Baptist Developments in Moscow
Vitaly Vlasenko Resigns as “Foreign Minister” of Russia’s Baptist Union
M o s c o w -- In mid-March, Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko resigned as the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ “Director for External Church Affairs”. He had held this position since 2006. One issue of controversy was financial practice, but insiders claim the reasons for his resignation are more complex than that.
Some of his tasks for the Russian Union will be taken over by Sergey Belov in the Moscow office. Belov does not speak English, but Missions Director Yosif Makarenko and Seminary Director and RUECB Vice-President (not Senior Vice-President) Peter Mitskevich do. Replacing Vlasenko in the Protestant seat on the Orthodox-Catholic-Protestant triumvirate heading the „Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics“ (CIAC) is the Lutheran archbishop Peter Mitskevich. The Archbishop will according to plans rotate out in two years in order to allow other Protestant leaders to serve in this capacity.
Rev. Vlasenko does remain head pastor of a young Moscow congregation, active within the National Prayer Breakfast movement and a representative of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. He states: “I am grateful to God and many friends for the wonderful experiences I have been able to enjoy during the past 11 years. This certainly also includes my Orthodox friends. It is not easy to leave now, for we Protestants will be facing major challenges within our society. But I look forward very much to new opportunities for service in God’s kingdom.” Vlasenko is planning to travel to China in early June under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance.
At present, the RUECB’s national offices are seriously underfunded. My commentary: This serious financial state is due largely to the lack of regional support for central Moscow offices. Regional Baptist offices in far-flung Russia tend to go take care of affairs by themselves – a practice true even for Moscow region. Western aid could bridge the present financial gap, but that would only be a short-term band-aid. The regions must once again comprehend the importance of the national office.
Prayer and serious negotiations appear to be the best solutions. The next elections for central leadership are scheduled for April 2018. Alexey Smirnov, who has served two terms as president since 2010, will not be eligible for re-election.
Affairs from an Omsk Perspective
Constantine Prokhorov, who earned his doctorate in Prague and works as an archivist and historian for the Omsk Baptist Union, is not optimistic regarding future growth. In an interview in Omsk on 22 April, he pointed out that by 1917 the Baptist Union’s region within a 200-kilometer radius of Omsk held no less than 8.000 members. The population then was much lower than today, yet currently the region has 2 to 2.500 Union members. He concluded: “We are no longer growing these days – I don’t think we want too, either. We don’t have any drive presently.” Part of this decline is due to mass emigration after the mid-1920’s and, currently, since the mid-1970’s. The historian makes the interesting point that the biggest Russian Christian diaspora in absolute numbers by far is the Orthodox one. Its influence back home is in need of further research.
Prokhorov, who grew up in nearby Petropavlovsk/Kazakhstan, also points out that so-called “free Baptists” – comparable today to the numerous Pentecostal and interdenominational unions – experienced the greatest growth during the 1920’s. Yet they were decimated by collectivization, the Great Terror and the World War shortly thereafter. He attributes their demise to the lack of institutional structures and real estate. “Our big prayer chapel in Omsk was taken from us three times,” he noted. “But it was given back every time. We remained alive as a congregational body. The free Baptists had met in houses and believed that church construction was poor stewardship. When repression arrived, it was the structures which survived. Without – also institutional - structures, few survived repression as believers, the remnants joining the Baptist Union in the 1940’s.” The Baptist Union will according to him therefore surely continue to have a future.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
London, 11 May 2017
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 #17-04, 650 words.