Category Archives: Orthodox

Evangelism on a City Bus – Russian Orthodox

“I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”

You don’t expect to actually hear those words. Everyone knows it’s true, but it’s never said. Certainly not as a means of identification.

Orthodox Bible

On the bus home from a seminar the other day, Nansi had a Russian study Bible on her lap. The man sitting across from her, a Jehovah’s Witness, engaged with us – easy enough when someone is carrying a Bible! You can read the story of that encounter here.

There had been four of us sitting in tight quarters, like a restaurant booth without the table. Sitting next to the Jehovah’s Witness was a woman, who I initially thought was with him. After he left the bus, since she had heard the entire conversation, I asked if she read the Bible. Immediately she answered, “I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”

[“Я Библию не читаю, я Православная.”]

In response I asked, “Are Orthodox not allowed to read the Bible?”

After an awkward pause, ignoring the question, she said “that guy’s not normal,” referring to the Jehovah’s Witness.

Below is the rest of our conversation:

“I come from a different branch of Christianity, and I don’t really understand Orthodoxy. What is most important in Orthodoxy?”

“To be a good person.”

“That’s only possible with God’s strength.”

“Sometimes I feel that way.”

“I know you might think that I’m also from a cult, we work with the Baptists. We can’t be good people on our own. You can’t be a good person. I can’t be a good person. My natural self does not seek the things of God. It’s only when God resurrects me, though Jesus Christ, that I can live.”

“Why are you here, in Pskov?”

“My wife and I moved here because we want to help people. We have some friends from the area who recommended it.”

“My priest told me not to help people unless they want to be helped. I’m old, I’m in my 60s, I’m tired of people, I don’t want to spend any time with them. People don’t have the same values today, they’re only interested in money.”

“Were you a Christian in the Soviet times?”

“I never thought of it that way. I sang in the choir at church. I was a schoolteacher and they threatened to fire me because of my church going.”

Orthodox WomanAt first we thought she was angry when she asked us why we were here. I think she was just generally confused, didn’t understand why we would come. Admittedly, it doesn’t make much worldly sense.

A standard, nominal Orthodox Christian, who never goes to church, would also say it’s important to be a good person. It’s enlightening, however, to hear that from someone who is a regular part of the church’s life.

She thinks the Jehovah’s Witness is in a cult, and he thinks she’s an unbeliever, but both of them are trying to earn their salvation. I hope she gives up. I hope she stops trying to rely on her own strength.

She knows who we are, and she knows where we meet, but the cultural baggage against Protestants is so strong that very few self-identified Orthodox are willing to engage.

Less than 10% of Russians have any connection to any church. Most Russians are Orthodox only by ethnic identification. To them all Protestants are “Baptists,” and they’ve been taught that Baptists are Western traitors who practice child sacrifice. Seriously. Most believe the first accusation, and some the second.

This is one of our greatest strengths as foreign missionaries in Russia. We’re not Russian. It’s ok for us to be Protestant – I’m not a traitor for being one. Russians can engage with us as a cross-cultural dialogue, not a negotiation with an enemy. The problem is, we don’t even have the Bible as a common foundation.

Do you have any experience in theological communication with Orthodox? Let me know in the comments!

Read part 1: Evangelism on a City Bus – Jehovah’s Witness

After Chernobyl, I Can’t Believe In God

Ukrainian Atheist

This week a friend and I were talking at Starbucks about our ministry in Russia and the history of Evangelical Christians in Russia and Ukraine. In the middle of our conversation, the lady next to us turns around and says that she is from Ukraine and overheard our conversation. We soon begin to understand that her hope for salvation is in her nation. Click on the video to hear about our conversation and the conviction of God on her heart:

Where is Our Hope?

I ask if she believes in God, she says that her grandmother did, but she can’t. Religion is a crutch for the weak. It’s ok for people to go to church, because they learn morals, but God can’t exist because of all the suffering in the world. “After Chernobyl, I can’t believe in God.” In her opinion, the disaster at Chernobyl was not an accident, but an intentional attack meant to kill people and lead to the destruction of the Ukrainian people and the Soviet Union. Why would God allow that? The only hope is for the people and politicians of Ukraine to bring greatness to the nation.

My friend and I told her that our hope is not in democracy and it is not in America. Our hope is in the living God who redeemed us in Jesus Christ – who suffered for us while we were still enemies. That the human heart is evil, not just some people, but all people. “I can’t believe, I can’t believe.” She stood up and prepared to leave. Visibly shaken, she kept repeating “I feel so guilty, I feel so guilty. I see my grandmother standing in front of me, scolding me, ‘Olga, how dare you!’

Believe in Your Heart and Confess with Your Mouth

Olga confided that she doesn’t usually tell people she doesn’t believe. She doesn’t know why she shared that with us, “I thought you were students of history, I didn’t know you were so religious! I believe in my heart that there’s no God, but I don’t usually say it. I feel so guilty.”

We told her we’d be praying for her and her son and invited her to the Russian language church where I am a member if she wanted to talk more about God.

Paul writes that we should believe in our heart and confess with our mouth (Romans 10:8-13). Interesting that she believes in her heart that there is no God, but she is shaken to the core when she confesses with her mouth. Please pray along with us that the conviction she feels will bring fruit.

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Apocrypha: The Angel Asks Three Riddles

Neat passage.  Let me know your thoughts on the text … and on the Apocrypha.

A bushel of wind

2 Esdras 4:3-11

…The angel continued, “I have been sent to ask you to solve three riddles about what happens in this world. If you can explain even one of them to me, I will answer your questions about God’s ways and teach you why the human race has an evil impulse.”

“I agree, sir,” I said.

Then he said to me, “Good! How do you weigh out a pound of fire? How do you measure a bushel of wind? How do you bring back a day that has passed?”

I answered, “Why do you ask me such questions? No human being could answer them.”

Then he said, “What if I had asked you how many dwelling places there are at the bottom of the sea? How many rivers flow into the waters beneath the earth? How many rivers are there above the dome of the sky? Where are the exits from the world of the dead? Where are the entrances to Paradise? If I had asked you these questions, you might have answered, “I have never gone down into the waters beneath the earth, and I have not yet entered the world of the dead. I have never gone up to heaven.’ But all I have asked you about is fire, wind, and the day that has just passed – things that you have experienced. Yet you have given me no answer. You can’t even understand things that you have been familiar with since you were a child.

How then can your little mind understand the ways of God Most High? Can someone already worn down by this corrupt world understand the ways of the incorruptible God?…”

Stalin’s Destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Some footage of the Cathedral Christ the Savior being destroyed on Stalin’s command.  The cameraman who filmed it speaks about how he thought it was great blasphemy, but couldn’t refuse the order:

God’s Charity?

I came across while looking for pictures for another of my sites:

Милостыня божья.
«Милостыня божья.» на Яндекс.Фотках

It’s labeled “God’s Charity.”

Such a beautiful building, and leaning against it, a man with serious problems.  It would be very easy to go off on a rant now about the priorities of the Orthodox Church.  It is a corrupt institution, with a lust for earthly power.  It deceives people into thinking that they’re saved if they pay some money and go through the motions.  It has failed abysmally to take advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to bring people to Christ and combat the moral decay and nihilism that is rampant in that part of the world.  That is all true, but it is too simple an interpretation of the photograph.

As one commenter said:

Впечатление, что храм при всей своей красоте абсолютно равнодушен к судьбе этого человека…

(I get the impression that the church, with all it’s beauty, is absolutely indifferent to the fate of this person)

That feeling is made even stronger by the fact that the church is surrounded by a sturdy fence.  Could this picture describe our church, here in America, or our spirituality?  Beautiful on the outside, but walled off to those who need it?

The church in America does a much better job with this, but there is always room for reflection and self-criticism.  And this picture should touch the hearts of anyone who considers themselves a Christian.