Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Thoughts from Will

The Thinker
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Things are always interesting living here in Russia. We tell people back in the States that people here live and struggle with the many of the same problems as those anywhere else in the world. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this IS indeed a different country, and in many ways, from an American viewpoint, a different world in and of itself!

Religion here isn’t just one of the basic rights of a citizen, a ‘private matter,’ a good or bad influence on society. In the history of Russia, as in many other European countries, organized religion has gone hand in hand with the government in ruling the land. The fact that modern day Russia coming out of the fall of Communism was officially atheistic doesn’t change that in the slightest. After all, in many ways, humanistic atheism is just as much of a religion as any other!

All this to say that what we experience personally as well as see and hear of here in the former USSR, is a far cry from the religious freedom that is proclaimed publicly. Christians under the communist regime were used to their rights being trampled on, and even if they did protest from time to time, it was usually fairly pointless. Today Russian Christians have the law on their side as well as the ear of the international community... only at times I wonder if they’re not too used to just enduring injustice.

We are told that we aren’t to be surprised when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake. However, we do have the example of the apostle Paul standing up for his legal rights; at the same time he was witnessing of Christ in the highest courts of the land and in Caesar’s own household!

Ok, enough already, right? What brings this up? Simply the fact that we’ve been able to observe some very interesting shenanigans on the part of the police, FSB, etc., taking place in our neighboring Ivanovo region over the past 6-12 months. The churches and pastors or missionaries affected are people that we know. We’ve heard first hand accounts, prayed for them, and been kept up to date as things develop.
1-A group of Russian/Americans were detained on trumped up charges late last summer, and the leader of the group was kept under house arrest for a month or so while the case against him was being processed.
2-This winter, another group of Americans was detained briefly, and the Russian church that hosted them was repeatedly brought to court, again, with trumped up charges... better to say ridiculous charges, even.
3- This past Sunday, members of the same church were detained and questioned for ‘illegally’ distributing New Testaments after the showing of a Christian film, and others were forbidden to continue doing so. (Again, the actual specifics of the charges were almost ludicrous.)
There have also been other related instances, but these have been the most obvious cases where believers have been falsely incriminated.

So, what’s going on? Well, as everyone knows, each government has an ideology by which they rule and direct their country. In our case here, the ideology of modern Russia has been shaped to include a strong central government and a strong national identity. (Russia suffered something of an identity crisis between the mid 80’s and mid 90’s.)

The government turned to the Russian Orthodox Church for a very large part of the strong national identity they desired to form. The Russian Orthodox Church was at one point in history the state church of Russia, and has always worked closely with the government in ruling and guiding the nation. That hasn’t changed today, and therefore any non-Russian Orthodox religious influence in Russia is immediately suspect.

In recent talks with government leaders in a local religious forum, protestant church representatives were directly told that they are innately suspect in the eyes of the government. Since many protestant churches have some ties, direct or indirect with Western churches, there is the assumption that they are being used to influence Russian culture and politics. That is, western governments are using protestant churches as the means to achieve their own goals in Russia, even to the point of encouraging some kind of popular uprising such as those which have recently taken place in former Soviet bloc countries.

None of this is officially declared, but that doesn’t matter much, as long as ‘unofficial instructions’ are being circulated that originate in the highest spheres of the Russian government.

It sounds like something out of a Michael Crichton thriller? Nah, just politics at work here! And you thought that religion as a political force went out of style in Europe sometime during the 19th century...

The point of this little essay/commentary is simply to ask you all to keep the true Russian church in your prayers. Protestant, Russian Orthodox, no matter... wherever there are born again Christians, they are almost guaranteed to be meeting opposition at some level.

Our friends have had a Christian lawyer to represent them in these different cases, and the law IS on their side! However, as different judges have admitted: ‘This is ridiculous, the law is on your side... but we have our instructions, sorry.’ There are also Christian legal defense organizations here that have been alerted. (Well, there’s at least one.)

Pray that these kind of difficulties would be opportunities to witness and be a witness. There are many misunderstandings of who Protestants are, and these trials give wonderful opportunities to represent evangelical Christianity in many different arenas we would not usually have access to.

So PRAY with us, and let’s see what God does in our churches and government here for His glory!

(P.S. from Phyllis for concerned relatives: This is NOT persecution like in the old USSR. No one is in any personal danger. We are completely safe.)


BabaJulie said...

Hi! First of all, it is good to see Will commenting on the blog. This is almost like a newsletter. I am going to try to print some off and take to church. And... the reassurance does no good Phyllis!! But, I have never thought being in Russia was without risks. We keep you all in our prayers about things like this and trust that you'll be able to watch out for our girls while they're there!! Seriously, we do realize that things have changed and we do pray for you all and all the believers there and elsewhere whose religious freedoms are threatened or not allowed at all!

sarah said...

Thank you for giving us the privilage to pray so specifically. That was extremely eye awakening.

Anonymous said...

Russian Orthodox Christians, both lay people and clergy - especially monks, have been terribly persecuted under the communist regime, and before that, under the Turkish regime. Many were been tortured to death. Father Roman Braga has written several books about his torture in prison under Communist Romania, his only crime having been a Christian. Those Orthodox Christians who cooperated in the past with the Communist government in Russia did so out of their fear of death and were completely under the thumb & control of the government. It was not a partnership by any means.

Phyllis said...

Oh, yes, we know about the terrible persecution in earlier days! And Will did did ask for prayer for "the true Russian church. . . Protestant, Russian Orthodox." However, at some level there are some corrupt politicians now, calling themselves Orthodox leaders and trying to make life very difficult for non-Orthodox believers. It is very sad to see orthodoxy used as an excuse for that.

Anonymous said...

It's hard for a country with such a long and rich history to accept anything from a country with such a short and (far too often) shallow history. I think there's probably much to learn from the Orthodox Christians and the history of Orthodoxy in Russia for over 1000 years. Not just cultural or political, but a way of life as Christians.

There's and interesting contrast between a country where conservative fundamentalist religious leaders want to create a political identity of conservative fundamentalist values and a country who has been Christian for 1000 years and even managed to hold on to that Christian identity during and after a horrible communist regime.

My question is, is it important to convert people to Christ from something other than Christ, or is the goal just to convert to Protestantism? Christianity goes back much longer than Protestantism, and Russia proves it.

Just some thoughts...


Anonymous said...

Hi, it's the original anon again. It's important, I think, to acknowledge that Russia has lived most of its long history under dictatorship/occupation of one kind or another, be it Communist, Turkish, Bolshevik, etc. It's natural for people of formerly Communist countries to be suspicious of any outsiders, as they have been betrayed so many times before. It's difficult to just throw that off and openly trust anyone and everyone, especially when they've had such disastrous results in the past. It would be naive, as well, to assume that persecution of Orthodox Christians does not still continue in formerly Communist countries like Russia and Romania, as it still does. Orthodoxy is the official state religion of Russia, and state officials and clergy will be expected to support that. For those clergy and officials who remember all to well the threats of death and torture, one can understand how they'd be suspicious and cautious of outsiders. Much like how the psychological damage caused by warfare remains long after the war has ended, the psychological impressions of dictatorships don't just disappear when the regime crumbles.

Phyllis said...

Yes, I agree with all of that. Except that it's not outsiders. It's the Russian church that is having problems.

Lisa (agape) said...

The problem is because to the Orthodox or just plain old Russians that don't practice their Christian faith you are outsiders. Russia is already a Christian country and you are seen as forcing them to believe in a totally different way, your brand of Christianity, which is relatively new and a bit hokey to them. To the Orthodox there is no invisible Church of Christ. To the strictest believers they would even go so far as to call the Protestants heretics. You are on their turf. I know the work you are doing in the orphanages is not being done by others. The church the ROC needs help there. So many generations have due to communism have missed the chance to be raised as Christians from birth. I can't help but think you would have much more success if you were Orthodox Christian missionaries. I agree with the post of all the others. The Church is not just a theory. The church is a mystical place where we come together to worship Christ. The Church the visible Church has survived persecution as you know and your presence in Russia is a bit insulting to the Orthodox. I am sure you can understand that. I am being so direct in the interest of time not because I am personally against you. The tools of the ROC are there to bring us closer to Christ and His church, they are not just pretty rituals with no meaning , they are real very real. They are the living Bible, the Church predates the Bible, the Church gave us the Bible. To just give someone the Bible without the Church is only half the picture. The Orthodox do not proselytize so this protestant western approach is foreign and annoying to them. I think it would help if you attended some of the services of your local Orthodox Church , tried to find some pious Orthodox Christians to dialogue with. I am sorry to be so brief and direct, I have children I have to feed and then I have to get back to the school (see my blog to see what I have been up to. )

You know I think the world of you and Will and I know your heart is in the right place.

I am constantly reminded of St. Seraphim of Sarov , he said,
"acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved."

I do hope that helps and you aren't offended, and that I am making sense to you , I mean no offensive. I pray for you daily.

Love in Christ,