Lutheran Crisis in Moscow

“We cannot believe the charges”


Dmitry Lotov and the organ in a Moscow cathedral


M o s c o w – On the evening of 4 September a group of independent Lutherans headed by Dmitry Lotov shoved their way into Moscow’s St. Peter- and-Paul-Cathedral. A cohort of Lotov shinnied up into the balcony. After removing the foot pedals (“foot keyboard”) from the organ, videos show the person jumping back down and returning to the entrance of the church. The group scuffled with Peter-and-Paul staff as they escaped with their prize. The organ was otherwise undamaged.


Lotov explains on his Peter-and-Paul webpage (“peterpaul.ru”), his group had “visited the cathedral in order to fulfil our responsibilities to inspect and protect the organ”. After finding it “in sad shape from overusage”, the group „took the measures necessary to stop the frequent usage of the organ for concerts”. The closing paragraph sounds threatening: “Our congregation will continue to take the steps necessary to preserve the organ as a historical and cultural monument.” Germany’s „Gustav-Adolf-Werk“ (GAW) reported on 10 September of “vandalism”, “crime” and the organ’s “destruction”. GAW added that it hopes along with others to fund the organ’s return to operation within the upcoming two to three months.


Usage and access rights to the instrument are unclear: According to a ruling from March 1996, both the Peter-and-Paul-congregation as well as the overarching “Evangelical-Lutheran Church – European Russia” (ELCER) possess access to the state-owned organ.


Lotov took the majority of the congregation with him when he was forced to pull out of Peter-and-Paul in Fall 2010. Consequently, his group still claims to be the legitimate and lawful Peter-and-Paul congregation. Lotov attributes police reluctance to act now to the city’s belief that his congregation is the organ’s rightful owner: “Items (the keyboard) cannot be stolen by their rightful owners”, he claims on his website. Peter-and-Paul-staff add that financial interests are also involved: Lotov no longer has access to the funds collected from organ concerts.


Dmitry Lotov, himself a passionate organist, has a special relationship with the organ. Built by the German firm W. Sauer in 1898, it was rescued from Moscow’s St. Michael’s Church just before the building’s demolition by the Bolsheviks in 1928. Lotov and others were able to retrieve it from a Moscow crematorium in 1996 and bring it to Peter-and-Paul. But funding was insufficient and the instrument was not ready until December 2005, when it was played on the occasion of the cathedral’s 100th birthday. Lotov called its restoration “the fruits of a 12-year-long struggle”.


Lotov, who became pastor of the Russian-speaking section of Peter-and-Paul’s congregation in 1997, was not popular in non-Lutheran circles because of his very conservative, high-church convictions. Accused of improper behaviour with the opposite sex, Lotov was sacked by ELCR-Bishop Dietrich Brauer. Lotov was then defrocked by the ELCER synod in March 2011. Despite these developments, Arri Kugappi (St. Petersburg), the bishop of Russia’s 2nd-largest Lutheran confession, the strongly-Finnish “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia” (ELCIR), has refused to break with Lotov. On 17 October he stated in an interview: “We have known Dmitry Lotov for a long time and we cannot believe the charges brought against him.  These charges were never brought up in court and nothing at all has been proven.”


Lotov’s congregation, now meeting on factory grounds in Moscow, would like nothing more than to become a member of Ingria and describes Kugappi on its website as “our bishop”. Kugappi assured: “We have accepted the congregation in which Lotov has worked into our spiritual care. But nothing has been decided conclusively. One of the reasons for this is that Bishop Brauer has absolutely no desire to consult with us regarding the matter. But we hope it will yet become possible to negotiate seriously with the Bishop. We would like to find a common position on the matter. We are cooperating warmly with Lotov’s congregation.“


Lotov’s acceptance by Ingria would go a long way in bringing about his rehabilitation. An entire Lutheran congregation is a rare and precious treat in Russia. Lotov’s congregation is attended by as many as 70 persons and Ingria is eager to accept it into its fold. But Ingria’s acceptance of Lotov would strain relations with ELCER. Should the acceptance by Ingria not happen, this congregation would then be in danger of degrading into a one-man sect.


“World Lutheranism” in the form of Germany’s “United Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany” (VELKD) and the US’ „Evangelical Lutheran Church in America“ (ELCA) remains very much in Brauer’s camp. Twenty-nine-year-old Dietrich Brauer’s election in September as acting archbishop of ELCR – the St. Petersburg based “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Russia” - for the next two years is an indication of his strong backing within Russia. Superintendent Manfred Brockmann from Vladivostok remarked: “I am amazed by Brauer’s bravery. He is very young and already he has endured so much.”


Since Brauer’s election as bishop in 2010, ELCER has moved much more clearly into the camp of Germany’s “Evangelical Church in Germany” (EKD) and the “Lutheran World Federation” (LWF). That furrows brows among those within ELCER who have reservations regarding Germany’s frequently very liberal EKD. Yet Brauer also has sympathies for the pietistic movement and is held in high regards by the “Russian Evangelical Alliance”.


A note on the destruction of a church

On 7 September, Germany’s “IDEA” reported in a single article on “serious damage” to the organ and the bulldozing of a Pentecostal church in Novokosino in eastern Moscow. Three days later, Vsevolod Chaplin, a press spokesman for Patriarch Kirill, demanded that the city government get the highly-questionable behaviour of Novokosino’s municipal and business groups under control. “We Orthodox face many of the same dangers from business circles at other locations,” a leading priest claimed in mid-October.


IDEA’s article was entitled “Attacks on Evangelical Churches”. Dmitry Lotov was irritated because it placed the church bulldozing and his own actions in the same light. He responded with a protest on his website: “We are deeply revolted and disturbed by the destruction of the evangelical Sacred Trinity church in Novokosino.” But Lotov has never been known as a friend of Pentecostals.


A well-informed observer writes: “Jurisprudence remains a highly cumbersome endeavour in Russia. When a party feels itself sufficiently strong, it simply resorts to vigilantism. Lotov too uses the space he still has to get physical. That clearly places him outside the codes of civil behaviour which supposedly are upheld by churches across the globe. He apparently believes he is acting in self-defence against ELCER’s leadership, which he views as acting illegally. But both sides are playing hardball.”


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 04 November 2012


This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #12-26, 1.069 words, 6.868 keystrokes and spaces.


An Additional Word Regarding Peter-and-Paul

A conversation with Dmitry Lotov has shown that my press release from 4. November (dates may vary slightly) on the controversies surrounding Moscow’s Lutheran Peter-and-Paul congregations contains one or more inaccuracies. Lotov was not present during the “operation” in which the foot pedals of the church’s organ were taken. A stamp in his passport proves that he spent that day outside of Russia. It is also incorrect to assert that the organ was otherwise damaged. He reports that the entire foot pedal arrangement is held in place with only two screws. Thanks to the arrival of new foot pedals from Germany, that organ is again in full operation. Lotov’s group did not pay for the costs incurred.


Pastor Lotov emphasizes that his congregation is not „Lotov’s church“. He states: “Nothing appears on our website that has not passed through the hands of the church council.” The congregation’s legal matters are handled primarily by Sergey Tarasenko. Lotov himself is responsible entirely only for the spiritual segment of the webpage.


Dmitry Lotov is committed to forcing access to the church and organ by secular, legal means. Yet Lutheranism is not known for its congregationalist, from-the-bottom-up structures. The ELCER’s highest legal body remains its synod – not a congregation in Moscow within or outside of ELCER. Without Lotov’s presence, the choir of his congregation was able to hold a practice session in Peter-and-Paul in mid-November.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 19 December 2012


An - abbreviated - official word from ELCER on 14 December 2012

We are very irritated by the fact that your article (of 4 November) does not refer anywhere to the Cathedral’s actual congregation. You imply that two equal parties are involved: ELCER (Brauer) and congregation (Lotov). We want to stress once again that this involves a defrocked pastor, his demands and objectives, as well as a small circle of people around him. This group is sectarian in character.


Our Cathedral congregation with the residence of the Bishop is developing well and is open for all – also for those who have made a mistake or been misled by others.

Elena Bondarenko


Additional comment from May 2020:

To this day, the Ingria church has never distanced itself from the Moscow congregaton headed by Dmitry Lotov. Indeed, it is since 2015 an offcial member of the Ingria denomination. Sadly, numerous issues between Ingria and the larger ELCR remain unresolved. --wy