Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Our Extraordinary Brethren in Russia

I've added a new link to the right: the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society. They are a dedicated group of American pastors and lay people who are supporting the extraordinary work of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC).

The story of contemporary Lutheran Christianity in Russia is nothing short of miraculous. It is truly a story of resurrection and redemption, of perseverance, and of the triumph of the Gospel over the forces of darkness, evil, despair, and unbelief.

There were Lutheran congregations in Russia dating back to not long after the Reformation. For a variety of reasons, German immigrants lived in Russia, and they brought their faith with them. They were tolerated and co-existed with the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.

In the 20th century under Communism, however, all of the church buildings were seized by the state, the priests were executed or sent to gulag camps, and lay people were severely persecuted, many being deported to Siberia. Even without clergy and churches, lacking Bibles and services of worship, they clung to their faith. After Communism fell, the Christians in Russia were able to rise from the ashes. A short history can be read here.

In the 1990s, Russian Lutherans made contact with their American brethren, and Russians began to study at our Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Russian Project was in full swing while I was a student at CTS. Many of our professors made great sacrifices to travel to Siberia to teach men studying for the holy ministry. In time, a seminary was established in Novosibirsk, Siberia. LCMS professor Dr. Alan Ludwig has been more or less permanently deployed to Novosibirsk, and many of our seminary professors and pastors with advanced degrees make trips to our sister seminary to teach classes under extraordinary conditions.

I recently showed my Bible classes a DVD from the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society about the struggling faithful Lutheran congregations in Russia. Though few and far between, sprawled across thousands of miles and strewn over many time zones, these local parishes where the Word is proclaimed and where the sacraments are administered are being serviced by a fairly small band of mostly worker-priests, most of whom are themselves converts to the Christian faith, being raised under Atheistic Communist indoctrination. Many of these Christians, lay and clergy alike, suffer the consequences of being different from their families and friends. They also must navigate the legal paperwork to remain a legitimate religion in Russia. And on top of all of this, there is a great deal of poverty as well as the economic difficulties that linger following the collapse of Communism.

The Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church is under the episcopal oversight of Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin, a churchman who is respected not only for his pastoral wisdom but for his tenacity for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All who watched the video were greatly moved. We resolved to support the work of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society with whatever we could afford.

I began to get the Society's newsletters - which are nothing short of incredible, filled with personal accounts of survival, of sacrifice, and of devotion to the faith. These newsletters are excellent reading. It is important that we understand the catholicity of our faith, the fact that we Lutherans are not a small sect of German-Americans, but are a tradition within the larger Catholic Faith, that we have brothers and sisters in Christ all across the globe, faithful brethren who have much to teach us about contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). As the letter I received with the DVD points out, our Siberian brethren are challenged by their poverty, while we are challenged by our plenty.

After Hurricane Katrina, everyone here had a story. No two were alike. Some were extraordinary. Many were tragic. It seems that every Christian in Russia similarly has a story, borne of struggle and determination, of faith and the ubiquitous grace of God. The SLMS newsletters contain articles about real people and their real stories. They are a reminder that we are not merely dealing with academic theory and dry chronologies of political and church history, but with real flesh-and-blood people transformed by the ministry of our Lord and His Church, members of our Christian family.

Anyway, the newsletters are online and you can read them here! The September 2009 issue contains a stirring autobiographical account of Vladimir Gordeev, a guy who writes poetry in French, who was raised as an Atheist, who converted to the holy faith and was baptized as an adult, who struggles with health issues, and who is now remarkably a seminarian studying for the ministry.

The current issue includes an article about Olga Suhinina, who serves as the English-Russian interpreter at the Novosibirsk seminary. Olga was working on a master's degree at CTS while I was a student, and she has a sterling reputation for her intellect and linguistic gifts, as well as her devotion to serving Christ at the seminary, helping to bring men into the pastoral office.

Meanwhile, I commend the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society to any individual or congregation looking for ways to help the cause of the proclamation of the Gospel worldwide. The SLMS does not use any donations for fund-raising or overhead. Every penny they collect goes directly to Russia.

The Rev. Robert Wurst, who sometimes reads FH and posts comments, is the fund developer for the SLMS. I invite him to comment. He had previously posted an e-mail link and offered to send the DVD out. I urge you to take him up on this. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the video footage is worth a thousand pictures.

And, of course, please keep our faithful and struggling brothers and sisters in your prayers.


Theophilus said...

Some time ago I happened to attend a Lutheran Church and heard Jeffrey Thormodson preach about his work in Novosibirsk, Russia. Very interesting! You did not mention him in your comment. Is he no longer serving there?

Theophilus, "Follower of the Way"

Peter said...

Thank you for this wonderful note. I've had the opportunity to teach in their seminary, and it's everything you say. It's a top-notch seminary, filled with people who love the Lord, and who have overcome incredible obstacles. I remember first meeting Vladamir before he came to the seminary. He was just a kid, a teenager, with no money, living in typically terrible conditions. On the other hand, he had read the Lutheran confessions in Russian, Latin, German, English, and, I think French. To be in the presence of these folks is envigorating, inspiring, and more than a little humbling. May God bless them and their work.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

I'm afraid I don't know Jeffrey. He may well be working in Siberia - I actually know very few of the men personally who teach or work there. I will keep my ears open!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Peter:

I'm sure these faithful brethren have no idea what a blessing they are to all of us by their example of faithfulness in trying times. We need more heroes like that and less of the professional athlete and rockstar types.

When I grow up, I want to be like Vladimir.