Brothers and Sisters in All Camps
Russian Pentecostals hold their annual Moscow conference
M o s c o w – The big-time events produced by the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of
Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE) are memorable. Among Russia´s Protestants,
no one demonstrates greater talent in holding them. On 18 October, roughly 50 guests of honour from church and politics showed up for its annual conference (“Maly Sobor”) in Moscow’s “Word of
Life”, the city’s largest Protestant congregation. In addition to written greetings, approximately 25 words of greeting were delivered from the stage. Besides a Catholic and an Orthodox representative, the front row included two men in white turbans. Orthodox and Muslim representatives addressed the assembly with “brothers and sisters”. The Muslims too were heartily embraced by the primary
host, Senior Bishop Sergey Ryakhovsky. Even the Russian Baptist Union, which exited from the “Advisory Council for the Heads
of the Protestant Churches of Russia” a year ago, offered a word of greeting.
Only the mischievous ROSKhVE has thought of inviting the politician Irina Yarovaya to a major church event. As instigator of the controversial, anti-mission legislation known as the “Yarovaya Laws”, she qualifies as one of the Protestant movement’s primary adversaries. Until Vladimir Putin signed the legislation in July, Protestants had done a major amount of praying in hopes of stopping its passage. Yarovaya didn’t show, but the ROSKhVE was most concerned about expressing good will to this Orthodox politician in Vladimir Putin’s party. In a speech, the Senior Bishop assured that the “Yarowaya Laws” had demonstrated the significance of mission and thereby stimulated Protestants to expend even greater effort on the behalf of mission.
The politicians and church leaders – including the Muslims – pointed repeatedly to the existence of common goals. That sounded as follows in the greeting from the representative of the Orthodox office for external affairs, monk-priest Stefan: “We have our differences, but we also share a common platform. We share a commitment to upholding the moral rudiments of our life and jointly support a patriotic position.”
Yet the ROSKhVE’s position contains an apparent contradition: On the one hand, it can only be described as Russian Orthodoxy’s primary competitor. Its offensive mission work and rejection of Russia’s typically melancholy and inward-oriented religiosity are immediately apparent. The style, volume and content of its music – the pandemonium stretches from Bach to Broadway and heavy metal – is very much a reflection of the globalised Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. (There was an expection on this evening: an excellent, classical rendition of Russia’s national anthem.) On the other hand, this practice is combined with clear professions of loyalty to the Russian state.
In both Kiev and Moscow, the Charismatics are known for loyalty to their respective governments. Charismatics are simply more flexible than most. ROSKhVE consists primarily of people who found their way to the faith after 1990; they lack the burden of a centuries-old tradition. More than a few of its pastors are retired Red Army officers.
Sergey Filinov, the pastor of a Pentecostal congregation in Moscow not belonging to the ROSKhVE, notices a growing distance between it and the North American prototype. He reports that younger pastors take national integration seriously; a number of them have spent time at St. Petersburg’s Orthodox “Russian Christian Humanitarian Academy”. “These pastors are doing their homework,” he insists. “They think differently from many in the West.” In this context, one is reminded of the ROSKhVE congregation in Penza (see our release from 27 June 2015.
The ROSKhVE has roughly 400.000 members, making it significantly larger than the original Pentecostal denomination: the “Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith” (RCCEF) headed by Bishop Eduard Grabovenko of Perm.
The Yarovaya Laws
Despite all apparent euphoria that evening, the grievances throughout the country were mentioned briefly. The barrister (lawyer) Vladimir Ryakhovsky (a brother of Sergey) stated bluntly: “We are gathered here in a brotherly fashion, but we have hassles in the countryside.” At least three words of greeting mentioned the Yarovaya Laws. One politician asserted: “Laws we have enough – all we still lack are good ones.” Another concluded: “Three steps forward are always combined with one step backwards.” By that he meant the new legislation.
Very soon after the passing of the new laws on 7 July, the so-called „Ryakhovsky Ruler“ appeared. In this text, the „Slavic Legal Centre’s“ Vladimir Ryakhovsky attempts to describe a missionary activity as defined by the new legislation. He narrows it down to five conditions: It needs to involve a religious organisation, the active person must have a mandate from his organisation, the activity is publicly disseminated, information is passed on to persons not belonging to the organisation, and information is passed on in the hope of obtaining additional members. If even one of these conditions is not met, then it is not a missionary activity as defined by Yarovaya.
Sergey Filinov points out that the 10 convictions decreed during September and October were not based on the new legislation. “Our church barristers reacted quickly,” he reports. The diligent „Slavic Legal Centre“ appears to counsel the accused both quickly and thoroughly.
Pastor Filinov reports that politicians such as Joseph Diskin – a confidant of Sergey Ryakhovsky from the movement “Renewal” – intend to get the new legislation revised. Both Diskin and Ryachovsky belong to the multipartisan “Public Chamber”. Yet Filinov does not believe these efforts will succeed: “We will need to make do with things as they are.”
Franklin Graham is not Coming to Moscow
On 4 August, British papers reported that Franklin Graham, head of the renowned „Billy Graham Evangelistic Association“, had moved his world summit on the persecution of Christians to Washington D.C. The event had been planned for Moscow from 28 to 30 October; the new date is 10 to 13 May 2017.
On his Facebook page, Graham attributed the transfer to the anti-evangelistic Yarovaya legislation passed by the Russian government. That is not the entire truth: We had already reported at the end of May that the Moscow summit was either postponed long-term or cancelled on 19 May. Vladimir Putin did not sign off on the Yarovaya legislation until 7 July.
Yuri Sipko, former president of the Russian Baptist Union, attributes the cancellation to the sharp protests from conservative, Orthodox circles following the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in Havana on 12 February. In addition, the Moscow Patriarchy failed to attend the historic Pan-Orthodox council on Crete at the end of June. That too was attributed to the resistance of Russia’s most conservative circles. Sipko’s explanation seems plausible – it was therefore not the Russian state which had resisted a world summit on its own turf.
At least a few Russian Protestants and Orthodox can be expected to pay Washington a visit.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 04 November 2016
A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #16-13a, 1.103 words.