The Situation In Russia Today:An Open Door And Many Adversaries
During the early 1990’s after almost seventy years of political and cultural servitude, Russia finally rejected its thraldom to communism. For a few brief years under President Yeltsin there was a degree of unprecedented religious freedom. An example of this freedom was the mission, ‘Christ to the Peoples of Siberia’, organised during the two summers of 1991 and 1992 when steamers were hired to visit eighteen towns along the banks of the River Ob in western Siberia. One hundred and fifty missionaries spent a month on the ships preaching the gospel to crowds of receptive Siberians who had never heard the message of God’s love before. Thereafter it was possible to hire cinemas, schools and public halls to hold services for those who had responded to the preaching of the gospel. Sites for new churches were then purchased and in due course buildings were opened for public worship.
The Russian Orthodox Church looked on helplessly as hordes of Western missions invaded territory it regarded as belonging solely to it since the days of the Apostolic Fathers of the early church. It was unable to match the evangelistic zeal, organisational ability and financial resources of those it regarded as heretical and sectarians. It could do little but denounce what it regarded as an ominous threat to its ancient position of privilege and authority.
Following the fall of Communism in Russia everything western became extremely popular especially with the younger generation. New freedom to travel opened people’s eyes to a new way of life, the capitalist way. But this euphoria was short-lived. The rigid Russian bureaucracy was unable to adapt and the economic collapse that followed led to hunger and widespread unemployment. People remembered the security they had enjoyed under Communism and a hostile reaction set in to all things western. The Orthodox Church sought to capitalise on this by persuading the Russian Government that Orthodoxy was the true guardian of Russian culture and that ‘foreign’ religions were therefore a threat to the unity of the Russian people. In President Putin it found a willing ally to its message of anti-Western xenophobia.
For the churches we have been supporting since 1998 the effects of this anti-Western attitude have become more and more apparent. In the city of Tiumen we had planned to open a new Meeting in the eastern suburbs, where 150,000 people lived and there were no churches. Initially we hired a cinema and when this was refused, smaller halls. New laws were passed and we were forbidden to meet in schools, civic centres or public libraries. Eventually no one wanted to rent buildings to us because we were ‘sectarians’. And who are sectarians? According to the media they preach a non-Russian religion, a dangerous occult faith that distorts the truth and is intrinsically evil, citizens should avoid it as they would the plague!
So our plans to plant a church in this needy part of the city have come to nothing, largely due to the hostile influence of the Orthodox Church on the Russian Government and on the media. When the church in Tobolsk applied to receive supplies of natural gas, on the same preferential terms as those applying to the nearby Orthodox Church, it was refused. The reason? “Because yours is a Western faith”! The same town council were very annoyed with the Pastor for letting me speak in the Sunday service. Why? Because I was a Westerner and all Western religious influences are bad for Russia!
However another reason for the general deterioration in the public attitude to spiritual things is described by Pastor Radzihovski of Nizhnivartovsk,
“The Bible says of sinners, ‘No one seeks after God’. This is now true of our country and of our town. During the days of Perestroika, under President Gorbachov, many people showed an interest in religion and in the Bible, but that has quickly changed. What we hear about people in the West has happened here in Russia. All people care about is to get as much money as possible, have a large flashy car and indulge in carnal pleasures as much as possible. This has become their god whom they worship and for whom they will sacrifice everything, even themselves! It worries me very much because their destiny is eternal death, and that’s why ten years ago I left my home in Ukraine to preach the gospel in Siberia. But now it’s hard to find anyone who would listen to just ten words about Jesus and His salvation.”
These negative influences have made the work of those we support doubly difficult.However the churches in Tiumen and Tobolsk continue to experience steady growth and conversions. There are not many churches here in Britain with a record like that!
Roger Weil, The Slav Lands Christian Fellowship
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