Russia - Competing for the next generation
Across Pacific Magazine
Russia: Competing for the next generation
By Anneta Vyssotskaia
for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- 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. Th ese 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 eve n 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.
PLEASE PRAY ESPECIALLY:
- 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.
'. . . and [Jesus] 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)
Elizabeth Kendal is the Principal Researcher and Writer for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
.org/. This article was initially written for the WEA RLP(Religious Liberty Prayer) mailing list.
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