A Piece of a Protestant University in Moscow Survives

Theology is Not Our Speciality


A remnant of Moscow’s bygone Protestant university soldiers on


M o s c o w -- Moscow does have Christian liberal-arts universities - but they are Orthodox. After nearly two decades of trying, Moscow's "Russian-American Christian University" (RACU) - known for its last two years as "Russian-American Institute" (RAI) - closed its doors in December 2010. But a remnant headed by Baptist pastor Dr. Ruslan Nadiuk and known as the “School of Social Work and Counselling” survived. (See our release from 31 May 2012.) This programme left RAI's campus in December 2012 to become a department for social work at Moscow's "Russian Orthodox Institute of St. John the Divine". It was hardly a traditional transfer: A largely-Protestant programme re-plugged its existing student body, faculty and educational assets into an Orthodox institution.


Nadiuk and his adjunct, Pentecostal pastor Mark Currie from Virginia, point to four factors making their young programme attractive: Social work as a Russian discipline is no older than Perestroika - North Americans have more academic experience on the topic. Secondly, their department is the only one with extensive international contacts. Professors Lanny Endicott from Oklahoma’s “Oral Roberts University” and David Cecil from Kentucky’s Methodist “Asbury University” remain closely associated with this programme. The institute is a member of the Connecticut-based “North American Association of Christians in Social Work”. Last but not least, the programme is self-funding and the university supplies nothing more than bookkeeping services as well as classroom and office space. The institute's provost, Dr. Mikhail Firsov, befriended Nadiuk when he was a part-time instructor at RACU for 5+ years. That greatly eased the transition into an Orthodox setting.


The new programme is under the umbrella of St. John's psychology department. The "Russian Orthodox Institute of St. John the Divine" is a part of the "Russian Orthodox University", yet only the former is a legally-registered body. Rector of both is the 1973-born Abbot Peter (Yeremeyev). The social work department has roughly 80 students. St. John’s has nearly 500 students, most of whom attend evening and weekend courses. Moscow also sports a second liberal-arts Christian university: The slightly-older, 1991-founded “Saint Tikhon's Orthodox University” has over 2.000 students. (One of its partners is the United Presbyterian “Pittsburgh Theological Seminary”.) Russian Orthodox University is spread over no less than three campuses. The department of social work is located at its second address: Chernyshevskovo pereulok 11a near the Metro stop “Novoslobodskaya” in north-central Moscow.


Actually, RAI’s old “School of Social Work and Counselling“ survives as a second “Institute for Social Work and Counselling” also headed by Nadiuk (see “www.instswc.org”). It does not come under St. John’s jurisdiction and is designed to offer short-term continuing education: non-degree evening and on-line courses providing professional enhancement. A good 80% of its participants, numbering roughly 80 to 150 per year, are Protestants. Moscow’s largest Protestant congregation, the 4.000-member, Charismatic “Word of Life” church headed by the Norwegian Matts-Ola Ishoel supplies many of its students.


As time passes, both Nadiuk and Currie are convinced that their department and institute will become increasingly Orthodox. “We have no ambitions in the theological realm,” Nadiuk assured. “That is not our speciality.” The programmes stress general, overarching values such as personal ethics. “Some members of our (ten-person) faculty do not even know we are Protestants,” he assured. “We work together as a single team and have no problems with our Orthodox colleagues.”


Causes for the demise

Both Ruslan Nadiuk and Mark Currie are reluctant to attribute RAI’s demise to North American mismanagement. They speak rather of ideology and conflicting world-views. According to them, Russia's Protestants are least committed to creating an intellectual elite. Protestants remain focused on the immediate. “Most Protestants do not want professional programmes,” Nadiuk insisted. “They view education strictly as an instrument for evangelism.”


A study on 20-25 Protestant rehabilitation centres in Russia (roughly 10% of the total) done by Beryl Hugan of Michigan’s “Calvin College” concluded that most of these centres are essentially Bible-study groups concerned most about bringing their clients into church. According to Nadiuk, this study concludes that “liberation from addiction is usually defined as membership in a (Protestant) congregation. Yet visiting church services indicates in no way that a person has been socialised.” Nadiuk believes that the Orthodox, though they have fewer rehab centres, are nevertheless “on the right track”. “The Russian Orthodox Church decreed in 2010 that every congregation should feature a professional social worker and a pedagogue – and they have 35.400 congregations. In ten years they will be better understood and better counsellors for the people of Russia than we.” If Protestants restrict themselves to short-term evangelism, they “will in time reduce themselves to little groups capable only of converting their offspring”. He sees the Protestant problem primarily as the lack of a professional approach. The insistence of fundamentalist groups from the West that the study of psychology is an anti-Christian endeavour adds fuel to the fire of anti-intellectualism.


My commentary

Unpaid tuition and the dearth of funding from Russian sources seem to indicate that Russia’s Protestants never developed a sense of ownership for RACU. To Protestants, this institution appeared worthy of exploitation, but not of sustenance. The unfed cow was milked until she expired. On the other hand, one can argue that RACU amounted to a bite too large for Russia’s small Protestant community to digest. What RACU had to offer was not a model sustainable in the Russian context.


At the moment, RAI’s grand, four-year-old structure in northern Moscow remains unsold. For now, portions of the edifice have been rented out to firms such as a fitness club and the police. Visibly, little remains of RACU/RAI beyond web pages and its board of directors.


Yet all is not lost. Protestants do have a small, growing crowd of serious intellectuals and RACU imparted the seeds of potential growth. God’s ways are often crooked and winding. Pastor Nadiuk sees more than only black on the horizon: “We view it as our mission to build bridges between Protestants and the Orthodox through joint education.”


William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 14 July 2014

Journalistic release #14-08, 1.010 words