Thursday, October 11, 2012

Faith and Hope in Siberia: Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin

The Rt. Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin, bishop of SELC
 [Note: This is from Faith and Hope Newsletter #216 from the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church and it has the remarkable story of Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and his incredible journey to the Christian faith from childhood in the atheist Soviet Union.  The bishop is at the same time one of the most remarkable and most humble men I have ever met, a model for how pastors and presidents in the LCMS ought to live the life of churchmen among the "flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28)  - Ed.]

Peace to you dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Recently our Bishop Vsevolod celebrated 25 years of his holy baptism. 

He didn’t make it public. But we remembered it anyway and decided to ask him to tell us how it was in that distant Soviet time.

Here goes the Bishop’s story: 

"I was baptized as an adult; it was my conscientious choice. As majority of people in the Soviet Union, I was not baptized as an infant, and nobody told me about God.
I was born in Akademgorodok (University district of Novosibirsk); my parents were scientists, both of them holding PhDs in Mathematics. As many scientists, they were in opposition to Communism. Of course, it was a “quiet” opposition, they did not participate in the public actions of protest and did not go out to a central square, but they were critically inclined toward the regime.

Very often I heard how they sit in a kitchen with the friends and disapprove Soviet regime. While falling asleep, I heard from another room my parents listening to the “Voice of America” and the “Radio Liberty” at the small transistor radio receiver. These radio stations were silenced in USSR, but one could hear certain programs from time to time.

My parents taught me critical thinking so that I would not be gullible towards official propaganda. If the authorities said “yes,” we understood it as “no” and vice versa.
In a way, it was my parents who were responsible for me coming to faith. Because when I heard that God did not exist, I thought, what if He did, what if He were out there? This is how my parents taught me to think.

At that time the Bible was the forbidden book. And one could learn about religion only from the atheistic books. Thus, the atheistic books have become the main books for me. I found out much about Christianity from them. Of course, these books spoke about Christianity only to criticize it, but we were the Soviet people, we knew that if they said “no,” it meant, “yes.”  If they say there is no God, then, perhaps, there is.

I’ve read dozens of books; I carefully wrote down Biblical quotations from them, I tried to get them in order so as to understand what the Bible was talking about.  

When I finished school, I practically thought of myself as a believer. And I knew a lot about different confessions from the books, and I realized that it was the Lutheranism that was the purest Biblical teaching. Of course, there was also a terrible mess in my head at that time, as nobody was teaching me.  

(By the way, I am still sure that it is Lutheranism that confesses the purest evangelical doctrine.)
I knew that I had to be baptized, and finally I have decided to go to Leningrad (which is St Petersburg now) and from there to Riga (it was a capital of the Soviet Republic of Latvia at the time).  I knew there were Lutherans there, and I hoped I would be able to find an open church there (all the Lutheran churches in Siberia have been destroyed) and ask to be baptized.
It was supposed to be a long journey of about 2,500 miles, but it was no problem for me: inhabitants of Siberia are used to such distances. I came to a train station in Leningrad and tried to buy a ticket for a train to Riga. But there were no tickets available.  Instead there were tickets to Tallinn (capital of Soviet Republic of Estonia). So I went to Tallinn.

Later on I thought about it on a number of occasions: what if I had gone to Riga then? I would have become then a member of theLatvian Church instead of Estonian. It is interesting how life turns out sometimes.
I went out to look for an open church in Tallinn and found it not far from the train station. It was the Holy Spirit Church.  There was a guard there who spoke some Russian.  We talked about politics. I said that I sympathized to Estonians that their country was occupied by the Soviet Union.  The guard said: “Oh, you are a good man. But you are Russian; you must be baptized in the Orthodox Church”. I answered: “No, no, please, I came here specially.”
He said: “Fine, come tomorrow then, there would be wife of a parish priest here, you can talk to her.”  Next day I came and got acquainted with the wife of the priest Jaan Kiivit (the future Archbishop of the Estonian Church). She happened to be a very kind and intelligent woman.

Bishop Vsevolod with Archbishop Jaan

And still one day later I met Jaan Kiivit himself. He gave the Luther’s Catechism to me and said that I should go home and memorize it, and then he would baptize me upon my return. I said that I came a long way to be baptized and that I could not go back home unbaptized. Then he gave me three days and said that I should know Catechism by heart.
I did not have a place in Tallinn where to live and I had almost no money, so I spent nights at the train station. It was warm there. Various homeless and drunk people gathered there in the evenings, and I slept in their company. I memorized Catechism in three days, and Jaan Kiivit baptized me. I returned to Novosibirsk already a Christian.
And then step-by-step people came around who were interested in Lutheranism, and we began to gather together and read the Bible. But this is another story."
Please, pray with us for our Bishop Vsevolod, and pray for many people in Siberia to be able to hear the Gospel, believe and be saved.

“Faith and Hope”

Father Vsevolod's priestly ordination in Talinn

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