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.)