Interview with pastor Petro Martianov
The basis of the Methodist Church is preaching the Gospel and feeding the people with bread
Interview with Petro Martianov, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Ukraine in Odesa
– I believe that there is quite a weighty basis for our talk. The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, was born 300 years ago. Could you please tell us about John Wesley and his place in the lives of Christians who choose his way to God?
– The very person of John Wesley was quite extraordinary, as was his life. He was the 15th child in the family. His father was an Anglican priest. His mother had a very big influence on all her children. She was a very religious person and gave each child much time. John Wesley always had his mother? s warmth and prayer in his heart.
That may be why the Methodist Church pays much attention to children and youth ministry. In my opinion, it can only be due to the effect of the mother, who had great influence on the life of John Wesley through her love for the children and through teaching them to sing and to pray. The founder of the Methodist Church is special also because he understood the experience of communication with God through his own personal experience. He sought to pass on what he personally experienced to the people who were around him. He is called «saved through fire.» Even the emblem of the Methodist Church has a cross and fire on it.
In childhood, John Wesley had an unusual experience. He happened to find himself in the center of a fire. Then he understood that God, who saved his life, expected something from him. He searched for his place in life for a long time. He studied in Oxford, tried to preach to American Indians, but it ended in his great disappointment.
About that time, John Wesley met the Moravian Brethren on board a ship on which he was traveling to England. They were part of an Evangelical movement originating from the town of Kirgund. He found out about those people and began to think increasingly about personal relationship with God and its role in the religious revival movement in England.
A «holy club» was established in Oxford. Its members were students who led pious lives, visited prisons and so-called entertainment places, and made efforts to call young people to giving more thought to God. When John Wesley experienced a conversion, and a deep one at that, he realized that the Lord opened the path of a preacher to him.
Remaining a member of the Anglican Church until the end of his life, he began to preach not only in churches, but also in markets, squares, in places where he was invited and where he was not expected. His experience may be seen, to some extent, in the experience of any Christian community.
There is a path of birth, path of growth, path of various problems. If problems are overcome with God? s help, the community or church grows and develops. Then one can see fruit. John Wesley preached a great number of sermons. He established orphanages, Sunday schools, and sobriety societies attached to Methodist churches. A number of enlightened movements were initiated. These movements have survived to the present. These are ministries for the needy, criminals and persons who have fallen into immoral practices.
The basis of the Methodist Church is preaching the Gospel and feeding the people with bread. The universal Methodist Church continues to develop on these two wings. It exists in 70 countries of the world, on all continents of the planet.
– The Methodist Church is also active in Ukraine, in particular in Odesa. Could you tell us about it?
– There is an officially registered United Methodist congregation in Ukraine [Odesa] «Holy Way.» These are words from Isaiah referring to the way of saints. In 1998 and 1999, a bible study group was established in Odesa, which developed further. During my visits to Estonia, Kyiv, and Sevastopol, I got acquainted with various Methodist initiatives, active in Ukraine and Baltic countries.
We view the year 2000 as most significant, the birthday of our church in Odesa. That is to say, we are three years old. On 23-28 November we will hold festivities dedicated to this anniversary. We hope that this year we will have guests, including the bishop of the Eurasian region of the United Methodist Church, Ruediger Minor.
In the meantime, we have established a community. We had various worries. But we are always open to communication with other confessions. Of course, we were not always adequately accepted, as with any new group of believers. I think there still will be many questions to answer. But the most important thing is that we have acquired a good reputation in the city. We participate in the Festival of Christian Songs and are members of the Evangelical Alliance, and the Spiritual Council of Christian Denominations of Odessa. We have our hearts open and are prepared for cooperation and joint actions where we are invited. The community in Odesa is not large. It includes 26 members officially. However, about 100 persons attend prayer meetings. Festive services on holy days are attended by more than 150 persons and there are no vacant seats. We advance confidently and assess the situation objectively.
We are grateful to the German Lutheran Church and, in particular, to Bishop Ratz, who, becoming a witness of our ministry, invited us. With his blessing we now have the opportunity to gather each Sunday in a prayer center.
We have very good relations with the Bell Tower of St. Michael the Archangel, which has a mission ministry to seamen. We have close and friendly relations with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, and the Christian Open University of Economy and Humanitarian Sciences. Members of our church study and teach at that university.
– The Methodist Church is actively involved in the work of the Evangelical Alliance and Spiritual Council of Christian Denominations. What is the importance of this unification movement, in your opinion?
– This will be an important participation in the wholeness of the Body of Jesus Christ. The Lord prayed: «I pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe.»
Being a pastor, I have meetings with many people. I am often asked: «Why is there no peace among Christians, why don’t Christians help each other, and so on?» I would like to say that these questions are not new for Christianity.
The situation has changed recently. I think that St. Augustine? s statement that first of all there should be unity, secondly freedom, and in everything love, illustrates the level of communication in the Spiritual Council of the Christian Denominations of Odessa. The Evangelical Alliance represents the Protestant side of the Christian world. It is also based on the principles of unity of Christians.
The desire for prayer together, discussion of social care for the needy, and civic activity allow the church to play an important role. The church has an active place. John Wesley himself repeatedly stressed that every Christian is a priest and minister. He should hold an active position with regard to sin. We should fight sin and not people. If Christians unite to fight vice and anti-social manifestations, it will be an important step.
– Many Christian confessions have already expressed their positions on the decline of moral principles of modern youth, taking Odesa as an example. There is widespread drug addiction, AIDS and TB in that city. What does the Methodist Church do in Odessa for the spiritual education of youth?
– There is a Sunday school attached to the church. Almost thirty children of various ages study there. We have a lot of families who have many children. We seek to foster appropriate moral principles in them. As for Odesa, one has to understand that it is a seaport, where all antisocial phenomena are manifested.
The Methodist Church signs all the addresses [issued by the Spiritual Council- editor]. We are establishing a chaplaincy center. We have people who had difficult and complicated lives and negative experiences. Praise God, their lives are changed and now they will convert others. We actively cooperate with the Christian Open University of Economy and Humanitarian Sciences, where there is a ministry center for drug addicts.
We take active part in social initiatives in Odesa. We have helped navy veterans, held concerts in an old people? s home, provided humanitarian aid to a children? s home. We cooperate with a center of individual creative development where there are disabled children. We also provide food parcels for disabled children who participated in a joint Christian camp.
– What is your vision of the future of the Methodist Church in Ukraine?
– I trust in the Lord, in the members of the Spiritual Council, in those who have become members of our church. I believe that Jesus Christ blesses our work. I see a good future for our church and more evangelization.
The word «Methodist» is important for us, as well as the life of John Wesley himself and his views on the nature of God and sin. Christ’s active participation in the life of our church is the most important thing for us. We believe that the Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is with us. He is among us. He blesses us in all our initiatives. We are extremely grateful to him for that.
Information about Petro Martianov:
Pastor Petro Martianov was born in 1955 in Odesa. He has lived all his life in that city on the Black Sea. He has three children. He graduated from Odesa State Teacher Training Institute. Now he is studying at the Methodist seminary in Estonia and at the theological department of the Christian Open University of Economy and Humanitarian Sciences in Odesa. He has experience of ministry in the Orthodox Church. He has been a pastor of the United Methodist Church in Ukraine since 1998.
Interview conducted in Odesa on 20 June 2003
by Ihor STOLIAROV