When a Brother Doesn’t Hear His Brother: Post-Maidan Problems in Relations between Ukrainian and Russian Protestants
The sociopolitical events in Ukraine are having practical consequences not only in politics but also in the spiritual realm. In particular, a very strange relationship has developed between Russian Protestants and their Ukrainian brothers. Russian Evangelical Christians for the most part supported the Kremlin's policy on EuroMaidan and condemned the Ukrainian Evangelists’ participation in it. When the Ukrainians invited their Russian colleagues to come to Kyiv in order to see how things really are, the Russian Protestant leaders refused. Instead, they issued a rather neutral statement on the war and the annexation of Crimea, in which they did not condemn Russian aggression. Information was shared on social networks that Russian Protestants are ready to take control of the community in Crimea.
The Ukrainian brothers more than once turned toward Moscow and the Protestants in Russia – initially to explain the situation, and then to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. In particular, the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine issued a letter in this regard, which was adopted at a meeting on March 14.
In addition, the Ukrainian Interchurch Council, which brings together young Protestant churches, on March 19, sent an appeal to Russia and brothers from the CIS, emphasizing that “Ukraine is not wielded by the so-called ‘gang of Banderites and fascists,’ that there is no obvious oppression along ethnic, linguistic, political, or religious lines, including no mass persecution of Russians, Jews, and other minorities.”
To find out the reasons, possible motivations, and details of the situation, we turned to the Ukrainian pastors who directly negotiated with their Russian co-religionists. We received no response from the Russian side.
Anatoliy Kaliuzhnyi: We don’t support holding meetings in resorts
I organized a meeting with all the Protestants. It was attended by Ryakhovskyi, head of the Pentecostals and Charismatic churches, evangelical Christians, the Protestant Council of Churches. I had conversations with their representatives. They first offered to do it in Moscow with the participation of a representative of the State Department of Russia, who would give us answers to all our questions. And we understood what sort of meeting that would have been. Therefore, after consulting with the heads of our churches, in particular, with Mykhailo Panochko, Vyacheslav Nesteruk, and other leaders, we decided unanimously that the meeting should be held in Ukraine, as the myths of Russian propaganda would be embodied in life, in their minds, namely on Banderites, anti-Semitism, and so on. It would be better to see them here, so that everyone could see the situation firsthand.
I suggested that Mykhailo Cherenkov, a positive man and a Russian national, organize the meeting – such a person could be trusted. The Russian side learned of his candidacy and categorically refused since he was involved in the Maidan. I was shocked. At the same time they suggested Vladimir Samoilov. I told them that he is not a cleric, and that he once called himself a politician. I know him, I had many discussions with him, I have mixed feelings about him. Samoilov represents the layer between Christian structures and the political representation of Russia. I told them: “This man is not the right man to lead the negotiations if you want dialogue, he will embody the policy of the Kremlin.”
What do they do? Knowing that I know him and a lot about him, the leaders of Russian churches start to call other members of the denominations and say that Samoilov will come so that he can agree on the organization of the meeting. Then at our board meeting, I told them what I know about him. Everyone supported me and wanted to look for another candidate. Two hours after the conversation Samoilov called, and I explained to him that we need someone who will seek the truth and try to be objective.
Another terrible thing was what Samoilov was supposed to take to us with him. After studying the problem, the church leaders flatly refused to come to Ukraine. Instead, they wanted to meet in Turkey or in Montenegro – they could relax somewhere on the beach and talk a bit about what's going on there in the Ukraine. I strongly raised the issue that when war is declared because of the threat from Russia, and there is mobilization, we will call for fasting and prayer – it is morally demeaning to do so.
In parallel with these talks, I am speaking with other Russian pastors, for example, from the Evangelical Alliance of Russia. If the upper echelon of the Protestant movement in Russia is quite corrupt in terms of politics and it is compared to the Kremlin, we will have to move to another level of spiritual leaders – I feel they understand us, they pray for us, and they are ready for dialogue, but it will be a different kind of dialogue. We are trying to arrange a meeting with them, but clearly in Russia there is a strong propaganda machine. On the other hand, Putin managed to take control over spiritual circles, they are not allowed to voice a different position that that of the Kremlin’s official one, or else it will cost them greatly.
At a meeting, the Protestant Council of Ukraine decided to call on all churches to fast and pray, and on March 16 on all the Maidans, in all the churches, to hold a joint prayer. We also had a church assembly – we understand that it's the first thing we can do. At the same time we understand that we must mobilize the army, increase its funding, but we have to have a spiritual foundation. I am sure that Putin does not act on his own. Ukraine has become a symbol of spiritual awakening, and a normal person cannot do all those things, so I am convinced that enormous forces of evil are working together with him. This struggle is on the spiritual level. Now is the time for Ukraine and for us to realize that all the bloodshed means that we need take responsibility, repent before God, and move on.
Currently, the Russian Evangelical Alliance is discussing the possibility of traveling to Ukraine, and we have made it clear that we do not support holding a meeting in a resort. Currently, we are talking with the leader of the alliance – Sergey Vdovin. He seems to me to be very sincere, now it all depends on what they decide at the group level.
Mykhailo Cherenkov: Protestant Churches Will be Ukrainian, Not Soviet
I think our Moscow brothers wanted to meet on their territory and impose their agenda. Meeting in Moscow with the Ukrainian delegation would be very symbolic: Ukrainians came to consult with their elder brother. Whatever reason they had for refusing, it looks bad. Now Ukraine is going through hard times, and if the Russian church leaders came to Kyiv, their very presence would support us. If they demand we go to them, it is not solidarity with the victims, but the strong blackmailing the weak.
Instead, Vladimir Samoilov – “permanent representative” in the advisory council of the Protestant churches. Who or what does he represent? I think he represents the mainstream of public policy in the area of the church. He knows the situation in Moscow, but does not know the Ukrainian one, so it will be difficult for him in Ukraine.
Also at the meeting of the Ukrainian Protestant Council, on March 14 an appeal was issued to the churches calling on them to hold Prayer Assemblies throughout Ukraine for peace and unity. In addition, the Protestants condemned the Russian aggression.
The differences between us and our brothers from our neighboring country have always existed. But in 2000 they began to escalate. Russia started to become neo-totalitarian. Ukraine continued to fight for democracy. The bitterest conflicts took place during the “revolutions” of 2004 and 2013-2014 – some focused on loyalty to the government, others on freedom and truth.
There are currently no concrete plans for future action. Protestantism is diverse, to unite all is difficult. But it is clear that Protestants have experienced their Maidan and will be with the Ukrainian people. They will be a Ukrainian, not Soviet church.
Mykhailo Panochko: There Is No Fraternal Spirit
The arrangement of the meeting with Russian Protestants went through Anatolia Kalyuzhnyy, senior pastor of the church “New Life.” No one approached me personally. I heard from him that they want to hold a meeting. Then we hear that some of them are ready to go, but some are afraid or do not want to go. Instead, they offer a neutral party for the negotiations, Turkey. But our position is clear: if you want to know what is happening, come here, we will show you everything, explain, so you have first-hand information, not distorted information from the Russian media. And we regret that they refused, but it’s their matter. It seems to me that they are under strong pressure and not independent in their actions.
If a person has a weak position and faith, then his behavior, speech, character, and attitude will be weak. I truly believe that it is time "X,” which tests our spiritual structure. Each person is building something, as Christ said, but one builds on stone, and another on sand. These houses stand until there are trials, then the house on the sand will fall. If there is a foundation of faith, regardless of the government, winds, and the system, we stand on God's Word, which is unchanging and true. I have the right to say so, because I met several times with former President Viktor Yanukovych and we, members of the AUCCRO, told him the truth, which I’m sure none of the Russian leaders would dare say to their leader.
Yanukovych was unpleasant, he felt uncomfortable, but restrained himself so as not to express a negative reaction. But we spoke to him in a fatherly manner, as ministers of God, without pomposity, arrogance, or pressure. We advised him, we asked him, we told him the truth. And I have the right to judge, I have the right to come to the conclusion that, unfortunately, the leaders of the evangelical associations of Russia, which is clear from their letters and appeals, do not have a clear position. They are afraid to call a spade a spade. They should have made the first statement about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Second, that the events in Ukraine should not incite hatred, contempt, or ridicule of Ukrainians. For they are a separate family, a separate people. And now we have to debunk the false dogma that has been imposed for centuries that they are our brothers. There is no fraternal spirit here, they once again showed their true face. So I think it is better for the leaders to be silent than to make such statements that do not define anything.
I cannot condemn anyone or incite them into action, but when there is fear in your heart, it is better to be silent and pray, not to cast a shadow, we have not interfered in the affairs of other countries. And for some reason Ukraine burns, hurts, and itches for everyone, and who is not lazy accuses. And false information spreads throughout the world.
We have a spiritual advantage because we did a lot of good for Russia. Hundreds of our missionaries went to empty places in the vast expanses of Russia. They preached to the people, saved them, built houses of prayer. From Tambov to Magadan Ukrainians opened thousands of churches where people heard the Good News, returned to God, became honest citizens of Russia. Therefore, the Ukrainian people’s spiritual contribution to Russia is huge, but Russia did not and does not appreciate it. And I see a great sin of ingratitude. For the good they attacked like an armada, clanging arms and frightening people. The second factor is that the Ukrainian people never revolted in Russia, they did stand up against the government, on the contrary they improved the economy. And even the spiritual assistance which they brought was not appreciated. Our missionaries traveled to the Chukchi and Nenets regions, through the snow, because there people were dying from alcohol. They live until 40 because they are only brought vodka and all their products are taken away. Ukrainians bring them the Gospel, and in it love for all people.
Remember what Peter the Great, one of the most powerful leaders of Russia, once said about the Ukrainian people: “They, like busy bees, give the Russian state the best honey for the mind, and the best wax for Russian enlightenment, but they have a stinger.” They decided not to have us as good neighbors, they chose a different path, but forgot one important thing – that there is a God in heaven, who appoints and removes people. They never mention it, but this is their biggest strategic mistake, and so the end is lamentable. This indicates their cultural, spiritual, political level. We hope the people in Russia wake up, remove their veil of dangerous euphoria, which the German people suffered in the years 1933-1939, when millions were captivated, cried from joy when Hitler came to power. But then no one saw the extremities, the millions of corpses sown across numerous European countries. We pray for the peace and welfare of the people of Russia in church, during religious assemblies throughout Ukraine, we pray for all Christians in Russia, so they take the correct position of faith, truth, and love.
Taras Diatlyk: I don’t criticize because they could have remained silent
I don’t criticize the official statements of the evangelical church alliances of Russia (carefully examining their content) as much as some other Ukrainian Baptists for several reasons. Firstly, because I know that most church ministers are under the watchful eye of some departments of state security. Many people, knowing what's going on in Ukraine (especially those we call “evangelists,” originally from Ukraine), have a very difficult choice: either openly express their views and be “deported” (in the literal and figurative sense), or not to make statements (but like certain things on Facebook), to remain in their place and continue to spiritually feed the church.
Second, judging from the official statements of the Russian Baptists, I think they don’t fully realize the role of the Ukrainian evangelical Christians, whom God has used as a deterrent against violence in the social protest movement as they prayed day and night, fasted and testified to the people and the world of Christ.
Thirdly, I think that the official statement of the Russian evangelical Christians did not consider the official statements of the unions of Baptists and Pentecostals and other evangelical groups and churches in Ukraine. I think February 19 could have ended up much bloodier if not for the peacekeeping and prayer presence of Christians in the hottest spots in our country. These Christians are Ukrainians worthy of our prayers, not condemnation.
Fourth, the context rigidly imposes its stamp on the statements from both the Ukrainian and Russian sides. And we do not avoid it. But I am grateful to God that one of the leaders of the evangelical Russian Christians, Yuriy Sipko, was able to express the opinion of many Baptists in Russia, clearly, without regard to politicians, defining clear biblical values in the appropriate context. It gives me hope that we can find a better understanding if we continue a fair open dialogue (and not a monologue). At least, I pray for this. After all, things in Moscow are more complicated than in Ukraine. Therefore, I find the statements that have been made rather tolerable. After all, they could have remained silent. Someone might say that it would be better to keep silent. But I think that in this case it is better at least say something (and hear the reaction of the Ukrainian brothers) than nothing at all. But it's my own personal opinion. Perhaps many don’t agree with me.