A Great Beginning
Religious leaders from Ukraine and Russia meet in Oslo
M o s c o w -- “A very good beginning, but not yet a breakthrough. We had gathered together and now we are together. We have stated clearly that we regard each other as brothers in Christ.” That’s how Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), Director of External Church Relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, described the gathering of 60 religious leaders from Ukraine and Russia in Oslo from 9 to 11 September. He added: “After the big let-down following the (strictly Protestant) Ukrainian-Russian meetings in Jerusalem on 10 April, this new spirit is significant.” The Russian Baptist Union, in contrast to the Ukrainian one, had not been represented in Jerusalem. One of the most prominent leaders present in Oslo was Filaret (Denysenko), the 85-year-old patriarch of Ukraine’s second-largest denomination, the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate”.
In a press report, Sergey Ryakhovsky (Moscow) had pointed to the complexity of the political realm. “We ministers from various confessions should not give in to the temptation to correct politicians,” he assured. “Each government has its own truths, and they stand counter to God’s truths. Is their truth in geopolitics? I cannot find it when reading the Gospels.” Ryakhovsky is Bishop of the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith”, Russia’s largest Protestant denomination.
Especially moving for the assembled was the testimony of Oleksandr Pavenko, pastor of “Transfiguration Church” in the embattled city of Slavyansk. Two of his sons were among the four young Pentecostals killed by rebels on 9 June. “I forgive those who killed my sons, and I am trusting in the Lord for the future,” he assured. After the retaking of the Slavyansk by (West)Ukrainian forces on 5 July, a city-wide funeral was held for the four on 20 July.
Vlasenko conceded that the war is experienced much differently in Eastern Ukraine than in distant Moscow. “Sometimes we don’t really know what was going on – information is often partial. But it is not our task to assign amounts of guilt. We must bind up the wounds of the hurting and communicate to our governments our longing for peace.” Consequently, the assembled pastors and dignitaries are hoping for follow-up sessions in a location close to the destruction of eastern Ukraine. A possible location would be Kharkov, with meetings taking place before the end of 2014.
The Ukrainian Baptist Union was represented in Oslo by Vice-President Igor Bandura of Odessa. Ukraine’s largest church, the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate” was represented by Metropolitan Metrofan of Lugansk and Alchevsk. His mother church, the “Russian Orthodox Church - MP”, was not present. Methodists, Lutherans, Roman and Greek Catholics, Jews and Muslims were also among the official delegates. Pastor Sergey Vdovin (Moscow), General-Secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, was one of the authors of the final communiqué.
This event was hosted by the “Norwegian Bible Society” with funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. See the closing communiqué below.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 14 September 2014
A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #14-11, 480 words.
Communiqué of the Roundtable of churches and religious organizations of Ukraine and Russia
(Oslo, September 11th, 2014)
We, the participants of the Round Table, heads and representatives of churches and religious organisations of Ukraine and Russia, Christians, Muslims and Jews, as the result of our common meeting in Oslo on September 9-11th, 2014, express our deep gratitude to the Norwegian Bible Society, and to all other organisations who have supported this work, for their cooperation in organizing this meeting, for their hospitality, exceptional attention and good will.
We state the following: We are deeply sorrowful and we pray for all who have suffered as the result of the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, both among civilians and military personnel. We call on all believers to continue to pray for peace in Ukraine and, as much as possible, to cooperate in establishing peace. Even though we may have both common views and differences of opinion regarding the causes, events and consequences of today's crisis, we aim through dialogue to achieve mutual understanding, realizing that our goal is to witness to the truth and to promote the achievement of peace. We welcome and support the efforts of both of our countries and the international community directed toward termination of the bloodshed and establishment of peace in Ukraine according to principles of international relationships.
We support humanitarian activity directed toward the relief of the suffering of the population of the Donbas region and refugees from the area. It is important that humanitarian aid is provided in accordance to international standards.
We appeal to all participants of the conflict not to allow, under any circumstances, actions that would lead to humiliation of human dignity, use of torture, kidnapping (including those for the sake of ransom) and looting. As religious leaders we want to pay special attention to the need to ensure the freedom of religion in the war zone. Any violence committed toward clergy and lay people, religious buildings and houses of prayer of any denomination existing in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, are not permissible.
We evaluate our meeting very positively, and we think that it is necessary to continue to develop in-depth dialogue between representatives of religious communities of Russia and Ukraine, especially with the goal of overcoming negative consequences of the present situation both inside Ukraine and in the relationship between our countries. We understand that this communiqué does not encompass all issues that were discussed during the meeting, neither all the problems that need to be resolved. Therefore, we are willing to continue our dialogue for the sake of achieving mutual understanding and strengthening of brotherly relationship between our nations.
We thank the Almighty for His blessing of our meeting and we trust His will! Amen.