSR

Unity Remains the Goal


Lutheran developments in the West of the former Soviet Union




M o s c o w – The neediness of the “Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church in the Republic of Belarus” was apparent at a celebratory church service in Polotsk in the north-eastern section of the country on 12 September. At the outset of Communion, Richardas Dokshas, a Lithuanian clergyman from Vilnius, explained to the three or four native pastors where they needed to stand and included the cue, that they should wait until the end of Communion before themselves partaking of the bread and wine. Even the Bishop of this roughly eight-congregation-strong church, Vladimir Meyerson of Bobruisk, is not a trained theologian. The situation would probably be no better in the ex-German Russian enclave of Kaliningrad/Königsberg if its Lutherans would have needed to do without the countless visitors from Germany during the past two decades.


Perhaps the only Lutheran graduate of a theological school residing in Belarus does not belong to this denomination. It is the youthful Vladimir Tatarnikov - pastor in the large, St. Petersburg-based “Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia” (ELCROS, „www.elkras.ru“). He pastors the German-founded congregation with church building in Grodno as well as a small gathering in Vitebsk on the other - Eastern - end of the country.


Present developments on the much-visited turf of Kaliningrad region (once German East Prussia) offer little cause for optimism. The number of persons participating in church services is decreasing; the staff at Kaliningrad church headquarters has been largely replaced. In September, Alexander Maibach, a layperson who had over many years proven his talent for working with the young, emigrated to Germany along with his extended family.


Very recently, an emergent „Russian Orthodox Church“ is pushing to obtain ownership of 15 former Evangelical and Catholic churches in the Kaliningrad enclave. The historic churches in Druzhba (Allenburg), Vladimirovo (Tharau) and Slavsk (Heinrichswalde) have already been transferred to its ownership. The final verdict remains out on the partially-renovated churches in Gvardeyskoye (Mühlhausen), Marino (Arnau) und Turgenyevo (Gross Legitten). All of these involve the past labour and finances of German supporters and foundations. All are regarded as East Prussian cultural monuments – only rarely (except for Druzhba) do they intersect with the work of the small, neighbouring Lutheran congregations. Baptists have been struggling since 1994 to obtain access to their one-time chapel, now used by secular firms, in Yantarny (Palmnicken). A new development for the entire Russian Federation is the (provisional) joint Baptist-Orthodox usage of an Orthodox church. The edifice in Lipetsk was returned to the Orthodox after being restored by the Baptists. One would think that this model is applicable elsewhere.


Regarding church affairs

Kaliningrad region enjoys a rare luxury: All of its roughly 45 Lutheran congregations belong to the same denomination. All are part of ELCROS’ regional division – the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of European Russia” (ELCER). Thanks to the influence of the conservative and sacramentalist-oriented „Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod“, virtually all Belarusian congregations abandoned ELCROS around the turn of the millennium. Their current union, the afore-mentioned “Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church” („byluther.org“), is supported by Missouri and an even more conservative denomination: the “Wisconsin Evangelical-Lutheran Synod”.


Russia alone has four Lutheran denominations – but the US has at least twice that number. The “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia” (ELCIR „www.elci.ru“), which is supported by Finnish and Estonian churches, came into being in 1992. The other two denominations are the “Siberian Evangelical-Lutheran Church” (“www.lutheran.ru”), which is based in Akademgorodok near Novosibirsk, and the largely-isolated “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession in Russia” (“www.luther.ru”) formed in 2007. The creation of both denominations is due largely to the existence of two potent and vocal personalities: Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin in Akademgorodok und Church President Vladimir Pudov in Moscow. Lytkin has apparently succeeded in his attempt to create Russia’s most conservative and confessionalist Lutheran denomination. Yet Pudov’s church is concerned about proving its patriotism and freedom from  ethnic constrictions. A creedal paper published by this church states for ex.: “Military service is the citizens’ sacred calling.” Pudov himself worked for the KGB during the 1980s. That is one reason why the break-up of one of their church services by heavily-armed police in Kaluga on 28 February 2010 can only be understood as a grave misunderstanding. Police reported that their intention had been to break up a terrorist organisation.


Lytkin’s church has roughly 20 congregations; Pudov’s may have as many as 10. The Ingria church reports that it has 15.000 members and 75 congregations. ELCROS is reported to have 120 congregations. Using the same ratio as used by Ingria, this would result in a membership of 24.000. Yet the actual number of members might exceed 40.000.


ELCROS is also not theologically unified within its own ranks. Nearly simultaneous with the restoration of the steeple of Moscow’s massive St. Peter-and-Paul Cathedral this past summer, Dietrich Brauer began his service as ELCER’s Provisional Bishop. Brauer, who moved from Gussev (Gumbinnen) in the Kaliningrad enclave to Moscow in order to take on the position, describes ELCROS as consisting largely of three different movements. The pietistic, “Brethren” tradition of backroom gatherings is confronted by a high-church tradition preferring enormous churches with pealing bells and flashy organs. The now aging, frequently German-speaking and laity-led “Brethren” congregations had survived for decades in the Siberian underground. Yet the young appear most attracted by the unique acoustic and visual options offered by the imposing church structures in major cities such as Petersburg, Moscow and Samara/Volga. These youthful adherents of “high-church” religion think in sacramental and confessional terms similar to those of the Missouri Synod and the German “Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church” (SELK). A third, smaller grouping could be described as theologically “liberal” and is most obvious there where church representatives from Germany are still active: St. Petersburg and the nearby seminary of Novosaratovka, Kaliningrad region and Vladivostok. But the pietistic, Brethren movement also has strong German support: see for ex. the work of the Marburger (Saratov) and Liebenzeller (Yekaterinburg) missions as well as the Puschendorf diaconic fellowship (Kaliningrad region).


The present Archbishop, August Kruse (born 1941), is a leading spokesman of the Brethren movement. He replacing the German citizen Edmund Ratz as Archbishop in September 2009 is one expression of ELCROS’ desire to be represented by its own native leaders. Dietrich Brauer’s (born 1983) election as ELCER’s Provisional Bishop is an additional indication of this trend. Brauer is also no advocate of a high-church and strongly confessionalist movement. He reports that a joint ELCROS-ELCIR (Ingria) committee formed under Lutheran World Federation auspices will foster the converging of these two churches. ELCIR’s confessionalist and separatist orientation already has many followers within ELCROS. The „Luteranskie Vesti“ news service is already produced jointly. Brauer predicts: “Perhaps we will have a joint seminary within the next 15 years.” Its two seminaries are already suffering – as are nearly all of Russia’s Protestant seminaries – from a lack of students. The Provisional Bishop states clearly: “It of course remains our goal to form a single Lutheran church in Russia.”


The issue of women’s ordination promises to remain a never-ending one. Already in 1994, the current Lutheran Archbishop of Latvia, Janis Vanags, had campaigned for the position with the assurance that he would not be ordaining women. Archbishop Kruse is also strongly opposed to such ordinations. Yet the Moscow’s Provisional Bishop supports the opposite position – his own spouse, Tatyana Petrenko, is an ordained theologian. Yet she has no concrete pastoral role in Moscow. Otto Schaude (born 1944) has been Bishop of the world’s largest Lutheran church in territorial terms – the Omsk-based “Evangelical-Lutheran Church in the Urals, Siberia and the Far East” – since October 2010. Though he enjoys pietism’s highest credentials as long-time chairman of South Germany’s „Altpietistischer Gemeinschaftsverband Württemberg“, he strongly supports the retention of women’s ordination. This results in the fact that only certain bishops are available to celebrate ordination services for women. The West’s supporting churches, such as Germany’s EKD and SELK as well as the Missouri Synod, have not been above the withholding and granting of funding based on the recipient’s position regarding the ordination of women. Over 20 women are serving as pastors in ELCROS; nearly all other female pastors on Russian soil are to be found within Charismatic and Methodist circles.


The retired but respected 80-year-old Siegfried Springer (from Bad Sooden-Allendorf/Germany) remains on-call for fire alarms in critical conflicts. He was the ELCER’s Bishop until 2007 and is visiting Moscow during the present week.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 16 November 2010

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance


A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #10-27, 1.386 words, 9.471 keystrokes and spaces.


Note from July 2020: Bishops Ratz, Schaude and Springer are no longer living.