“The Morning Comes and Also the Night”
13 Jan 2008
The Orthodox Church has been the dominant religious organization in Russia for a thousand years. For most of this time, it was the State Church and enjoyed the political power and the financial backing of the government as well as the control of religious activities in Russia. However, there were significant changes underway in the latter part of the 1800’s as the Evangelical Christian Movement began. Ivan Prokhanoff, one of the leaders of this movement wrote the following:
“During the 1860’s, it was very dark in the religious world of the Russian people, but the morning had really begun to dawn. This was when the last books of the Bible were translated from the old Slavic language into Russian.”
The Word of God had a great influence upon the religious condition of the people. It was like the first rays of the rising sun in the early morning. Simple workmen and peasants began to read the Bible and the New Testament. Blessed truths gripped their hearts and transformed their lives. They began to preach the Gospel to their neighbors. Thus it was that the Gospel was let loose and the Evangelical Movement began in Russia.”*
*I. S. Prokhanoff, In the Cauldron of Russia (1869-1933), Autobiography of I. S. Prokhanoff, Founder and Honorary President of the All-Russian Evangelical Christian Union; (New York, 1933 All-Russian Evangelical Christian Union) page 25.
The morning was dawning. Missionaries from the Baltic region, Germany, Ukraine and Georgia began the spread of the gospel of faith and holiness. This message continued an eastward progression all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Visible signs of the beginnings of this movement were observed.
· In St. Petersburg, German evangelist Johann Oncken began the work among the aristocrats in 1864. There were military officers, merchants, artisans and people of noble birth among the new believers.
· In Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, Nikita Voronin was baptized in 1867, … the very first Russian Baptist Believer. Nikita was a follower of the Molokans and several from this group were also baptized.
· About the same time in the Ukraine, German factory workers began studying the Bible during their lunch hour. They were called “Stundists”, the German word for “hour”. These studies developed into a major outreach among the workers and peasants. In some rural areas, even Baptist communes and farms were started.
The rapid and seemingly spontaneous growth of the evangelical believers alarmed the Orthodox Church and by 1880, persecution began as a government policy. Evangelical leadership, … as well as many followers, … were rounded up and sent to work camps in Siberia. This did not stop the movement. For example, Vasili Pavlov, … during his four-year exile, … developed a congregation of 150 believers.
As the movement grew, the persecution also grew. Shortly before he died in 1894, Tsar Alexander III decreed that meetings of evangelicals were prohibited. Widespread persecution continued unabated for the next 11 years. However, in 1905, Tsar Nicholas II, … recognizing the instability caused by the persecution, … issued a decree that required religious tolerance. It became legal to leave the Orthodox faith. Houses of Prayer were allowed as well as meeting in homes.
It grew at a phenomenal rate. By 1905, there were over 20,000 Russian Baptists and by 1928, over 600,000 Baptist Believers as well as thousands of Believers of other denominations.
By this time, Stalin saw this movement as a threat to his power. Accordingly, he enacted a law that effectively halted all evangelical church planting. Thus began a systematic annihilation of all religious organizations including evangelicals. Fortunately in 1953, … after Stalin’s death, … amnesty was granted to religious prisoners, including those who were Orthodox, Muslim and Evangelical. Nevertheless, the oppression continued through Khrushchev and on to the end of Gorbachev’s rule. By the time the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the number of evangelical Believers was reduced to less than 10% of that during the 1920’s.
Boris, a Believer living in Ufa, grew up during the early years of Stalin’s rule. Listen to his words:
In those days it was very difficult and we were treated like trash. Many people wouldn’t even greet us on the streets. I was called bad names.
The Believers had a difficult time of meeting together in those days. After hearing the sermons and worshiping, we had to be careful about what the authorities would say in case they were listening. Things were very strict back then. We gathered in the homes with no more than eight in a group. We could not openly preach behind the pulpit.
After Stalin’s death and on into the time of Brezhnev, the difficulties reduced and overall the situation became better.
Before I was born, the Baptist Believers met in the basement of a home. Later a larger home was bought where meetings were held. This is the church where I attended in my youth. We had a good choir there but soon this building was torn down and we moved to our current location. First, we held meetings in the large wooden home on the property but later constructed the brick church where we are now holding services.
During all of this time, the authorities were watching us … even during the wintertime baptisms in the icy waters of the White River. We always chose the White River for baptisms and, … even today, … we choose the White River.
Years ago we gathered to pray for the authorities … for Stalin and for America, because America helped us in World War II. We are praying that there will be lots of Believers in America and in Russia and in other places because we are in the last days and it is written in scripture that all will know about God. We are praying constantly for world leaders.
Today, evangelical churches continue to struggle with government restrictions and the high cost of meeting places. Peter Zhuk, Senior Pastor for Baptists in Bashkortostan, explains:
I am concerned that Russian Baptists are treated like a sect and are not recognized as a traditional religion or denomination. Our missionaries and church workers need encouragement because we have a political situation in Russia right now that is allowing us less and less opportunities to openly conduct evangelistic activities. They are trying to drive us behind church walls. They say to us, “There’s your church building. Go and conduct your evangelistic activities there.
The oppression of the evangelical movement in Russia has not destroyed the church as Lenin hoped would happen shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. In the face of persecution, the Believers have become stronger in the Word and in their commitment to their beliefs.
The wedding ceremonies held in the bright sunshine of this special day symbolize a new beginning. The groom proudly carries his bride out among the crowd … all cheering the new couple as they begin their life together.
The wedding is illustrative of the dawning of a new day … the HOPE of a new time for the Believers … and for all the peoples of Russia. (Fade in background music from wedding ceremony.) But it is the commitment of this couple, … as they pray together on their wedding day, … which is most crucial. Their prayer is not only for themselves but also for a day when God’s Word triumphs over the darkness of this land.
Will you join in this prayer?
“… God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” … 1 John 1:5
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