Russia: Competing for the next generation

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 473 |

(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

After many years of persecution of Christianity and all other
religions during the Soviet era, Russia experienced a great
spiritual revival in the 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of Russian
people turned to God. However, the spiritual revival was followed
by a spiritual alienation in Russian society generally and a
mistrust of religious organisations and workers. To a great extent
this was a result of many negative articles in mass-media about
'sects', as well as the government's policy to support the 'four
traditional religions': the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian
Orthodox Church (MP ROC), Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. The
spiritual revival continued but on a much smaller scale, mainly
amongst the most neglected groups in Russian society: drug addicts,
prisoners and street people.

Children and teenagers were another large group who remained open
to the gospel. During Perestroika in Russia, the Communist regime
collapsed and society went through the most dramatic period of
social, political and economic change. The doors opened for
preaching the gospel in all children's educational and medical
institutions: schools, summer camps, hospitals and orphanages.
Missionaries and teachers of the gospel were actually invited to
come and tell children about God. Many children and teenagers
became believers even before their parents did; they were very open
to learning from the word of God and became committed members of
the churches. Multitudes of elderly people who were coming to the
churches during Perestroika, often to get some humanitarian aid,
were gradually replaced by young people. The traditional old hymns
were complemented by more contemporary worship and Christian young
people full of energy and optimism enthusiastically hastened to do
good works and invite their non-Christian friends to the churches.
These children became young adults and are now the main hope and
missionary force of the Church.

The situation has changed. The doors that were once open are now
closed and most churches are not allowed to access children's
institutions, with the exception of the MP ROC churches. This
policy is unofficially but strongly supported by the Russian
government who want to see stability and solidarity in society and
look to the MP ROC as a means of ensuring this. With the obvious
lessening of spiritual hunger in society, MP ROC looks for new ways
to strengthen their position in the Russian generations to come.

MP ROC has sought 'to win the children's souls' by its efforts in
promoting 'Foundations of Russian Orthodox Culture' as a compulsory
school subject. This battle has gone on for almost 10 years now and
is not finished yet. Those opposing this initiative are concerned
it would lead to clericalising the educational system as well as
the division of children by their religion and nationality. In
extreme cases it would cause even the persecution of those whom MP
ROC considers to be 'sectarians', including all Protestants. In
September last year a seven-year-old son of a Protestant pastor in
Voronezhskaya region was severely beaten by his classmates on his
first day at school for being a non-Orthodox, after a prayer
service led by a Russian Orthodox priest.

In this 'battle for the children's souls' some priests and
activists of the MP ROC are trying to stop Protestant churches'
ministry to children, even in Sunday schools. In March this year a
United Methodist church in Smolensk was dissolved by a court order
because of its 'educational activities without a licence' -- the
church had a Sunday school attended by four children of church
members. This happened after a complaint from the MP ROC Bishop of
Smolensk, which resulted in the church being checked by various
authorities, including the Organised Crime Department of Police. A
leading Russian Christian lawyer, Vladimir Ryakhovsky, from the
Slavic Centre for Law and Justice expressed an opinion that the
court liquidation of the Methodist church will increase the threat
to other religious education. Almost all the churches in Russia
have Sunday schools without ever needing an educational licence,
but this can now be used as a reason to liquidate them.


* Thanking God for the whole generation of committed Christians in
Russia who as children and teenagers grew up to become the main
missionary force of the Church.

* For the next generation of the Church in Russia, that the
children may grow in faith and receive instruction in the word
of God to become the future 'salt and light' of Russia.

* For the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church to realise the
importance of the unity of the Christian churches in Russia,
that mutual respect, partnership and co-operation may grow
amongst them all.

'But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them,
Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not:
for of such is the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10:14 KJV)




For some ten years the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox
Church (MP ROC) has sought to promote its 'Foundations of Russian
Orthodox Culture' as a compulsory school subject, to try to win
children and young people. This divides children by religion and
has led to the persecution of 'sectarians' (including Protestants)
even in schools. The MP ROC also wants to stop children's ministry
in Protestant churches, including Sunday school. A Methodist church
in Smolensk was liquidated by a court order after a complaint by a
Russian Orthodox Bishop. The church was found guilty of giving
religious education without an educational licence -- in a Sunday
school of just four children of members. That may threaten all
'sectarian' churches. Please pray that the children in Russia may
grow in faith and receive instruction in the word of God.


RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious
Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and
writer, is on another assignment.

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