14.07.2016

Ukrainians pity Russians - Russians pity Ukrainians

On the sad feud between next-door neighbours

M o s c o w -- Wading through Internet responses to the new Russian legislation on religion - the “Yarovaya Laws” of 7 July - one is struck by the divide between the profoundly cross-fertilized and interconnected evangelicals of Russia and Ukraine. One reaction could be described as scorn. A photo of Vladimir Putin conversing with the Pentecostal bishop Sergey Ryakhovsky and the Evangelical-Christian businessman Alexander Semchenko (both from Moscow), sports the inscription: “Thanks for the persecution, dear sir”! These newest repressive measures are interpreted as God meting out punishment to Russia’s evangelicals for supporting an anti-Christian state. Expecting repentance from Russian evangelicals is seen as a logical consequence. This demand for repentance is sometimes mixed with a sense of pity. One Ukrainian woman wrote on Facebook: “The time will come when we will be needing to feed the brethren. Remember the history of Joseph (in Egypt).”

It’s not an easy time to be a Ukrainian in Russia. Around December 2014, Sergey Guts, a respected and well-known Evangelical-Christian pastor from Ulyanovsk/Volga, pulled up stakes and moved to Ukraine. Recently, his (mostly secular) detractors in Ulyanovsk have been pointing out that Guts, a Ukrainian citizen, did not return to his war-torn hometown of Lugansk, but rather to the lions’ den itself - Kiev. Guts was always known for his access to North American financial and personnel resources, a practice best served by living in Ukraine. That has understandably raised suspicion levels back in Ulyanovsk. Incidentally, Sergey Andreyev, the big-city mayor of Tolyatti/Volga since 2011, is a member of the denomination which Guts helped form: the small “Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians” (see our release from 25 March 2012).

On the Orthodox front, Ukraine’s largest denomination, the defamed “Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate”, is leading an “All-Ukrainian Religious Procession for Peace” from the east and west of the country towards Kiev. The closing is scheduled for Kiev on 27 July. Parliament Chairman Andriy Parubiy has complained that the procession is infiltrated with provocateurs and foreign agents carrying “banned symbols stemming from the aggressor country. . . . The enemy is developing plans to destabilize our country by creating an artificial political crisis.” Parubiy, regarded as a neo-fascist not only in Russia, serves in the position vacated by Volodymyr Groysman when the latter became prime minister in April 2016. Parubiy, who co-founded the “Social-National Party of Ukraine” in 1991, is reported to be a good friend of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

So who should be pitying whom? More than a few Russians insist on pitying the pro-Kiev side. Separatist fighters in Eastern Ukraine claim to be fighting World War II anew, struggling once again to free their land from fascist invaders. (They have no intention of losing the sequel either.)

But we can turn affairs around 180 degrees and claim that Russian and Ukrainian evangelicals are more similar than different – the common worldview was mentioned in the previous piece. Asked to forecast the future of evangelicalism in Russia, the US-American Mennonite Harley Wagler wrote last May: “Russian evangelicalism will gradually become more ‘generic’ as denominational lines, muscular in Tsarist and Soviet times, fade among contemporary Russia's ever more consumer-oriented young generation. Second, technology will shape these churches and promote the above phenomenon: worship with loud, jazzy percussion bands, videos and social media. Third, cross-fertilization of Protestants and Russian Orthodox will occur, with the theology coming from the Orthodox and the ‘McDonalds how-to’ practical aspects coming from Protestants. Fourth, the decline of Western missionary influence and the affirmation of - and search for - that which is authentically Russian.”                                           

“I would add a fifth point, which is subjective and perhaps a bit controversial. In my opinion, Russian Protestantism has lost some of that earnest spirituality - a fierce but simple faith, remarkable Biblical literacy, a winsome meekness, cheerful suffering, a Dostoevskian ‘krasota’ (beauty), which characterized Soviet believers. We see increasing self-assurance, concern for the good life and confident interaction with society. Congregational activities are taking a secondary role and becoming, at times, an annoyance. Here again, modern technology plays a role: Why go to church when you can catch the service on Youtube and contact friends on social networks?”

All this is undoubtedly no less true in Ukraine. Wagler, a university instructor for Slavic studies, has been living in Nizhny Novgorod/Volga since 1994.

Europe has a long history of mimicking the trends of Hollywood and American mass culture, its final product ending up even more repugnant and extreme than the original. In the “Pryamoi Efir” talk show on Russia’s Channel One on 12 July, there was a healthy show of hands when the Russian men present were asked if they were willing to donate sperm to a good cause. Larissa Chernikova, the intended recipient, was also on the show. She’s a 42-year old Russian singer from America hoping to yet bear the perfect specimen before the laws of biology demand their due. So when it comes to promoting “traditional family values”, Russian society still has a considerable road ahead. But the same is also true for Ukraine.

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Other matters
Moscow sources report that one-time Baptist Alexander Semchenko, now bishop of a small Evangelical-Christian denomination and a long-time construction magnate, is very much back in business. Though the 68-year-old philanthropist is not in the best of health, his firm, “Teplotekhnik”, has garnered a major contract for work at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. 

After his business dealings were stopped, Semchenko had been arrested in June 2013 and placed under house arrest for a year. He had parted ways with Russia’s Baptist Union in 2008. (See for ex. our press release from 20 June 2013.)

William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 15 July 2016
kant50(at)web.de” or “kant50(at)gmx.de”

A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #16-10