«Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations:
ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee» (Deut. 32:7).
These are one of the last words that Moses said to the people Israel before his ascension on mountain Nebo. But they have not lost their value until now. We will look for the history of the Russian Reformation, Protestantism and Adventism in ancient times belonging to Kiev Russia, then the Moscow Russia, then to the USSR and during the present time belonging to the countries, formed as a result of disintegration of the USSR.
Before speaking about the appearance and development of the Russian Reformation, it is necessary to touch on the origin of Christianity in Russia.
The history of Russia prior to Christianity is poorly studied, because the first historians wrote no earlier than in 11th centuries. And about events in the 9th and 10th centuries, except for few written Greek rolls, the only sources are oral national legends of dubious reliability since they were exposed to fiction and changes. Thus only with the arrival of Christianity did the Russian people receive strong bases for creation of the state and civil life.
The history testifies that Christianity arrived on the territory of Russia in 1st century at the time of the apostles. The first mention of it is found in Paul’s message to Colossians: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:11). Listing those who are renewed in knowledge of the Christ, Apostle Paul mentions also Scythians, eastern Slavs who were living on the Northern Black Sea Coast, along the banks of the Dnieper River. Perhaps, it could mean that among Scythians of that time there were converts. Paul knew about Scythians as about a people, but was the Gospel known to Scythians? It is possible, since they conducted extensive trade with Greece and other countries. Most likely they had not accepted it, preferring the pagan religion, and, probably for this reason this huge ancient state and its people suddenly disappeared. The Goths, in the 3rd century crushed Scythia, and for a few centuries in these territories lived isolated Slavic, Turkic and other tribes which were united into Kiev Russ later.
The religion of Slavs consisted in adoration of nature, in worship of the sun, water, the sky, the earth, wind, trees and birds. Their religious notions were partly expressed in the form of idols. They did not have temples and priests; therefore their religion was not ubiquitous. Also Slavs did not have ideas about existence of life after death and trusted in magic.
Orthodox theologians claim Russian Christianity as a phenomenon more ancient, than it actually was. They relate to 1 century AD and connect with missionary activity in the Eastern Europe apostle Andrey Pervozvanny [the First called]. In Old Russian annals it is mentioned that apostle Andrey, the pupil of the Christ, travelling across the Dnieper in the middle of the 1st century, preached the Gospel to Scythians. He founded the first Christian communities on coast of Black sea and among northern Slavs along Dnieper.
However, concerning this testimony the opinions of church historians differ. Н. M. Karamzin, quoted in «Russian State Stories» concerning this story, observed: “However, knowing people doubt the truthfulness of this Andrey’s travel”.
The first list «The story of temporary years», the so-called Most ancient document of 1039, and also the Initial document of 1095 and «Reading about Boris and Gleb” by Nestor the Chronicler directly declare that apostles “did not go” to Russia and that in our lands they “did not visit”. But since 1116 Vladimir Monomah, the son of Vsevolod Jaroslavich, ordered to Sylvester, the abbot of the Vydubitsky monastery, to include «The story of temporary years» Russian variant of a legend about apostolic mission of Andrey Pervozvanny [the First called]. Since then stories about visits by the apostle of the land Russia were included in all subsequent annalistic copies.
This way a story about the travels of apostle Andrey from Crimea to Rome through Ladoga appeared. According to this version, having stopped on a lodging for the night on hills on which Kiev subsequently has been built, the apostle, according to the statement of the Chronicler, climbed the mountains, blest them and set up a cross there. Various medieval sources speak of sacred Andrey’s further travel to Novgorod where he erected the cross near the present village Gruzino on the bank of Volkhov River, to Ladoga Lake and to island Valaam where he supposedly established a stone cross and destroyed temples of the pagan gods Veles and Perun.
The truthfulness of apostle Andrey working in the territory of the future Russia was put under doubt even by some Orthodox Church historians. According to professor A.V.Kartashev by means spreading the legend about Andrey the Byzantine church was solving two problems:
1. To protect their independence from claims of Rome and to prove the equivalence to Rome (Andrey was the older brother of Apostle Peter);
2. To provide to itself whenever possible domination over all churches of the East. “Byzantium willingly supported legends about Apostle Andrey’s preaching in those countries where they existed (Armenia, Georgia) and even tried to impart similar legends in the northern countries (Moravia, Russia) on which its influence was spread”
Further in Russia Christian traditions began to develop. To Christianity the princely authority figures come also. The appearance of the first Christians among the higher feudal nobility and merchant class seems logical because of the following reasons:
1. In carrying out foreign policy feudal sovereigns usually entered into treaties with kings and princes of the nearby countries. When they were making treaties the big role was played by inter-dynastic marriages. Russian pagan princes and their sons had been stopped from marrying the princesses from the European houses, which accepted Christianity. During the 9th and 10th centuries there was a process of gradual Christianization in the countries the Central Europe, and Southern and Western Europe were Christian even earlier. So in the 10th century Russia was somewhat isolated from a number of the states of Europe.
2. Paganism complicated trade relations with the Christian countries. The Christian clergy related irreconcilably to the pagans. Russian feudal lords were interested in commercial relations with Christian states, in particular, with Byzantium, it was easier for Christian merchants to carry out commercial transactions with the partners from the Christian countries, than with pagan merchants. So the first Russian Christians were merchants.
Christianity even before being accepted officially deeply took root in Russia. For a long time paganism resisted Christianity, but gradually gave way.
For many of years the country was ruled by Princess Olga who has accepted Christianity. In annals of the beginning of 12th century “The story of temporary years”, it is said that in the summer of 959 Princess Olga visited Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium named by Russ as Tzargrad. There she accepted the Christian faith and was baptized. Having come back home, she wished to christen her son Svjatoslav, but he did not want to accept the “new” faith, being afraid to be mocked by his people. Vladimir, the grandson of Princess Olga, seeing the inability of pagan beliefs to unite isolated Slavic tribes and princedoms, decided to accept one of the primitive monotheistic religions.
The neighboring nations soon learned what he did. Each of these nations immediately tried to convert Vladimir in their faith, wishing to make the strong prince their co-religionist. The annals tell that in the summer of 986 Vladimir was visited by numerous missionaries from the different states. Vladimir did not hurry. His acceptance of a new faith was to strengthen the state, to unite isolated princedoms and tribes in one state with a uniform religion as was done, in due time, by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 321. He accepted Christianity, aspiring to strengthen Roman Empire. Therefore the prince was looking for a religion which would appeal to people’s hearts, which would not condemn the use of pork, wine and dancing, since feasts and dancing were favorite activities in Russia. In 987 prince Vladimir according to the advice of boyars sent ambassadors to find out more about each faith, besides, he told them to notice which faith allows “to eat and drink and to live cheerfully “.
The ambassadors liked the Greek divine service most of all. But the Russian prince did not want to ask from Greeks a christening as favor, and he acted as the true pagan governor. In 988 he conquered Korsun, a rich Greek city on Taurian peninsula (Crimea). After taking the city, the prince sent a message to the Greek emperors Vasily and Konstantin: «I took your nice city. I hear that you have a maiden sister, if you will not give her to me, I will do the same to your city as I did with your city Korsun».
They answered that they cannot give the girl to a pagan, but also added: “If you get baptized, you will receive also our sister, and together with her the kingdom of heaven, and with us you will be of the same faith”. Vladimir answered to the ambassadors: ‘Tell to the Greek rulers that I am going to be baptized; I already tested your law before, I love your faith! – thus having added, – let those priests who will come with the sister of yours, baptize me”.
On the arrival of Anna and priests from Constantinople, the Bishop of Korsun baptized Vladimir. Leaving the water, the prince said: “Only now I have learned the true God!” Many of his team, seeing it, were also baptized. After a fulfillment of marriage with Anna, having given a city to Greeks, taking priests, bones of the saints, icons and church vessels from Korsun, Vladimir returned to Kiev. Here first of all, he baptized his sons and near relatives. Then the prince decided to baptize and all the rest of the people. In the Lavrentevsky annals about it is said: “Vladimir sent to tell to the entire city: ‘If someone does not come tomorrow to the river – whether be rich, either poor, or the beggar, or the slave, – he will be opposite [disgusting] to me’ “. (Lavrentevsky annals).
Thus, in 988 Kievites were baptized in Dnepr and in its inflow Pochajna.
The mass character of the baptism has been motivated by the warning of the prince: “If who does not come – there will be to me an enemy”. Many were baptized only outwardly accepting Christianity, being afraid of the anger of boyars, princes and the grand duke. In Ioakimovsky annals more detail is given, as prince Vladimir sent armies to force inhabitants of other Russian cities to be baptized. Some cities showed resistance, but as a result were compelled to obey to avoid destruction – armies of the prince set fire and destroyed houses of those resisting. (Ioakimovsky annals).
The Annals narrate that against the will of the people they were separated from their former gods, forcing them to trust in the “new one”: “In the year 6496 [from world creation] (988 on A.D.) when Perun was dragged (one of the main gods of pagan Slavs) on the Stream to Dnepr, he was mourned by the infidels… And, having dragged was dumped into Dnepr». Lavrentevsky annals.
However Christianity was spread in Russia, its morals, doctrine, ceremonies were alien to the primordial paganism of eastern Slavs though at that time it was no less alien also to the Bible doctrine of the prophets and the apostles. Words of the Christ: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Mat 28:19-20 KJV) were not fulfilled. The people were baptized, but not taught.
Regretfully the methods of planting Christianity among Russian princedoms were very far from the principles of Christ. In the book «Historical way of Orthodoxy» Shmeman wrote: «the Christianity in Russia was spread “from above” by the government». A. Shmeman, 1985, with. 342.
But among the people Christianity still was not spread. Paganism lived in hearts, minds and souls of Russian people for many centuries, and, perhaps, still lives even now. Russia appears Christian only in official sources. Folklore and archaeology testifies about the presence in Russia of Orthodox-pagan syncretism.
Reformation movements of Sabbath keepers in Orthodoxy
But, though Russia was forcibly «baptized by fire and by the sword» under Prince Vladimir, we can see in it Divine foresight. The acceptance of Christianity by Russia played a huge role in the process of connecting the isolated Slavic tribes and princedoms, and also served as the big push in educating the people. Though the old Slavic alphabet and writing has been developed by Cyril and Mefodiy, the Byzantine missionaries, in the middle of 9th century, mass teaching of reading and writing began only at the end of Xth century under Prince Vladimir as without literacy high-grade participation in a church life was impossible. Subsequently literacy played a huge role in the development of Reformation movements in Orthodoxy.
Many historic facts testify that the paganism in Russia has been replaced with Christianity only in outward forms, but peoples’ hearts remain with their former pagan traditions and concepts. Therefore, between Christianity and paganism the centuries-old struggle began but led, eventually, to a dichotomy of faith – to a synthesis of Orthodoxy and paganism. Though Orthodoxy was received about 1000 years after Jesus’ birth it was, already impregnated with the paganism and the Greek philosophy of Rome, in Russia this was mixed with the ancient paganism of Slavs, reached the apogee of syncretism so that the Roman cardinal d’Eli in the beginning of XV century wrote to Rome to the Pope: “Russian in such degree pull together the Christianity with paganism that it is difficult to tell what prevailed in the formed mix: whether the Christianity which accepted in the pagan beginnings, or the paganism which absorbed Christian dogma”. – Smirnov М, 1868, with. 161.
About the same dichotomy of faith archpriest George Florovsky in his work writes also: “Paganism has not died and has not been weakened at either. In the vague depths of national subconsciousness as in any historical underground, proceeded, already undercover, a life, now ambiguous and dychotomical”. Ways of Russian theology, 1937, p.2-3.
Nevertheless there were also those who received Christian belief with their whole heart, and dared to serve the Living God according to the truth. The union of church with worldly governors, led to amplifying deviation from pure bible truths and brought discontent and concern about the future of their children in those people. E. White wrote:”After a long and severe conflict, the faithful few decided to dissolve all union with the apostate church if she still refused to free herself from falsehood and idolatry. They saw that separation was an absolute necessity if they would obey the word of God. They dared not tolerate errors fatal to their own souls, and set an example which would imperil the faith of their children and children’s children. To secure peace and unity they were ready to make any concession consistent with fidelity to God; but they felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle. If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.” Great Controversy. p.45.
“As these bodies depart further and further from the truth, and ally themselves more closely with the world, the difference between the two classes will widen, and it will finally result in separation. The time will come when those who love God supremely can no longer remain in connection with such as are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” -Great Controversy, p. 390.
Thus the history of Christianity in Russia, for many centuries, was accompanied by repeated attempts to clear biblical teaching of pagan fallacies and to raise the banner of truth, which resulted in different kinds of reformation movements. The roots of these movements are even to the time of Vladimir I (980-1015) who was a Baptizer of RUS, and in 14-15th centuries, they were formed in the Russian Protestant movement.
As a rule, the Reformation movement in Russia was led by people who held responsible positions in the church; this gave them an opportunity to explore the Scriptures by themselves, since the manuscripts of the Bible, at the time, could only be found in temples and monasteries.
But another problem was brewing. Over the centuries, the Old Church Slavonic translation of the Bible, made by Cyril and Methodius back in ninth century, differed more and more from the everyday living Russian language, becoming less and less suitable for the understanding; and religious conservatives did not allow a new translation of the Bible.
However, the Lord was preparing the way for the Reformation. In the middle of the 14th century St. Sergius of Radonezh (1321-1391), abbot of the Trinity-Sergius Monastery, using the patronage of Prince Dmitry Donskoy, brought to all Russian monasteries and elementary schools, mandatory study of the Greek and Hebrew languages. This enabled many sincere, young ministers of the church to study the Scriptures in their original languages and compare them with modern concepts and practices of the church. And in the second half of the 14th century, is the first recorded history of the Reformation movement in Russia.
Initially, the movement was born in Pskov, and was known as the “Strigolniki movement”, the head of which were Karp and Nikita. The official Orthodox Church destroyed almost all the documents that shed light on their teaching and activity, in an attempt to discredit them. However, it is known that the Strigolniki based their faith only in God’s Word – the Bible, denying so-called “sacred” tradition, they did not recognize the immortality of the soul, and condemned the wealth and luxury of the clergy. In 1375, in Novgorod, Karp and Nikita were executed and their followers subjected to persecution. However, these repressive measures by the state church, led only to the further dissemination of Russian Protestantism.
It should be noted that the Reformation in Russia developed independently of Europe, apart from it and on a completely different scenario. We can say that Russian Protestants were a few centuries ahead of Protestant Europe, since they originally preached the message “justification by faith” in its entirety. Speaking of justification by faith in the merits of Christ, they taught that obedience to God’s commandments including the fourth one is the result of manifestation of true faith and love for God, and therefore, it is an essential condition for salvation. In addition, they rejected the idea of the immortality of the soul and the doctrine of purgatory as a delusion, which do not have biblical foundation. This shows that by their teaching Russian reformers resembled more the pioneers of Adventism in 19th century, not the reformers of their contemporaries in Europe, such as Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin, and others.
Many followers of the Strigolniki were still alive, when in 1471; in Novgorod a new Reform Movement in Orthodoxy was born. Its originator was a Russian monk Zacharias, the abbot of the monastery in Nemchinov. (According to other sources the originator was a scientist and merchant Jew Zakhariy Skara or Skhariya, which is less likely). Zacharias was convinced of the need to honor the seventh day Sabbath as the day of the Lord. Taking advantage of every opportunity, he shared these ideas with others. His teaching soon stirred the minds among the city residents, and led many clergy to take up the study of the Scriptures. This movement caused a lot of interest among the educated clergy and high society.
Soon, the most educated residents of Novgorod – priests Dionysius and Alexiy, and then a priest of Sofia named Gabriel, became ideologues of the movement which was scornfully nicknamed by the Orthodox Church as a “movement of Judaizers” because they honored Saturday as the Lord’s Day.
At the core of the teachings of the Reformation movement of “Judaizers”, was more than the doctrine of the Sabbath. They also denied the immortality of the soul, were opposed to confession to a priest, they were against the “sacred traditions” and veneration of icons. They called to recognize freedom of conscience, to believe in biblical prophecy, to recognize the Bible as the only basis for faith; they called church to reject its lands and luxury.
The reformers gave paramount importance to faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the “Judaizers” were strict monotheists and denied the dogma of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, denied Communion, spiritual hierarchy; they celebrated the 7th day Sabbath and practiced circumcision. Worship of images was rejected because of the prohibition of Moses to worship any created thing made by human hands. According to some accounts, they also denied the belief in the afterlife. They also rebuked the idea of monasticism as a distortion of the natural way of life. Judaizers also demanded that the church would refuse to own a land property and serfs [bond servants].
In 1478, the city of Novgorod lost its independence and was annexed by Moscow. In these years, the Grand Duke of Moscow, Ivan III, grandfather of Ivan the Terrible, reunited the scattered Russian fiefdoms into a single state with the capital in Moscow.
In 1480, Ivan III visited Novgorod, where he got acquainted with the new doctrines. Being aware that the church really needed radical reform, the prince took the leaders of the movement Dionysius and Alexiy to Moscow and made one of them an archpriest of the Archangel cathedral, the other one became head of the Dormition cathedral. Dionysius and Alexiy were welcome guests in Moscow, and their new doctrine had great success. Everybody came to listen to their sermons: including Simonov Archimandrite Zosima and scholar deacon Theodore Kuritsyn with his brother Ivan the Wolf, and even Elena herself, the mother of the heir to the throne, Dmitri, and, finally, the crowd of ordinary people. In less than ten years a Reform Sabbatarian Movement enveloped Moscow, Novgorod, Pskov, and all their neighboring areas.
Using the patronage of Prince Ivan III, members of the movement openly preached their doctrines calling for reform in the church. Ivan’s daughter-in-law Elena also began to manifest Sabbatarian views. The most prominent figure in this movement in Moscow is the deacon of the Grand Duke, Fyodor Kuritsyn. He was surrounded by a whole circle of associates, among who were Simon Klenov and Ivan Cherny, who were expressing their views in writing. In September 1490 leaders of the movement, having power at court, were able to install on the metropolitan pulpit their fellow brother Zosima.
Another important point encouraged the rapid development of the reform movement of Sabbatarians. By Orthodox reckoning the night from 24 to 25 of March of 1492 concluded, 7000 years from the creation of the world. They believed this time was when Christ was to come along with the end of the world.
One of the signs of the soon Second Coming of Christ was believed to be the fall of Constantinople. In 1453, Constantinople was captured by the Turks. This event greatly increased the eschatological excitement among the Orthodox. In 1491, many did not plant their fields, which led to starvation. But representatives of the “Judaizers” movement referred to the so-called prophecies of the impending Second Coming and the Day of Judgment in a skeptical way. Judaizers used the Jewish calendar, according to which nearly six thousand years had just begun. Therefore, when the ill-fated date has passed, and the expected Second coming by the Russian people did not take place, the authority of “Judaizers” increased dramatically. Even the heir to the throne was pronounced the favorite grandson of Ivan III, Dmitry, who also confessed the views of the “Sabbatarians”.
But the forces of darkness were not sleeping. Freedom did not last long. Satan would not allow Russia to keep the Sabbath! The Orthodox Church began an active fight against the reform “Sabbatarian” movement. In Novgorod, the fight was headed by Archbishop Gennady Gonozov. He first chose physical extermination as the means to fight heresy. Taking the example of the King of Spain and the “cleansing of the earth” by the Inquisition, Gennady urged the same method. By his initiative, on October 17, 1490 the council was gathered, which condemned the sect. Nevertheless, the fight against heresy was difficult because the heretics had strong support in the court in Elena daughter-in-law of Ivan III and among the leadership of the church, in particular, the new Metropolitan of Moscow Zosima, fully follow the policy of Ivan III and was also a supporter of the Judaizers. In 1491 Archbishop Gennady managed to gather a second council, which declared the supporters of the heresy among clergy to curses and sentenced them to imprisonment and anathema. (Kartashov A. Essays on the history of Russian Church. M., 1991, vol 1, p. 497).
In 1495 Zosima was captured by churchmen and imprisoned in a monastery.
In 1499, by the efforts of the second wife of Ivan III, Sophia Palaeologus, who was educated in Italy by Catholic bishops, Elena and her son Dmitry were compromised. And in 1502 they entered into the dungeon, where after a short time they were killed. The throne was bequeathed to another heir – Vasily, the son of Ivan III of Sofia Palaeologus, which the Orthodox clergy supported. Joseph Volotsky became the main opponent of “heresy.” In December 1504, he called Moscow’s Council, where all Russian leaders of the Reformation were sentenced to be burned at the stake. In iron cages, like the most dangerous criminals, they had been brought to Moscow.
Soon, for the first time in all its thousand-year history, the capital, and with it all Russia saw the auto-da-fe.
They burned ministers and archbishops, the most important of which were Ivan Kuritsyn, Dmitri Konoplyev, Ivan Maximov, Mitya Pustoselov. Nekras Rukavov’s tongue was cut out, and then he was sent to Novgorod, where the Archimandrite Cassian, Ivan Samocherny, Dmitry Pustoselov and Gridya Kvashnya were also burned. Fedor Kuritsyn died before the trial.
During the Middle Ages was the first and last Reformation which in its scope covered all the Russian state. But as the whole, Russia rejected and condemned the truth. The fruits of these actions Russia reaped in the 20th century: the October Revolution, the Civil War and then the seventy-year terror of atheistic government. In this, there is a striking resemblance to the fate of France, who also had rejected in its time “the reformation.”
After the death of Ivan III Vasily came to the throne (1505-1533) and continued the destruction of “heresy”, begun by his father.
But while the leaders and ideologists of the “Judaizers” movement were killed, and its supporters were scattered like sheep without a shepherd, yet the spirit of the Reformation was not broken. In the middle of the 16th century in Moscow, Novgorod and Old Russa and in other cities and towns of the north-western Russia, in the Orthodox Church the Reformation movement reappeared. It was headed by Theodosius Kosoy – a representative of monasticism. His reforms were associated with the educator Francis Sarino, who translated the Bible into the Russian language. Kosoy in his sermons urged the people to read the Bible themselves and to commune with God without intermediaries.
Because of the study of the Scriptures, he and his disciples began to deny the veneration of icons, calling icons idols; they denied the Orthodox Church ceremonies, lents and monasticism. They protested against the worshipping the crucifix and the “relics” of all saints. Theodosius taught that the truth is in the early Christian teachings set forth in the Scriptures, and advocated a return to the traditions and customs of the Church of the apostolic age. There is no exact information about the attitude of Theodosius to the Sabbath, but it is known that he also taught to observe the Law of God. History noted that on the basis of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, Theodosius Kosoy opposed to the participation in war. He taught that “it is not proper… to fight” ( A.A. Zimin, “I.S. Peresvetov and his contemporaries”, ed. Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1958, p. 209).
Matvey Bashkin preached on the incompatibility of slavery with Christianity. He proclaimed the authority of the Bible only. He denied the sanctity of icons and traditions. In many ways, this is similar to the Judaizers. It was in the middle of the 16th century. He was put in a wooden crate and burned in the summer of 1553.
Semen Budny his understanding of man was far ahead of the others. He denied the immortality of the soul. He was the first to speak of the unity of human nature.
Old Order schism
Patriarch Nikon reformed liturgical books.
Protopop Avvakum opposed to strict rites: he denied the cult of saints, the worship of relics, advocated the equality of all believers, and the reasonableness of faith.
After the split Tveritinov, a Moscow doctor, founded a society of iconoclasts in Moscow. He rejected the church traditions, rituals, mediation of saints and Mary, and the cult of relics. There was some connection with foreign Protestantism. In 1714 he was excommunicated and put on trial. Miraculously, he managed to avoid execution.
Probably thanks to the efforts of the Orthodox Church, today we do not have precise information about the full study and activity of other Sabbatarian reform movements, until the beginning of 18th century.
We assume that there have always been secret Sabbath keepers. One researcher of the history of Sabbatarians in Russia, wrote: “One can even imagine that there was no such a period of time during over four centuries, when this sect would not have existed in some corner of the vast Russian state, therefore, considering Russia as a whole, it can be argued that this sect existed continuously, but not successively, and flourishing in one place and extinguished in the other, and, some sectarian groups might not even had known about the existence of the other : they are linked and connected only by the Bible…”. – N. Astyrev. Sabbatarians in Russia and Siberia / / “Northern Herald.” 1891, № 6, p. 34.
The Sabbath keepers Movement has not decayed. In the history of Russia there have always been people who observed the Sabbath according to the commandment. Until recently, the history of the Sabbatarians was not studied. There was just an opinion of Orthodoxy on this movement. In the 30 provinces of Russia there was a presence of Sabbatarians. The government has always banished those people to the outskirts of the Russia away from its central locations.
When the first missionaries came to Russia in 80th, tens of thousands of people observed the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the pioneers of Adventism in Russia did not know about them. “Northern Herald” 1891, № 6, Astyrev “Sabbatarians in Russia and Siberia”.
Of course, since the birth of Christianity in Russia, not all of the reform movement that arose in Orthodoxy was a Sabbath oriented. However, one fact remains indisputable that the Sabbath question has often been a hallmark of the Russian reform movement. Next, we will talk only about the Sabbatarian reform movement because in their origin and development one can see a prototype of a Reform Movement in Adventism at the beginning of 20th century. And in their teaching we can see the origins of the truths that are now distinguished doctrine of the SDA Church.
At the beginning of 18th century historical records of the Reformation Sabbatarian movement reappear. Metropolitan Dimitri of Rostov (1645-1709), a recognized scholar in the area of schisms, in his “Search”, referring to the Sabbath keepers living at that time on the Don river said: “Sabbatarians celebrate the Sabbath in a Jewish way” – The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol.7. – P. 582.
Other authors called those Sabbatarian “Iconoclasts” and “Seleznev followers” after the name of the head of the Sabbatarian movement, Seleznev, near Tula.
During the reign of the first Russian Emperor Peter I (1672-1725), the Orthodox Church became an appendage of the state apparatus. The Synod, organized by the Orthodox Church in 1721 became one of the highest state authorities.
This close connection of the church with the state contributed to the fact that many honest souls left the ranks of the state church and joined the Reformation Movement. However, these movements existed only underground.
Only during the reign of Empress Catherine II (1762-1769), (born August Sophia Frederica of Anhalt-Zerbst, in German “Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg”, in Orthodoxy, Yekaterina Alekseyevna; April 21 (May 2) 1729, Shtettin, Prussia – 6 (17) in November 1796, the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg) the Sabbatarian movement came out of the closet and were beginning to expand actively. There were new movements, such as: molokans and Sabbatarians (subbotniki), etc.
In Russia under Catherine II a policy of religious tolerance was declared. For example, in 1773 a law on tolerance of all religions was published, which prohibited the Orthodox clergy to interfere in the affairs of other faiths, and reserved to secular authority the right to decide on the establishment of churches of all faiths.
On 4 (15) December 1762 Empress Catherine II signed the manifest “On allowing foreigners, except the Jews, to go out and settle in Russia and on the free return of Russian people to their homeland who have fled abroad.” By publishing such a manifest, she had two goals: by inviting Westerners to open the way to Western culture; settlement on the outskirts of Russia were guarding the border area. Many Protestants took it as a response to their prayer. This way they preserved their culture and faith.
In order to speed up the process of relocation of foreigners to Russia, and to populate unpopulated Russian territories, it was necessary to accurately determine the guarantees and privileges that were offered to immigrants, and to establish an allowance for travel expenses.
Since the Empress was a native of Prussia, it is quite understandable that most of the settlers were Germans. Free resettlement of Germans in Russia led to a significant increase in the number of Protestants (mostly Lutheran) in Russia. They were allowed to build Lutheran churches, schools, to freely conduct their services. At the end of the 18th century, in St. Petersburg alone, there were over 20 million Lutherans.
Freedom of religion was also given to other religions, including Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism…
(History of the Russian Germans in the documents (1763-1992.) / Comp. V. Aumann, V. Chebotarev. M, 1993)
(Tsvetayev Dmitry Vladimirovich (1852-1920). Rus)
By studying the history of the issue of foreigners in Russia: From the speech, pronounced in Kharkiv University before defense of Doctorate dissertation “Protestantism and Protestants in Russia before the era of change” / [cit.] Dm. Tsvetaeva. – Warsaw printing place. Warsaw Textbook. 1891. –  9., 23 see.)
(Astyrev N. Work in Russia and Siberia / / “Northern Herald.” – 1891, № 6, p.61-62.)
In 1797, Don Cossack Kosjakov Philip preached the doctrine of the Sabbath in river Don Area. Together with his brother, he turned to the Ataman of the army of Don with a request for permission to freely practice their faith. The result of their application is not known, but the information was preserved that many residents of the town of Alexandrov, mainly from the middle class and merchants, on Saturdays avoided their public duties. Being the majority of the population, they were released by the Government from all work on Saturdays. (Varadinov, History of Ministry of Internal Affairs, 1863, VII, p. 87.)
In 1804, the Reform Movement of Sabbatarians began in the Orel province; in 1805 it reappeared in Moscow. In 1811, unexpectedly, the Sabbatarians appeared in many places in Russia. As a result, during the first quarter of the 19th century, it was noted that there Sabbath keepers in Moscow, Tula, Orel, Ryazan, Tambov, Penza, Saratov, Astrakhan, Stavropol and Voronezh provinces. (First Collection of Laws, № 28249. Jewish encyclopedia, vol. 1, p.804).
However, the next active dissemination of the reform movement of Sabbatarians angered the state church. In order to eliminate the so-called “heresy” in Russia, the fire of persecution was re-ignited. Persecution began.
In 1820, all Sabbatarians began being evicted to the Caucasus area. Moreover, the Orthodox Church began active propaganda, trying in every way to discredit Sabbatarians, calling them “Judaic movement”, which caused, among superstitious people, distrust and ill-will towards them. To this end, on the 3rd of February 1825 the synod issued a decree approved by Emperor Alexander I (1777-1825), «On measures to avert [turn away] the spread of Jewish sect called Sabbatarians.” The text of the decree reads:
“As nothing can have more influence on the common people as contempt or ridicule on misconceptions, and that means are used by the dissenters of different sects, as well as Sabbatarians in respect of the Orthodox faith, so in these relations the local authorities are to call Sabbath keepers a Jewish sect, and disclose, that they truly are the Jews, for their name Sabbath keepers or keepers of the Mosaic Law does not give people an accurate idea of this sect and that does not cause disgust to it what may do the belief in them trying to draw them into the Judaizers. ” – N. Astyrev Sabbath keepers in Russia and Siberia / / “Northern Herald.” – 1891, № 6, p.61- 62.
But in contrast to the 15th century, the repression of 1820, 1825 and subsequent years, did not destroy the reform movement of Sabbatarians, but only facilitated their movement into new territory: the Northern Caucasus, beyond Caucasus, Crimea, and Siberia. And in their place of residence, even after the eviction, there were still a lot of secret keepers of the Sabbath. Of course, the details of their doctrine and worship are different in different provinces, but the basis on which these reformers were getting, it was common to all.
The idea of soon Second coming of Christ in Russia
Ideas about the second coming were introduced by Johann Bengel. He taught that the Second Coming of Christ had to happen in the 30th years, and after that there will be millennium on earth, and then millennium kingdom in heaven.
Writings of Bengel, which were distributed among the colonists, led many to think about the coming of Christ.
Kelber named the date of the second coming, it is 1843. He expanded on the 2300 days prophecy and three angel’s message. Ideas about the coming of Christ were known among Muslims.
Joseph Wolf also played an important role in the fate of preaching in Russia. Traveling around different countries, he preached everywhere, and opened 10 hitherto unknown countries. He preached in Armenia, Georgia, etc. First of all, he addressed the Jews.
In 1832 the book “The Second Coming of Christ” was distributed.
In Crimea, the awakening occurred under the influence of Otto Guste’s sermons in the German colonies. For attempting to convert an Orthodox faith person to a different religion lifetime exile to Siberia was to be expected.
One historical document about the times of repression tells that in the period from 1844 to 1847in one settlement there were ten Sabbath-keeping families. They also practiced foot washing before breaking of bread, and believed in the imminent return of Christ. By order of the Synod they were robbed of their children, and the parents were sent to Siberia. In Samara their group joined another group of ten families who had been convicted on similar charges, and then were driven on toward Siberia. (From the history of the church. – Kaliningrad, 1993, p. 11.)
In the 1880’s a number of changes in society paved the way for the adoption of the ideas of SDA.
11 (23) January 1813 in St. Petersburg by Imperial order Emperor Alexander I established the Russian Bible Society.
Translation of the Bible into modern Russian language in 1813. Thanks to the good will of the emperor, RBS was able in a short period of time to translate the Bible into many languages of Russia. By 1823 the New Testament was translated into 41 languages. And by 1876 the Bible was translated completely.
1855-1881- the period of the reign of Alexander II in Russia began an era of great reforms and spiritual awakening. Among intellectuals and deeply spiritual Russian Orthodox Christians there was growing interest in studying the Bible. Thanks to God’s providence in the same period, the British and Foreign Bible Society, which sought since the beginning of the century to work among the Russian people, received permission from the government to distribute among the people a Russian translation of the Gospel.
A series of reforms occurred: the liberation of the peasants; school and judicial reform, easing of censorship rules.
Significantly increases the overall literacy rate. If literacy in 1861 was 1/15, already by 1897 every 5th citizen of Russia was literate. Russian universities gained independence, they invited professors, and were governed by the University Councils.
All this contributed to the emergence of new Reformation movements among orthodoxy, in various parts of Russia, independent of each other.
It is amazing that while the Seventh-day Adventist movement progressed rapidly in America, in Russia the Reformation Sabbatarian movement actively developed. This demonstrates once again that the Lord alone led and leads His people all over the world.
There are plenty of reliable historical examples of how the Sabbatarian movement arose in different parts of Russia, in the second half of the 19th century.
In the 1860s, a Russian army officer, while studying the Bible, came to the conclusion that the seventh day is the Sabbath, and taught his children to honor it. As a result in the 1870’s he was exiled to Siberia.
Similar cases occurred in many regions of Russia. As a result, according to many authors, in the second half of the 19th century, the reformation Sabbatarian movements were in 30 provinces in Russia, with more than 30 thousand followers. (From the history of the church. – Kaliningrad, 1993, p. 11.)
Thus, the Lord prepared the way for the adoption by Russian people of the three angels’ messages (see Revelation 14:6-12). So when at the end of the 19th century, the news that the day of the Lord is Saturday, reached the borders of Russia, and it was received with joy by thousands of people.
Because Adventism became institutionalized in the U.S. in the 1840’s and Seventh-day Adventism in the 1860’s, its spreading in Russia only happened in the 1880’s, while other Protestant trends already existed for a long time.
The initial agents of Adventism in Russia were Mennonites, German colonists who settled in America, who began to write to their families about the three angels’ message.
Some of them returned to Russia on purpose to preach the Adventist message there. We know their names – Ginther, Ostvalt, Goetze, etc. The colonists, who remained in America, sent booklets to their relatives and friends, which were telling about the “true faith”, which first appeared in the years 1883-1884. Soon, many Germans, residents of the colonies, became aware of the new religion. The first missionaries were the Germans, and it was easier to preach in their own language. Among those interested were also Russians. But preaching to the Russians was forbidden under the threat of exile.
Another precursor of Adventism was Theophil Babienko, from the village of Tarascha south of the city of Kiev. In the mid-1870s, he helped an Orthodox priest in church services by reading the Psalms. After receiving permission to study the Bible at home, he started gathering neighbors in the evening for the Bible reading. He soon realized that the doctrine taught in his church; do not have a sufficient basis in Scripture. Soon, a company of brothers who loved the Bible was formed around him.
In 1877 fellow-believers along with Babienko left the Orthodox Church and called themselves the “Society of brothers who believe in the Bible.” This movement grew and spread to other cities and towns of Ukraine. Soon the “brothers” from Tarascha decided to build a church building. They sent their leader Babienko to the governor of Kiev, to get the required permission. However Babienko did not return to his village. On the way to Kiev to get a permit, he was arrested and exiled to Stavropol in the North Caucasus. Here, in exile, he took the Bible and, according to the testimony of his son, after two years of study began to observe the seventh-day Sabbath and was looking forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ. He wrote about his beliefs, to his brothers in Tarascha and as a result, some of them embraced the teaching about the soon coming of Christ and began to observe the seventh -day Sabbath.
While exiled in Stavropol, from 1887 to 1888 thirteen people joined with Theophil Babienko, and later, a few more. Eventually they formed a small community of Christians, who were celebrating the Sabbath. (From the history of the church. – Kaliningrad, 1993, p. 11. )
From the memoirs of F. Babienko it is known that in 1890 a pastor from Germany arrived in the North Caucasus to hold an evangelistic campaign among his fellow-countrymen. There, in the first district meeting, which was attended by both Russian and German searchers for the truth, he ordained F. Babienko to the ministry as a Seventh-day Adventist preacher. This was done for the purpose of performing services according to church regulations among converts in Russian and Ukrainian congregations.
For his zealous missionary activity F. Babienko was again exiled, and the gendarmes sent him on stage coach from Stavropol to the Caucasus, where he settled in the valley of Mount Ararat among the exiles – Molokans, Baptists, Evangelical Christians and other believers. His fiery sermons of the three angels’ messages led more than 200 people to God. They began observing the seventh day according to the Scriptures, waiting for the return of the Lord according to His promise (John 14:1-3).
At a time when F. Babienko preached the last warning message to the North Caucasus and Transcaucasia, the Lord worked in a special way through another chosen one, a German settler Jacob Resvik, who at the time was not familiar with the truth and was not a member of the SDA church. He lived in Crimea in about 1880. His close relatives left Crimea to the United States. When J. Resvik first visited them, he became acquainted with the teaching of Adventism, but did not take it over entirely. After a while, Jacob again went to visit relatives, planning to move to the U.S. permanently. This time, he fully accepted the truth. Returning to Crimea, he founded two groups of believers – in the villages of Saki and Yaponcha. In addition, J. Resvik corresponded with his relatives in Aleksandrovsk (now Zaporizhia), thus spreading the truth among the Germans and Russians. (From the history of the church. – Kaliningrad, 1993, p. 11. )
It is likely that it was he, who notified the SDA church leadership in America that in Russia there are congregations of Sabbath keepers.
Two years later, J. Resvik became ill and died, never having left for the United States. At the direction of an Orthodox priest all his books and brochures were buried with him. But the priest said at the funeral: “Although Jacob Resvik was not an Orthodox, he professed a different faith; nevertheless, if you would live a worthy and exemplary life as he lived, then everyone would be saved.” These words moved the audience so much that after the funeral, many of them became members of the SDA church.
After Jacob Resvik, Gerhardt Perk accepted the truth. He was of German colonist’s background, of Mennonite faith. We have much more information about him than about his predecessors. He was a dedicated Mennonite; he kept receiving from his neighbors, also Mennonites, tracts in German, mailed to them by their relatives from America. Reading in secret and with great fear “in order not to be misled,” Gerhardt Perk felt all the more interest to those publications. One day, without telling anyone, he sent a letter to the publishing house with a request to send him tracks and magazines, brochures and books, which they offered. He did not have to wait for a long time – foreign Seventh-day Adventists soon provided him with everything he asked for.
Gerhardt Perk later joined the “British Bible Society” as an agent for the dissemination of the Holy Scriptures in Russia. Moving from place to place and advertising books of Holy Scripture, he became increasingly convinced of the need to comply with all of God’s Ten Commandments, including the fourth, the Sabbath.
In 1886, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in America made a decision to send Brother Louis Conradi to visit the Sabbath keepers in Russia. He at the time worked in Switzerland.
Arriving in Russia, Conradi met Brother Gerhard Perk in Odessa who waited for him there. He acted as a translator and accompanied Conradi around the country. They went to Crimea. Conradi collected scattered brothers and sisters together. In the village of Berdybulat (now Privolnoye) they found 19 persons prepared for baptism with 12 people from Yaponcha they were baptized. Baptism conducted L. Conradi.
So, on July 31 (old reckoning), 1886, in Berdybulat, Tauria province in Crimea, the first Russian congregation of Seventh-day Adventist Christians was formed consisting of 19 people.
But as soon as they were done breaking the bread in the newly organized group, the meeting was raided by the police. Brothers Conradi and Perk were arrested and imprisoned in Perekopsk prison. They were accused of converting Russians into foreign religion, distribution of Jewish heresy which was prohibited by law, because of an obvious connection of their teaching to the Sabbath day and holding a public baptism.
According to the law of the time, they faced a life-long exile in Siberia. The fact that Conradi was an American citizen saved them; his arrest was reported to American Consulate in St. Petersburg. The Consul was well acquainted with the Adventist teaching… Viewing the basis for the arrest as poorly substantiated, the Consul assured the tsarist government of the Christian character of the Seventh-day Adventist community, and immediately took steps to release Conradi from prison, so Conradi and Perk spent only forty days in Perekopsk prison.
After his release, Conradi visited some more places and then went back to Switzerland, where he lived and worked (city of Gland) as the head of the Adventist Church in Europe. And G. Perk continued to distribute Scripture and Adventist literature. After the temporary detention in jail he was put under strict supervision. Soon he was again arrested for distributing Adventist literature. Finally, he signed the agreement for the Government of Russia about voluntary and final departure from Russia to Switzerland.
Although G. Perk was forced to emigrate, God’s work, which was launched by the first missionaries F. Babienko, J. Resvik, G. Perk and L. Conradi, evolved and gained momentum, even under the adverse circumstances. The truth spread throughout Russia, though God’s workers were imprisoned, robbed of property or their property was sold as a fine for attending meetings. Often fleeing death and persecution, they dressed in simple peasant clothes, hiding. However, in those hard days, the Lord blessed His work, which continued to spread. Everywhere congregations were appearing in the European part of Russia, in Siberia, in Central Asia, near the Chinese border.
Since 1879, when G. Perk first contacted American Adventists, some time passed. In this short period was released issue 31 of a monthly magazine “Voice of Truth” in the German language. It had been published until 1883. Then Russian Adventists in Switzerland started printing a new magazine, “Herald of Truth”. However, we should emphasize that in Switzerland (country sheltering Russian noble revolutionaries) Adventist publications reached Russia with great difficulty, as the censors carefully reviewed all of the parcels. Therefore the Adventist mission for Russia moved to Germany and opened a publishing house in Hamburg. From there literature, including in the Russian language, easily got into Russia.
Russian Missionary Field as Part of German SDA Union
In 1889-1890 in Hamburg two students from Russia were preparing for spiritual work – Jacob Klein and Henryh Lebsak. The latter later became the first chairman of the All-Union Council of SDA church in Russia. Later (after 1890), students from Russia studied in Friedensau. In 1903 Friedensau received 13 students from Russia, including seven Russians, the rest were Germans, Estonians and Latvians.
As we noted above, the work of God began in the Russian provinces of Bessarabia, Crimea, Caucasus, in the Volga river colonies. Then it spread to the north – to the Baltic countries. In St. Petersburg the spiritual work began in 1897, mostly among Protestants. Next year a congregation of 17 members was organized. In 1901 two congregations existed – a Russian one (20 persons) and a German one (50 persons). From there the three angels’ message was brought to Kiev (1902), and in 1903 the first group of believers (6 persons) appeared among German settlers.
Four years after the establishment of the first community in Crimea, the first general meeting of representatives of all Seventh-day Adventists in Russia was held. It took place in the Caucasus in city of Eidenhaines on November 3-6, 1890, under the chairmanship of Louis Conradi. This meeting was attended by over 100 representatives from the Adventists of different regions of Russia.
By 1891, by the decision of the World Union of Seventh-day Adventists, Russia became a separate mission field, and received the name of “East European mission field”, and Louis Conradi was appointed chairman. By this time, the followers of the Adventist teachings were already in the Volga and Don River regions, in Crimea, on the River Molochnaya, in Ukraine, in the Kuban region, in Bessarabia, in the Volyn region, in Visla and Baltic territories.
The third meeting of the Eastern European field was held on October 7-17, 1894, in the Caucasus at Aleksandrodar, and for the first time in Russia a service of ordination was held. Brother Henryh Lebsak was ordained in as a preacher. He graduated from a missionary school in Hamburg in 1890.
The Russian Orthodox Church was very jealous about the preaching of Protestants. They started following the example of Protestants, and from 1887 began to carry out their missionary congresses. A decision was made to take the children away from unyielding Protestants. Strict supervision over the lives of Christians was established. A stamp was put in all passports showing religion. Annual re-registration of peasants and workers was required.
All these years, Adventist missionary activity in Russia was done with difficulty, because of the strong oppression by the state church. Many ministers stayed in jail for months and years, and others were under close supervision of the police for years.
But the Lord saw the future, and before the First World War, He spread His covering over the Adventist people in Russia, giving them the opportunity to convey the message to all the corners of that country.
In July 1905 the Congress of the German-Russian Union Conference decided to reorganize the fields in Russia on a territorial basis. From now on, all Adventists living in the same area, regardless of nationality, were part of one of the same church association. This changed the existing administrative structure of the church, which had been established on a nationality basis.
All congregations in Russia were united in one conference and three missionary fields. This meeting approved the publication of the magazine “Olive Tree”, with the first issue being published in Hamburg. The Russian department was opened in Friedensau.
On October 17, 1905, the manifesto “On the improvement of public order” signed by tsar Nikolay II, proclaimed civil liberty. A few weeks before the adoption of that decree, the Committee of Ministers held a series of meetings, and despite the strong opposition of the Russian Orthodox Church, the cabinet called for the approval of the new law.
The decisions were made: unseal all prayer houses, introduce amnesty for those convicted for religious crimes, and to stop all criminal cases based on faith issues. A person would not lose his civil rights when he switches to a different faith.
According to the new legal rules Protestants obtained the right to register their community if the group consists of at least 20 people, and if all its adult members were given a “divorce letter” from the Orthodox priest. The elders of all congregations had the right to keep records of births, marriages and deaths. Previously, if you had not been recorded in the Orthodox Church, you were not a Russian person and had no right to be buried in the Russian land.
Restrictions were lifted for the adherents of non-Orthodox religious groups. The legislature allowed free transition from Orthodoxy to other religions. Training of ministers was allowed as were publishing activities. All believers were recognized as full-fledged citizens of the country. Exiling people for religious issues was abolished.
170,000 people who had been forcibly “converted to Orthodoxy” returned to Catholicism; 36,000 Tatars and Bashkirs returned to Islam, 10,000 people returned to Protestantism.
On November 6, 1906, the SDA church was legally equated with the rights of other Protestant trends. All this allowed Adventists to deploy activity in Russia, and the work was quickly promoted. The church continued to grow despite the difficulties. At the beginning of the 20th century Russia had three thousand Adventists. After the edict of toleration Adventists began to build houses of worship (prayer houses).
1907 at one of the congresses in Germany, representatives of the General Conference (GC) proposed to designate an independent Church Union in Russia. This proposal was approved at the conference in October 12-16, 1907, in Riga, to organize this Union. The chairman of the Russian Union Conference was Julius Boettcher, a German American. The authorities recognized him as an official representative of SDA church. The church had to get used to live under the roof of the state. It was unusual after so many years of persecution.
In the same year in Riga the Adventist tract society was established that began to print and distribute Adventist books, brochures and magazines in Russian, German, Latvian, Estonian and Polish languages.
In 1909, in Washington, DC in the United States the 37th session of the GC of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was held, which, for the first time attended by delegates from Russia, brothers Gede, Isaac, husband and wife Boettcher, and Lebsak. During the session, delegates from Russia had the opportunity to talk with Sister Ellen White.
But freedom did not last long. At the end of 1910 the Russian authorities changed their policy in relation to all non-Orthodox religious groups and movements. The 1905 decree on Religious Freedom was abolished. Numerous circulars of the Ministry of the internal affairs put strict limits for the work of the church so that it becomes impossible to have congresses and meetings. Although the work continued to advance, but its pace slowed down considerably. However, the crisis was yet to come.
In 1914 World War I began.
The Orthodox clergy, knowing the old organizational dependence of SDA in Russia from Germany, was quick to take advantage of this argument to agitate the masses and the government against the Adventists, calling them German agents. Such slander was not in vain. It caused suspicion of Adventists by local officials.
In many cities, meetings were prohibited, and in places where they continued to meet, two police officers were present, who, even during the sermon would suggest a preacher not to touch certain issues.
But there were those who did not agree to preach according to the direction of public officials. Persecution and exile in Siberia began again. Especially ministers of German nationality suffered from persecution. The younger members of the church began to be drafted into the army and forced to take part in military actions. And here came the crisis. That war gave rise to the phenomenon of Reformism.
Why the war was the cause?
Because the real war, which involved all the European countries, sharply increased the problem of military service and the observance of the Sabbath. Our church had not expressed a clear position about its relation to the war.
Most of the leaders and members of the SDA church, fearful of the threat of persecution by the tsarist government for refusing to go to the war, drifted from their old principles and went to war. Backslidden ministers began to teach young people and members of the church, that the killing in war was not a violation of the sixth commandment, and the performance of military service on Saturday was not a violation of the fourth one.
However, some brothers, no matter what the threat was, wanting to remain faithful to the principles of God’s law, as well as adhering to the historical position of the SDA Church, taken in 1864 about non-participation in military operations, refused to take up arms in the war. But, unfortunately, there were not very many of those.
As a result, these faithful Adventists were convicted and were subject to brutal physical violence by state authorities. Moreover, they also had to endure the violence from their former spiritual mentors and fellow-believers. Backslidden ministers exerted psychological pressure on these faithful brethren, pressing them to give up what they called their “fanatical” ideas. Ordinary laymen tried in every way to discredit and defame them, calling the faithful brethren “disgruntled elements” and “extremists.” Some of them protested. The situation worsened so much that many of the pulpits in houses of worship turned into political rostrums. Followed by a wave of excommunications of all those who opposed the church’s position. The Reformist movement began in Germany. A similar situation was observed in other European countries. But, apostasy of some brothers and church leaders in Europe did not mean the apostasy of the whole church.
Klibanov. The history of religious sects in Russia. – P.317, 318.
The Soviet period
In October 1917, Russia entered a special period, a path which no one walked before.
As a result of close cooperation of Tsarist Russia and the Orthodox Church, many preachers had been arrested and exiled to remote areas of Siberia and Caucasus. Immediately after the February Revolution of 1917, all the exiles were released and able to return to their homes and churches.
After the October Revolution, the Soviet government issued a decree on the separation of church and state. Now serving in the military could be an alternative for those who, according to their conviction could not serve in the army on a combatant basis. Complete religious freedom and freedom of preaching was granted. Such freedom was unheard of in the days of imperial Russia. Church leaders and members were praising God and admired this miracle. The preaching of the Gospel has yielded results beyond all expectations.
Brother Alf Lohne, the former vice-president of the General Conference, in his book “The Adventists in Russia” on page 85 provides a statement by Brother G. Lebsak: “It took 20 years for us to get 2045 members, but in the first 9 months of 1923, 2112 souls joined us. In less than a year were baptized more than during the previous 20 years. ”
Of course, experiencing that kind of freedom, Seventh Day Adventists expressed gratitude and recognition to the authorities and the government. At the same time, the enemy, using the ideology of militant atheism, gradually set the stage for a devastating shock. Obviously, the brothers were not even aware of the impending danger.
With the establishment of Soviet authorities in October of 1917, and with the publishing on January 4, 1919 the Democratic decree of the Council of People’s Commissars, “Release from military service on religious grounds” all religious organizations got the freedom and equality. “This decree provides the right for people who could not take part in military service because of their religious beliefs, to replace it with the health service or generally useful work [community work] or relevant work on the choice of the one who was summoned. In some cases, it permitted full exemption from military service without replacing it with another civic duty.” – V.A. Kuroyedov, “Religion and the Church in the Soviet Union” – 1982, page 80.
Although this decree did not last long, thousands of believers managed to use it. With the outbreak of the Civil War, SDA??? Church has taken position of not interfering in the affairs of the state. Virtually none of the members of the church participated in the Civil War. Great assistance rendered decree on exemption from military duty. (A.I. Klibanov, “Religious Sectarianism and Present time”, 1969, Page 189).
The Seventh Day Adventist Church enthusiastically welcomed the February Revolution of 1917 and recognized in the Interim government governing authority that granted the principles of democratic society, especially laws on freedom of conscience. After February 1917 exiled Adventists began returning from Siberia. The SDA church was in a hurry to regain lost ground. In 1917, the Adventist congregations held conferences in Petrograd, Kiev, Moscow, Odessa, Narva and other cities. Later, many Adventist leaders called 1917 “the year of complete freedom.” (G. Lebsak, “The great Advent movement.”)
Attitude of the new government to religion
On January 23, 1918 the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR issued a decree “On the separation of church and state and the school from the church.”
The decree contained a variety of positive aspects:
1. The church is separated from the state. The Russian Orthodox Church lost its official status. This one article inflicted a terrible blow to the Russian Orthodox Church.
2. Within the republic it is prohibited to publish laws and regulations restricting the right of religion.
3. Freedom of religion.
4. Indications of religious affiliation do not matter.
5. The church does not participate in the ceremonies of the state.
6. No one can avoid their civic responsibilities.
7. The religious vow or oath is canceled.
8. Acts of civil status are maintained by the government.
9. The school is separated from the church. The teaching of religious subjects can take place only in private.
10. All religious movements obey authority.
11. Forced Charges in favor of the church are prohibited.
12. Legal persons are not entitled to possession of the property.
13. All of the assets [property] of the church declared national property.
Protestants accepted the decree on religious freedom as a blessing.
According to one of the articles of the 1918 edition of the Constitution it was allowed not only the confession, but the spread of the Protestant religion. For Protestants 20’s was a golden decade.
The Soviet government, in the person of Bonch-Bruevich proposes to involve members of sects as respectable and hardworking people, to the building of socialism.
Lenin in his famous book, “What to do?” (first publication of a mature Leninism) drew attention to the fact that it will be good to use the cultists will and their attitudes, as well as the facts of their persecution by the authorities.
“In Russia there are many sects, adherents of which, according to their teaching, have long been eager for communal, communistic life. The basis of their desire, they usually put the words taken from the “Acts of the Apostles: “neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” Many sects are strictly conducting these precepts into practice and lived in communities, by congregations. All governments, all the power, all the laws in the world, at all times were against such a life; and sectarians in all the countries including Russia, for this reason were burned at the stake, killed, tortured, left to rot in prison, their congregations were torn apart, they were sent out to exile to different corners of the earth and persecuted in every way, but they remained firm in their convictions, and while dying, they bequeathed their brothers to continue the same struggle, the same community life.”
Lenin found most appropriate not to fight against sects, but to use them for his own purposes… “The main socio-revolutionary achievement of sects is that they build exemplary collective farms.” In the 20s Russia created a lot of agricultural communes that achieved success in their work. By the hands of the believers agriculture was restored after revolution.
After the revolution of 1917 the leaders of the Adventist took a loyal position toward the Soviet government, which boosted the number of their congregations. The attitude of the new government to the Protestants was different than to the Orthodox Church.
In 1924, after the death of Lenin began significant changes. Atheistic state [country] started a fight [struggle, war] with religion.
1924. 5th Convention took place on16-23 August 1924 in Moscow. It was organized according to all the requirements. There were delegates from all congregations. The government provided the building of a former seminary of the ROC. On the pediment of the seminary was the date 1844. The opening of the Congress coincided with the 40th anniversary of the SDA in Russia. After the Congress baptism was completely open.
All-Russian Union of Seventh-day Adventists was reorganized and given a new name: All-Union Federated Union (now called the “Union”) of Seventh-day Adventists (AFUASD). By the governing body of this organizational structure of the Church was elected the All-Union Council, headed by G.I. Lebsak.
At the convention it was decided to send to the Central Executive Committee of the USSR declaration explaining the attitude of Adventists to the government. It says, in part: “The doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist sensitive to the freedom of conscience of its members, thus it does not consider to have a right to prescribe for them to do certain things in relation to [concerning] this matter, and each member, in accordance with his beliefs, himself personally responsible for his attitude to military service, and the Congress does not prevent such members from carrying put their military service when their conscience allows them to do it. The responsibility for service they took the members should consider to be their civic duty and to perform it honestly and in good faith. “From the history of the church. – P.75, 76
Despite the fact that the decree on freedom of conscience was still in force and gave recruits the right based on their religious beliefs to replace military service by alternative service, Congress nevertheless decided that “we consider it necessary to participate in the alternative service, as well in the active service in the army… Seventh-day Adventists take into account [consider] the freedom to choose of their members and their conscience, so we believe that we have no right to give them advice on how they should act in this or that case. Every member of the Church, guided by their own conviction [beliefs], decides what his attitude to military service be, and the Congress does not prevent members of the church to serve in the army on general bases [in active duty], if their conscience does not condemn them for this. ” ( IPC, page 75 )
Resolution of this Congress prepared the way for the adoption of subsequent decisions by the All-Union Congress of 1928, on the basis of which it was planned by the authorities complete elimination of the church activities in the USSR.
It should be noted that the abolition of the decree about alternative service dated August 2, 1926 was explained [argument was] by the fact that no one else wanted to replace active duty in the Army by the alternate service (A. Lohne, page 101).
Behind the apparent well-being and apparent unity of vision and goals, during the 5th All-Russian Congress were hiding underlying contradictions caused by the fact that the Church, in fact, for several years has been separated from the world church body. Another fact was at play, that from the time of the formation of the church organization and up to 1917 all key leadership positions were taken by experienced, but foreign leaders; to their voices and to their proposals the local ministers listened unconditionally [without reserve]. Authority [weight] of the officials of the General Conference was undeniable. Due to changes in the political system, foreign citizens were forced to leave the country, and to some extent the Church was decapitated. Adventists after that recognized Henryh Lebsak as their leader.
Beginning from 1927 leadership felt the change in attitude of the leadership of the country, although 2 years remained till the time of harsh power of Stalin. NKVD established control over the church, which growing each year.
One can imagine the work of secret KGB agents. They began to work individually with each church leader, preacher, and every lay person, using threats, blackmail, and enticing promises in case if they accept their conditions, which boiled down to annihilation of religion.
In this environment, 6th Congress convened.
Soviet government decided that since Adventists gave up their principles and published in 1924, the above declaration, government should certainly demand more from them, and they managed to do it.
The 6th Congress took place on May 12-19, 1928, in the temple of Peter and Paul in Moscow.
It was attended by 83 delegates. A resolution was adopted, which caused a storm of indignation and fair bewilderment among Seventh-day Adventists.
The essence of the resolution: Adventists are required to carry civil and military service in all its forms, on the same basis as all citizens. It is quite clear that such a position of the church has been imposed on it from the outside. Many participants recalled as they were called before Congress and intimidated, and explained to them what NKVD wants from them.
In 1928, Henryh Lebsak, chairman of the All-Union Federal Union of Seventh-day Adventists, was summoned to the Department of Religious Affairs, where he has been dictated about what kind of declaration has to be adopted at the next All-Union Congress, if he does not want to lose freedom. (N.A. Zhukalyuk, Remember your leaders. – Kiev – 1999 – pages 92-94.)
A.M. Demidov in his memoirs of the 6th All-Union Congress said, “Such a point of view (i.e., the declaration of the 5th All-Union Congress) did not satisfy the public authorities, so at the 6th Congress in 1928 the agenda of which was imposed by the existing ruling regime, the leadership of the Church they require to adopt the declaration, which deprived the members of the Church of their God-given freedom of choice.” And the Declaration was adopted. – N.A. Zhukalyuk, Remember your leaders. – Kiev – 1999 – page 110.
If the decision of the 5th Congress did not prevent members of the military service to bear arms, when their conscience allows this, the 6th All-Union Congress of the SDA (which took place from 12th to 19th May, 1928 in Moscow, in the temple of St. Peter and Paul) excluded any possibility of the manifestation of freedom conscience, and took it upon themselves to prescribe church members to violate the law of God by performing military service “in all its forms on the common for all citizens bases.”
The resolution adopted by the Congress, “Based on the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments (1 Sam. 8:10-12 ; 10:25 ; Lk.20 : 25, Rom. 13:1-8 ; Tit. 1:3 ) where it is said that the authority has been established by God to judge those who do evil for the good of the righteous, and based on the decisions of the 5th SDA congress [convention] about our attitude to Soviet authority [government], 6th congress [convention] of SDA explains and declares that the seventh-day Adventists should give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to God and to serve in the army in peacetime and in wartime, fulfilling all regulations and ordinances relating to all citizens equally [in the same way].
Anyone who would oppose this decision and encourage those who shy away from [avoid] military service, the Congress considers such person a promoter of false doctrine contrary to Scripture and he resists [opposes] organization of the SDA. “(IPC, pp. 93, 94).
This congress also adopted a decision in which it was stated that in case of need”… AUCSDA can be eliminated by two-thirds vote of the delegates and representatives of the government of the USSR” (IPC, page 102).
Feeling the fear of being subjected to repression, almost all the delegates with its Chairman, once again, renounced their beliefs and signed the text of the declaration. Participants 6th All-Union Congress made this concession to the Soviet government in exchange for the promise of freedom, but they were cruelly deceived! By adopting such a decision Congress practically signed the death verdict to SDA organization in the Soviet Union. Soon the authorities of the Soviet Union used this decision of the Congress and eliminated the organization. All preachers with rare exceptions ended their lives in Stalin’s camps. Soon, many of those present at the congress, and a little later even Henryh Lebsak were arrested. As it became known later, in 1938, he was executed [shot] on charges that he was a German spy, since he transferred [conveyed] information about the work of the Russian Union to Germany, where there was a European Centre of SDA. By the beginning of World War II in charge of the church all over the Soviet Union was just one preacher, Grigory Andreevich Grigoriev. – From the history of the church. – P.93, 94.
How could it happen that the whole Congress in 1928 unanimously passed a treacherous decision?
Alf Lohne, who repeatedly visited the Soviet Union and met with many of SDA church representatives and is well acquainted with the history of the Adventist church in the USSR, in his book “The Adventists in Russia ” (published in 1988, “Review and Herald”) gives his vision about the Congress 1928 : “These solutions do not correspond to the universal view about the relation to the members of the church who refuse to serve in the army… this situation cannot be considered an Adventist position” (p. 105).
But why did this happen? Brother Lohne wrote that the documents available to him in the church of Russia do not give him a chance to find out why Congress adopted decisions which obviously does not correspond to the concepts neither of the church leaders, nor the church as a whole.
“We know that the preachers of the church in Russia had a strong faith, because soon after the congress, they marched boldly towards testings in prison and to death. Perhaps some unexpected, unknown to us the circumstances have pushed them to make the decision on this Congress “(p. 105,106).
Those who live and work in the Soviet Union, these “unknown circumstances” are well known. It was incredible pressure from the authorities, which our brothers, unfortunately, did not endure. They gave to Caesar what belonged to God.
What would have happened if the organizers of the congress would refuse [reject] the pre-designed programs? Probably, this Congress would not have happen at all because the authorities would not allow it [give the permission]. But the church in that case would have retained its purity before God and before all the people.
And what would happen if the delegates would have voted against this decision? Most likely, the thing that happened a few years later would have happen earlier, but the church would have been protected [shielded] from false teaching [doctrine].
These solutions added fuel to the fire of the reformists. The Reformists movement in Russia happened even before, but the decisions taken by the Congress gave [provided] them new and compelling documents. Much of the faithful discouraged Adventists members joined the reformists.
Resolutions of the 6th Congress gave the prerequisites [bases] for further split of the church. Faithful church members now were guided not by the decisions [resolutions, decrees] of the Congress, but followed the commandments of God and of their own consciences. Such faithful brothers were both in Russia and in Ukraine and God miraculously was leading them and saving them.
1929 was the year of intensification of the struggle between the Soviet state and religion. The resolution 2nd All-Union Congress of the militant atheists, held in April, declared Adventists, Baptists, Methodists and evangelicals to be [as] extremely dangerous religious organizations, the leadership of which acts as a “political agents and military spy organizations of the international bourgeoisie.”
Decree was also published by the Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR “On Religious Associations “, which greatly curtailed [reduced] the rights of religious organizations; in May 1929 has been changed an article in the Constitution of the RSFSR in respect to religion. The old phrase “freedom of religious and anti-religious propaganda is recognized [allowed] for all citizens” was replaced by another one: “Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized [allowed] for all citizens.” Official comments of the authorities to the amendment explained that from now on “preaching the Gospel and activities involving new converts to the midst of believers regarded as a crime against the state.”
Also in 1929 was closed all the church magazines and stopped the publication of all religious literature. In August 1929 general meeting of Moscow congregations was held, which under the pressure of circumstances, the decision was made to merge them into a single congregation, which at that time consisted of 330 members. Under the influence of anti-religious actions carried out by the authorities since 1929, membership of the Moscow congregations begins to decline and by 1937 less than 200 members left.
In 1929 there was a coup hidden from the eyes. After the reprisal [massacre, i.e. they got rid of those people] of Bukharin and his supporters, Stalin became absolute ruler. New Economy Politics (NEP) was discarded as a relic of capitalism. The course has been taken for the development of collectivization.
In January 1929 a directive signed by Kaganovich was sent out. It prescribed to consider all religious organizations the counter-revolutionary.
Document dated April 8, 1929 became the culmination. Decision of the Central Executive Committee on Religious Associations. This is the same legislation on religious cults by Comrade Stalin, which was effective for the next 50 years. According to this document, missionary activity and propaganda was prohibited. Now it began to sound this way: in order to ensure real freedom, the believers maintain right of religious confession and there is a right to anti-religious propaganda… It is forbidden: to provide material assistance to the members of the church, to distribute literature, to hold youth meetings, pastors’ trips and their activities. Under this legislation, the churches were free only to conduct the liturgy.
On the territory from Moscow to Astrakhan was only one active Orthodox temple left.
In the mid 30’s as a result of the persecution by the authorities, All-Union Council of Congregations of SDA ceased to exist. It was restored only in 1946, but in 1960 was again eliminated. SDA congregations had autonomous and semi-legal activities, and only in the late 70’s – early 80’s the revival of the SDA church started as well as of organizational association of Adventist congregations.
In autumn 1934 the entire leadership of the church had been arrested. Terrible persecution began. The goal of militant atheism started coming to pass – for the next few years to completely destroy religion in the Soviet Union.
26-28 December 1931 in Moscow plenum [session] of the All-Union SDA Council was going on, which allegedly took place according [by] the initiative of the reorganization working committee of 29 people, in which it was decided to dissolve the organization. Obviously that behind all this there was the old policy of militant atheism. All intermediary organizations ceased to exist. Single center of 5 people was formed a: Lebsak, Lvov, Wilson, Kapustin and Tarasovskiy. All of them will be repressed in a few years. Each congregation switched to autonomous, independent existence. In order to somehow control the church was established institution of about 17 authorized people. They formed the link between the leadership (5 persons) and the congregation.
Beginning in 1931 there was no conventions. All-Union session almost completely eliminated the legal organization of the Church in the Soviet Union. Church history is interrupted. It had been written only in the memories [minds] of the believers.
1929-1940 seven-day week was replaced by a six-day week, with the 5th working days and one day off. To find a job for a Sabbath keeper was nearly impossible.
Since ’30, many church leaders have been arrested. 150 preachers were arrested and more than 3,000 lay people. A wave of repression swept across the country. Congregations and houses of worship been closed; mass arrests of the active members of the church began. Soon in the whole USSR officially acting [active] was only one congregation in Moscow.
Number of repressed church members and ministers in 1937 exceeded 3,000 people, and of the 200 who worked in the USSR at the servants 198 were purged [repressed]. Almost all of the 29 participants in the last enlarged plenum VSASD last held in December 1931, had been arrested and convicted. By 1937, of the ordained preachers in Moscow, there is only one G.A. Grigoriev, who over the next ten years was the only representative of the spiritual leadership of the church. By this time, the authorities almost completely eliminated the system of governance Adventist Church in the USSR.
World War II began. Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. The defeat of the Red Army at the beginning of the war cooled a little the hot heads of militant atheists. Plan for the complete destruction of religion failed. During the war, the Soviet government changed its attitude to religion. 1941 was a turning point with Stalin’s attitude to religious organizations.
In the occupied territories, was freedom of religion [profession of faith]. Therefore, Stalin did a little indulgence in regard to worship [profession of faith]. Again opened the doors of closed churches, the people could pray to God for the victory in war. No more talking about the imminent destruction [elimination] of religion. The ideologists believed that the destruction of religion is a very long process. The main need was to protect children and young people from the influence of religion. Let the old people believe and go to church because you cannot persuade them. Even allowed to establish some form of leadership [governing, management] of the church.
But the true intentions of atheists still remained in force. The authorities continued to work hard to achieve division, and controversies that naturally formed after the decision of the Congress in 1928 very well have contributed to the differences. Those preachers who supported the decisions of the Congress, were promoted, their churches got registered in big cities.
During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with their country, experienced all her trials and tribulations. Adventists have contributed to the victory, while trying to remain faithful to their convictions and not to engage in bloodshed. During the war, Adventists serve in medical units, as translators, drivers, signalers [operators], military musicians, worked on the construction of military and civilian facilities, in mines and logging.
Beginning in 1942 in the Soviet Union with regard to the believers there has been a warming trend. The reason for this change could be negotiation with the United States and Britain to open the second front, one of the conditions of it was the requirement by the leaders of Western countries that USSR would stop the persecution of the church in the USSR.
Another reason that prompted Stalin to change his attitude to religion, it was his awareness of the enormous potential of the church to influence the population to mobilize all its resources to defeat the enemy, including material support. For example, donations only by Protestants who have lost a significant number of their members and property during the pre-war repression of 470 thousand rubles. Beginning in 1943, government finally gives up plans for the destruction of religion and the Church, which were actively implemented in the pre-war decades, and goes to the revival of church life in the country under strict government control.
During these years the policy of warming in the church-state relations extended to the Russian Seventh-day Adventists. From prisons, camps and exiles were returning home Adventist leaders and ordinary members of the SDA church.
Stalin’s repression and war broke all ties with foreign Seventh-day Adventist Church [abroad]. Our brethren abroad did not know anything about the situation in church of the Soviet Union. All communications were interrupted, but as the United States entered into an alliance with the Soviet Union in the fight against fascism, brothers began to write letters addressing them to the oldest known to them for a post office box in Moscow in order to find out anything about the fate of the church. Mailbox was constantly being filled with letters, but there was no official representative of the Adventist who could respond to them. The state had to create the appearance of freedom of speech and religion in the country, “where a human can breathe so freely.”
Once the house of brother Grigoriev, where he lived after the expulsion from Moscow, a car pulled over. Brother Grigoriev and his family were ordered to collect all their belongings and get in the car. He was brought to Moscow, showed him a small room and told to immediately respond to correspondence that was sent from abroad. All this took place in an appropriate facility under strict control. Therefore, Brother Gregory began working in Moscow. He was allowed to organize a small facility, and invite assistants.
Returning to Moscow, Grigoriev actively undertook the restoration of the Moscow Adventist congregation and All-Union organization. It was promoted by the adopted in 1945 and 1946 two resolutions – Soviet of People’s commissars and the Council of Ministers – about recognizing de jure of all existing de facto religious organizations at the time of. These decrees led to legalize some of the survivors after repressions and the war Adventist congregations and to begin working on the reconstruction [restoration] of the church organization.
In 1945-1946, the new congregations began to get registered. It lasted for only two years. After that, some congregations were registered, and in some areas they were not registered. It was a special policy of the authorities to create a split.
While in the early post-war years there was a certain revival and strengthening of our Church, and it was growing, then in the mid-50’s, i.e. Soon after the death of the president of the AUCSDA, G.A. Grigoriev, and the church started having dissention. It was divided into separate factions and parties. In many congregations, there were splits. The church still continued to grow, but could one possibly calmly look now at how it was literally torn apart by the pastors who could not agree among themselves? For many, it was obvious that in this tragedy, in all its acts, behind the scenes was the arm of a known State Committee.
Brother S. Kulyzhsky, remembering that time, said: “Unregistered congregations at that time were in a very difficult position. Preachers of the registered congregations were not able to attend these unregistered congregations, as the authorities did not give permission; and unregistered congregations did not have the right to appeal to their religious center. It so happens that the whole community of believers was divided into two parts – sons and stepsons. In this situation were unregistered congregations in the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan” ( IPC, page 124).
This situation of the church existed in the Soviet Union in 1947, when Pavel Andreevich Matsanov from Latvia was invited. He came to Moscow from Latvia as a Vice Chairman of All-Union Soviet Council of SDA (AUCSDA). After the death in 1952 of G.A. Grigoriev he assumed the duties of chairman of the All-Union Council of seventh-day Adventists. With a sense of great responsibility he accepted this heavy burden. He came to Moscow, with a lot of experience in organizing. The Latvian association of churches freely worked closely with the global organization and it was a well-balanced system. He used his experience reorganize the work of the All-Union Council. The congregations felt a big upsurge. The unregistered churches felt his support as did the families who had been repressed. as well as. The atheistic leaders found their plans threatened.
The authorities wanted to get rid of Matsanov as a leader by any means and they used their distinctive technique. They managed to unite on this issue with Matsanov’s deputy D. Yakovenko. They wanted him to be a leader in a way that would offset of Matsanov and look like a purely ecclesiastical matter. But the plan failed. Matsanov’s authority was too great, and Yakovenko was expelled from the church.
Then the atheistic government began to operate openly. In 1954, the authorities summoned Matsanov and took away his license as the head of the Union. They explained their action by the fact that in the Moscow church there were baptisms too frequently and that Matsanov was working with unregistered congregations and financially supporting the families of the repressed, that he organized the illegal publication of religious literature.
It should be noted that Matsanov was often criticized for supporting unregistered churches and the underground work. But this was not true. Matsanov was always for the registration of the church, but he was totally against that fact that the church cannot operate or exist without registration if an atheistic government without any reason refuses to register it. He defended the method of the apostolic church. When the authorities forbade Apostles to preach about Jesus, they said, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
Ministers under Matsonov asked authorities to register their congregations, and if the authorities refused to do it, the churches continued to operate without registration, enduring persecution and militia’s attacks on their meetings. They would take away Bibles and Christian literature. They requested permission to complete construction of the facilities where the service took place, but they were not given permission, then they would build at night. The interior walls were taken apart, and so the room was expanded, in order to accommodate the rapidly growing church.
When preachers’ certificates were taken away, they continued their work without these certificates. They were forced to work at secular work, that there was no reason to ascribe to them a violation of the law about parasitism. With joy they endured persecution, and exile for the sake of preaching Christ. The motto of the young ministers were the words of the Apostle Paul told to the elders of Ephesus: “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24).
No, these were people who shared the views of their brother Matsanov did not going break as some thought. Sure, they could make mistakes and do wrong, as we all can. But most of all and above all they loved the Lord and were listening the voice of their conscience, they were willing to suffer and sacrifice everything just to remain true to our Lord Jesus, and maintain a clean heart and conscience. (“On the thorny path”, page 156, 207)
Matsanov’s authority was very great. He boldly went along with his staff to face trials, prison and exile. Most likely, brother Matsanov was not arrested because his name was widely known well beyond the borders of the USSR.
In 1955 he received permission from the authorities to convene in Moscow on April 13-15 Union plenum, where Stepan Kulyzhsky was elected leader and P. Silman (preacher of a Moscow church) was elected as Kulyzhsky’s deputy. The Council consisted of Matsanov P., F. Miller and A. Paras.
After Stalin’s death, the state again reviewed its policy towards religion. In July 1954 the Central Committee of the CPSU published a decree “On the major shortcomings in the scientific and atheistic propaganda and measures to improve it.” It suggested returning to pre-war relations with religious organizations and re-starting “an attack on old religious ideas.”
By the end of the 50s, under Khrushchev hardliners in relation to religion finally prevailed. In January 1960, the Government adopted a resolution “On the violation of the legislation on cults by the clergy.”
It should be noted that during the time of Khrushchev’s rule the Soviet Union signed a number of international conventions on human rights, which were supposed to ensure freedom. For example, one of such Conventions stated that parents have the right to educate their children in the spirit of their religious beliefs, but Soviet authorities ignored that law.
In 1960, the Soviet government terminated activities of the central governing body of the Adventist Church in the Soviet Union. The All-Union Council of Seventh-day Adventists AUCSDA was dissolved, although its chairman S.P. Kulyzhsky did not receive any official papers on this subject. On October 12, 1960 he was told by the chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs. According to the direction of the Board, which was acting on behalf of the authorities. All church funds in the bank were subject to forfeiture. They tried to persuade the AUCSDA chairman to sign the act of transferring the funds to the state voluntarily. Kulyzhsky refused. On December 13, 1960 all church property, the library at AUCSDA, all written documentation, archives, and financial papers were loaded on a vehicle and taken away into an unknown destination.
When the government eliminated the All-Union Center, a spirit of confusion and misunderstanding of the situation reigned among the ministers. Those who still supported decisions made in 1928 believed that the leadership of the church should stop their activity. A letter was disseminated – a statement which compared the center of leadership with the pillar of cloud that accompanied the people of Israel in the wilderness. When the pillar of the cloud stood still, the people of Israel stayed and began to set their tents. So, when the Union Center ceased operations, so also God’s people must cease operations.
Leading preachers who thought differently, joined Matsanov as their leader in the USSR, and thus formed an unofficial center, which as far as possible continued its work. In 1964, the following preachers: Matsanov, Kulyzhsky, Silman, Vasiukov, Miller were in this center.
The former AUCSDA secretary-treasurer A. Parasey in Ukraine began to pursue a separatist work, relying on the authority of the former center. To some extent he was supported by Kulyzhsky, the last leader of AUCSDA. Thus, Ukraine began to divide and a longstanding dream and goal of atheists started being fulfilled. Congregations were troubled and split.
After the elimination of the All-Union Council of the Seventh-day Adventist congregations, the Moscow congregation began to play the role of one of the centers of the Adventist Church in those years, and the government clearly did not like the strengthening of its authority. In mid- 1961 the authorities attempted to split the congregation and deprive it of credibility in the eyes of other Adventist congregations in the Soviet Union. A group of believers was organized who declared that they no longer wanted “to worship” with the previous membership of the congregation. The Commissioner [representative] of the Council for Religious Affairs in Moscow at a meeting with the leadership of the congregation filed [showed] a statement of a small group of members of the Moscow congregation who wanted to organize a new “twenty” to bypass the pre-existing one. The head of the Moscow congregation pastor A.G. Galladzhev refused to support this initiative and he was deprived of the registration certificate and the right to minister as an elder in the Moscow congregation.
In January 1961, the USSR Council of Ministers adopts a secret decree “On enhancing control over the activities of the church.” This document canceled all legislation enacted during the Great Patriotic War and the first postwar five-year period. It planned six main directions of state-church policy for decades to come, among them: a radical restructuring of church government, the removal of the clergy from administrative, financial and economic affairs in religious associations. This was to undermine the authority of the clergy in the eyes of the faithful by the blocking all channels for the charitable activities of the church, which were used to attract new groups of believers and to block children from the influence of religion.
KIEV CONGRESS, JANUARY 20, 1965
Taking advantage of reduced persecution of religion by the authorities, the brothers managed to get permission to hold a congress in Kiev for the purpose of resuming the coherence of the denominational work by doing away with divisions among the preachers, to resolve the issues for further work and any pretext for disagreements. On January 20, 1965 the Congress was attended by 70 ordained preachers and 20 non-ordained ministers from various places of Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, and the Russian Federation. Among them was the M.P. Kulakov. Most of the preachers present were from Ukraine. Opening the congress, M.P. Kulakov prayed. P.A. Matsanov was elected unanimously as a Chairman of the Congress.
First, the Congress made a decision on the rights of the Congress and its powers. Here is an excerpt from the report. “Does Congress have the power to decide questions of preachers who belonged to former AUCSDA?” This was followed by the explanation that “Congress has the right to address such issues because among those present the majority is from the former AUCSDA.” A proposition to the Congress was made that the Congress has the right to discuss the spiritual condition of any preacher, regardless of his position or belonging to a former AUCSDA. This decision was accepted unanimously (protocols of Kiev Congress).
In the further work of the Congress decisions were made that condemned divisive work and a double play, some preachers were defrocked, some were found to have obvious sins, and it was suggested to disfellowship them from the church. People wanted to do away with the division and put in order all the differences in the congregations to keep a coherent work. But these good intentions did not work. Those who were affected by the decisions of the Congress and their supporters simply ignored these decisions, though they voted for the authority of the Congress. They continued their activities, creating a separate organization of the church, and they were divided in 2 groups – those that approved the decision of the Congress and those who did not. Those who accepted the Congress decisions, continued to cooperate with P.A. Matsanov.
The Congress in Moscow in November 16, 1967
There was the next attempt to do something to remedy this situation. At this meeting, attended by 14 of the leaders-preachers: A. Vasiukov, E. Klotynsh, D. Kolbach, S. Kulyzhsky, A. Likarenko, P. Matsanov, A. Pavlyuk, F. Melnik, A. Parasey, P. Silman, I. Himinets, S. Hrebko, N. Yaruta, and N. Zhukalyuk. Obviously, this Congress was attended also by those who were opposed to the Kiev conference.
The Congress has developed a district letter addressed to all members of the Adventist Church in the Soviet Union. In this letter the fact was highlighted that the USSR authorities eliminated the church organization completely and that now every SDA congregation exists on its own. The Congress urged believers to never refer to the former center, to its management, as well as not to recognize the Kiev Congress as a governing and decision-making body, never to interfere in the affairs of other congregations without their invitation and permission.
P. Matsanov did not sign this circular letter because he recognized the church as an organization that operates outside pressure from the government and without its dictates.
He continued to work with those who understood things the way he did. Churches in the southern part of Russia, in Caucasus, Siberia, Eastern Ukraine, Transcarpathia and many churches in the European part of Russia and Central Asia cooperated with him. There were also churches that were divided, and one part of the congregation operated under the direction of Matsanov. A similar situation was in the Moscow Church.
Missionary work was very widely deployed. In the Matsanov’s system were prepared workers, they would go to the cities, where there was no Adventists; they would settle there and gradually organize churches. By 1980, under the leadership of Matsanov were established both registered and unregistered congregations in the territory of the USSR from Arkhangelsk to the Caucasus, from the Far East to Kaliningrad.
And when perestroika began, and churches began to get registered, there was something to register.
This movement operated according to the rules of SDA organization. Congregations nominated delegates who gathered at conventions. There they elected leaders and the council, as well as the heads of certain regions. Periodical literature was regularly published, which was typed on typewriters, books were translated, sound recordings were published and slide films. All the churches were provided with these materials.
As the leader and ideologist of the movement P. Matsanov himself was brought up in the true spirit of Adventism and in the same way he was bringing up his preachers – to be adamantly loyal to the basics of truth.
Of course, there were some areas in this system by the organizational procedure, who still maintained their own concepts, such as the question of the observance of the Sabbath in the army and schools. But majority strictly adhered to the denominational teachings faithfully always and everywhere.
So, in spite of various restrictions, prohibitions and persecutions, the congregations in the Soviet Union existed and worked.
Formation of another entity which was parallel to P. Matsanov’s organizations in 1970
The Iron Curtain still separated the territory of the USSR from the world. Militant atheism in its struggle and its methods did not achieve the desired results and changed its tactics.
By expanding its connections abroad, this fight was to take a different character. Now all attention of atheists was directed at preachers, at leaders, at the influential intelligent persons in the church. They tried to re-educate them in order to make them suitable for contact communication with foreign countries.
At this time, the General Conference was trying to establish contact with the leaders of the church in the USSR. In 1959, brother Figure visited the USSR as a tourist. He was elected president of the General Conference of that time. In 1970 took place 51st session of the General Conference. In this session were invited Kolbach D. and M. Kulakov from the Soviet Union, but they did not get permission to leave. But still, at the end of this year Kulakov went to the U.S., supposedly on a personal invitation from his aunt. It should be noted (and this must not to be missed), that in this period of time no one could leave the USSR except he won the confidence of Soviet authority or had merit or special assignment.
Brother Kulakov had a meeting with the President of the General Conference, Robert Pearson, upon returning, he also met with P. Matsanov and other preachers.
From this point, MP Kulakov started introducing a new official organization. It coordinated all its activities with the authorities. He was a confidant of the authorities. At the meetings of the ministers he called preachers to be patriots of their land, i.e., the Soviet Union. He accompanied all visiting preachers from abroad everywhere. These guests more and more often began to visit the Soviet Union. Kulakov exerted every effort that without his presence none of the preachers, who had other views on the method of work, would meet with foreign brothers. Again name Demidov was featured, as well as his writings, which contained the same idea, which A. Lohne wrote about in his book.
The General Conference, of course, tried to keep in touch with all the brothers and was collecting material on the situation of the church in order to understand the reason for the separations.
The next visitor in 1974 was Theodore Karsich. At the time he was vice-president of the General Conference (GC). He managed to establish good personal contacts with government officials and convince them that the General Conference is trying educating their members to be loyal to the government.
In 1975 the 52nd Session of the General Conference took place in Vienna, Austria. It is clear that the leaders of the General Conference with a special intent had chosen the place of the session, to be closer to the Soviet Union, hoping to see the representatives of this great country. Their hopes were fulfilled. A group of preachers received permission to travel. A. They were A. Parasay from Ukraine, M.P. Kulakov, brother Kermas and sister Vali of Estonia, I. Oltynsh of Latvia. None of these invitees were involved in the Matsanov’s organization because every exit visa was controlled by security agencies in the USSR. After the 52nd session of the General Conference M.P. Kulakov began to move rapidly toward the status of head of the new, official organization of the church.
In 1976 he went to the annual meeting of the General Conference as the official representative of the church, though he was not elected. In 1975 the Tula Church proposed to elect M.P. Kulakov senior preacher of the Russian Federation. But the department of religious affairs did not give permission to do so until 1977. On March 12-13, in Gorky, a congress took place, where M.P. Kulakov was officially elected to that position. Council of Preachers of the RSFSR under the direction of M.P. Kulakov elected only May 27, 1979 in Tula. The official leadership of the church in the USSR started organizing inter-republic meetings.
Thus, there was an official, state-recognized church organization that operated parallel to the church under the leadership of Matsanov. This organization understood that the government should not direct the work of the church and tell them what to do because God entrusted this mission to his Church.
The official reconciliation of leaders of the warring factions in December 1976 was only the beginning, the first step on the thorny path of unification. They were clearing “blockages” from the long struggle.
In 1977 vice-president of the General Conference Alf Lohne came to Moscow as a tourist. This visit was the first step towards the restoration of permanent contacts between the Adventist Church in the Soviet Union and the General Conference. A meeting of A. Lohne with the staff of the Council for Religious Affairs made it possible for an official visit to the Soviet Union in 1978 by President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church, Robert Pearson. The General Conference made every effort to achieve unification. Brothers Pearson and Lohne met with leaders and preachers from both sides and offered them to join together and to form a united leadership organization with equal number of members from each side. It was the right and fair way. But this plan was not accepted by representatives of the atheistic government, which recognized just one organization, which they controlled. So, both of those organizations of the church continued to operate separately.
Shortly after the visit by Brother Pearson to the USSR he became ill and the General Conference elected Neil Wilson to replace him. After the General Conference was officially elected Neil Wilson in 1980, at 53d session, he came in 1981 in the USSR. During Saturday’s service at the Moscow Church on June 6, he stated that the General Conference recognized only one organization of the church in the USSR, which was recognized by the authorities. The next day at the conference hall of the hotel “Sovetskaya” Brother Wilson officially met with the P.A. Matsanov and with many preachers of his organization. He told them about the vision that the General Conference had, and invited them to join formal organization, which was recognized by the government and the General Conference.
It was a difficult time in the life of Matsanov and all the ministers of his organization. After years of persecution, when they were carrying Advent message in an organized and correct way, keeping a clear understanding of the truth, enduring unjust accusations and open opposition, repression by the government, prison, exile, deprivation of parental rights, and so on, and now to declare the liquidation of the organization that acted so harmoniously and was bringing such great benefits! Only a spiritually strong people could stand the test of faith.
Brother Matsanov asked Neil Wilson if the General Conference accepted full responsibility for the consequences of such a statement? The response was yes. Then there was a meeting of all the ministers of Matsanov’s organization, and the next day June 8, 1981 at noon, they stated that they fully submit to the requirements of the General Conference, presented by Neil Wilson. Thus the existence of this powerful movement was terminated, which had virtually ruled the church organized the work in the USSR for 20 years.
And what happened next? In the USSR, there were entire regions where the churches of Matsanov’s organization continued to work, the way they had been taught in the new organization. Representatives of the General Conference, in their negotiations with the Soviet authorities achieved that all the churches that were not registered got registered. All the events in the Soviet Union showed that big changes were coming. And the Soviet Union fell apart. Long-suffering Russia’s dawn of freedom finally arrived. Russian church organizations fully merged into a worldwide organization. Evangelistic campaigns began, thousands of people were baptized. Also all the preachers, brought up in the organization of P.A. Matsanov, found their places.
It is difficult to judge whether the General Conference was right, when it was put forward a demand requiring the elimination of such an outstanding organization under the direction of Matsanov. But, one we can say that it caused a big pain in their hearts. After just a few years in the Soviet Union the real union became possible (as advised by Bro. Pearson) and those who chose the path of no compromise could not stand aside. But in God’s plan there is a place for pain and suffering. And in those times strong people become even stronger.
In December 1990, the Russian Federation adopted a law “On Freedom of Religion”, which abolished the Council for Religious Affairs, and with it all the forms of government intervention in the life of the church were removed. Now, the greatest opportunity to preach the gospel was opened for the church.
Organizing the Church in Ukraine
Organization of regional (oblast) centers were planned after creating at least a temporary government of the Ukrainian republic. However, there were two reasons why the Council for Religious Affairs could not give their consent: first– complete reunification in the SDA church has not happened yet, and second – Moscow would not permit the establishing of the Republic Center in Ukraine, when such a center did not exist in Russia yet. In this regard, it was decided to form regional and inter-regional organizations and gradually to come to the republic center.
For almost two and a half years, it was impossible to get official permission for the meeting of a small circle of preachers that is why they were gathering informally by several people, discussing pressing issues. More regularly N.A. Zhukalyuk, A.F. Parasey and V.I. Prolinsky were meeting and when it was necessary they invited other brothers and were giving them advice how to solve problems locally. From time to time preachers of Ukraine were invited to the meetings in Moscow. At every opportunity, there were solving church issues in Ukraine. It was necessary to act according to the principle: do not as we would like to, but as it is possible.
Thus in 1978 – early 1979’s there were meetings of congregations leaders of a certain region in which they elected senior preachers. The problem was that, though the two movements were officially united, and in some places before the business meetings they held the Lord’s Supper in order to take away stress and get relief, yet each of the sides that were warring in the past, now in every way tried to promote and elect their own representatives. It happened sometimes that they would go home without electing the senior preacher.
It is appropriate to remember that, in the period of the unification of the Church, A.F. Parasey represented AUCSDA and the unofficial center (headed by P.A. Matsanov) was represented by N.A. Zhukalyuk. Although it was believed that two-thirds of the total number of Adventists in Ukraine supports the unofficial center, but negotiations and the unification, in order to avoid any pressure, was carried out on an equal footing, with equal representation.
The beginning of the operation of the Union organization should consider June 21, 1979. The two and a half years (since 1976) were a time of searching for ways to reconcile the parties that once had disputes between themselves; it was a time of creating a workable management structure for the SDA Church in Ukraine. That same day, at the initiative of N.L. Zhukalyuk, A.F. Parasey and V.I. Prolinsky in the prayer house of the Kiev congregations in 70 Yamskaya Street a group of preachers found the strength and courage to shake hands, to unite and start working in the same organization.
Not all was smooth and rosy. One could feel the tension in their statements. The brothers were evaluating and listening to each other. However, all set out to begin work together. The first question that arose after many prayers, who will chair the meeting? They decided it would be most appropriate to entrust this mission to a person who had been neutral one in the past, V.I. Prolinsky. N.A. Zhukalyuk was elected secretary. In order to hurt no one, they jointly set the agenda.
Almost at the very beginning the discussion was ignited by the violation of the procedure for electing the senior preacher in Kyiv and Cherkassy regions, and yet they recorded in the decision: “Given that the leadership of the Church should include representatives of the two different parties in the past, this election should agree to raise the issue of election of vice-preachers, preferably from the former opposition.” As we can see from this decision, “they did not break a lance” and started with concessions to each other.
In fact, though this meeting unofficially elected interim leadership, called the initiative group “for the organization of regular meetings,” which included: N.A. Zhukalyuk, A.F. Parasey, V.I. Prolinsky. Almost all were in favor of more frequent fraternal meeting like this. The brothers then still could not imagine that before the official election of the Republic leadership of Adventist Church they would have to wait for more than nine years.
The meeting approved a letter to all the SDA congregations in Ukraine. It also brought a stabilizing effect – Church members felt that a governing body had assumed responsibility for the further development of the work of God. The letter, signed by all the participants of the meeting, was to some extent the directive of their actions. Here are some quotes from a letter testifying to the spirit of the times: “In some congregations and areas there were violations the conditions of reconciliation made on 16-18 December of 1976. Some of them after confessing their guilt, continued to sin against their brethren, dividing them into “ours” and “not ours”… The spirit of unforgiveness continued to be cultivated, although in words they forgave each other many times.
In addition to the adverse events, it is gratifying to note the positive. Almost all previously separated congregations came together and now live together, praising God’s name. Slowly, but surely, the dividing line between the parties disappeared. Almost all the preachers and church members developed an aversion to separation… We unanimously came to the conclusion that there is no return to the past and cannot be and anyone who continues the spirit of schism [separation] and teaches it to others, is doing the work of Satan – the accuser of our brothers…”
Further there were recommendations for action. Here are some of them: “No matter what side in the past supported the elected senior preacher, we are calling on all congregations and groups to recognize him, and to work together for the glory of God, thus contributing to the strengthening of the Church… Senior preachers and their deputies to all congregations and members of the Church will be treated equally, irrespective of what side they supported in the past… There are still a lot of heavy, unresolved issues that hinder our progress… We are a very weak people and we need the strength of the Holy Spirit, which we hope to get through your sincere prayers.”
From the content of this letter, you can determine what was in the spirit of the Church two and a half years after the merger. On November 28, 1979, a regular meeting was held, which addressed a number of pressing issues, as well as elected three delegates to the congress of the General Conference in 1980: N.A. Zhukalyuk, P.G. Panchenko and A.F. Parasey. The meeting discussed the organization of a theological seminar-meeting for the purpose of discussion on this important issue. Again proposals were developed for the Council for Religious Affairs regarding the election of the Republic leadership. The option proposed a year ago was rejected by the Council for Religious Affairs. The new proposal was: “At the All-Ukrainian Presbytery meeting three equal preachers are to be elected, representing different in the past parties of Adventist believers, and two candidates. These five shall be the Council, or spiritual administration of Seventh-day Adventists in the Ukrainian SSR. All three elected persons receive registration documents of senior Republican preachers and they are to resolve together issues at their meetings, which have to be convened at least once a month.” Proponents believed that such a management structure could exist for 3-4 years, during transition period, i.e. before the convening of the congress and election of the church leadership.
However, opponents of the proposal outnumbered the supporters. They believed that such a “triumvirate” was alien to the church organization, and instead of the final elimination of the division it would establish it. Thus, they decided to develop a proposal that would suit everyone. At the inter-republic meeting in Moscow on June 23, 1980, which was attended by almost all the leading preachers of Ukraine they finally formulated a new proposal for the election guidelines and submitted it to the Council for Religious Affairs. The essence of this proposal was: after the separation of the churches in Ukraine leadership really needed to be a coalition government in the amount of 5-7 people led by the senior preacher, one or two deputies, a secretary and a treasurer. The distribution of members in the leadership might look something like this: two people on one side, two – on the other and one of the neutral; in addition, one has to be from “Southern field “, the second – from the largest group of the opposing in the past sides [former opposing sides].
It seemed that after the filing of the application to the Council for Religious Affairs, pending approval by the election of the Republic leadership, but months passed, from each meeting of senior preachers was written another application asking for this permission, but the chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs N.A. Kolesnik, referring to the high party office- the Communist Party of Ukraine – advised to wait.
The brothers had no choice, as to approve between themselves, without any official meetings, the co-chairmanship of the three brothers, namely N.A. Zhukalyuk, A.F. Parasey and V.I. Prolinsky. Over time all the participants of the meetings got used to them. After four years they become familiar in various state courts, which together decided church matters; and the congregations, with very few exceptions, have accepted the execution the circular letters signed by those 3 men. Thus, at the next national meeting of senior preachers on May 6, 1981, these brothers were informally approved as the co-chairs of the National Council of the SDA church in Ukraine. A little later the authorities recognized their temporary legitimacy.
As you know, 1981 was marked for the Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the former Soviet Union by big events. The unification of the churches in Russia had a beneficial effect on the eliminating the last pockets of division in Ukraine. The leaders of “South Field” turned to Neal Wilson, expecting him to support their actions, but the president not only did not support such an organization (because in the same geographical area there were congregations belonging to different regional associations), but also advised them to immediately merge with the general structure of the Republic management, which the General Conference supported.
When, General Conference president Neal Wilson after his visit to Moscow, arrived in Kiev in 1981, he was told about the specific kind of leadership in Ukraine. He smiled and said that he had not yet happened to see a chairman with three heads, but in our circumstances, perhaps it is the best way to go. He just advised not to delay for a long time with the “triumvirate”. However, such a system of governance of the Church in Ukraine lasted until 1988. Direct participants and performers involved in the governance process at the time, probably, will confirm: The Lord was with us, and the Holy Spirit led the ecclesiastical decisions. It was in this system of management that people learned to respect the opinions of others, consider their views and appreciate the principle of collegiality.
Particular emphasis was placed on maintaining the unity of the Church: “No matter what we decide today, what the plans are built for the future, we should not forget the value and importance of unity. Differences of opinion are allowed, but if you are guided by the prayer of Christ “that they all may be one” (John 17:21), then in any case, we will find a common platform.
In our spiritual home – the church – we will build together, supporting and strengthening each other. In a world of conflicting religious movements, often leading us to numerical growth, we must bear witness that we belong to Christ, reflecting the glory that Heavenly Father gave the Son (John 17:22).
In closing of the chapter on the more than 120-year-old path of the churches in Russia and the former Soviet Union, it is necessary to remember one thing: in our opinion, a very important decision of the Divisional Council of 18-19 May 1995 was made because President Ted Wilson, put this difficult issue on the agenda of the day, and this is his merit.
Official statements adopted by divisional leadership on these issues, removing the stigma cast on the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Soviet Union by the decision of VI All-Russian Congress (1928 ), which was adopted at the insistence of the political authorities of the time. Because of this, many sincere church members were lost to the denomination, which went into reformism. Because of the state policy of militant atheism, the church was not able to openly express its disagreement with the decision of the VI Congress, especially with § 14 of the resolution. Now, this breach was fixed – The denomination publicly acknowledged the mistake its predecessors made, and this statement will remain for the contemporaries, and for posterity as a very important document.
Ellen White wrote in her book The Acts of the Apostles, “Over time, the faithful began to look for faults in others. Taking up errors and unkind criticism, they lost sight of the Savior and His love. They became more stringent when it came to external rites, more concerned with theory than with practical faith. While earnestly condemning others, they did not notice their own mistakes, resulting in a loss of brotherly love. What is more painful, they did not notice this loss. They did not realize that happiness and joy had gone out of their lives… they were in the dark.”
As if summing up this sad chapter of history, a servant of God said, “the greatest danger for the Church of Christ is not the opposition of the world. The evil that believers nurture in their hearts is their greatest misfortune, and it in the most powerful way hampers the progress of the work of God. Nothing weakens spirituality so much as a brooding jealousy, suspicion, the searching and other errors in bad assumptions. On the other hand, the strongest evidence that God sent His Son into the world is harmony and unity in their ideas and in their inclinations “(E.G. White. “Acts of the Apostles”).
Comment by Richard Noel (English Editor):
As I work in the American and Russian Speaking world I find that the American church pattern has mostly degenerated into power structures even in the SDA denomination. Jesus is not returning for a denomination. He is returning for His Bride. His body is not a denomination or group of denominations. Until we focus on Jesus completely as our head we will not be part of the body. This is an individual goal. Organizations speak of it as if it were their goal. Let’s get so close to Jesus that all other power structures cannot influence us away from Jesus.
The purpose of God’s form of leadership (Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Pastors, and Evangelists) is specifically for only one purpose, preparing each believer for service. Everything else done by organizations is excess baggage and weakens the work of God by asking the believers to support the organizations. Currently, denominations have turned “leadership” into careers replacing callings from God.