Letter to the Editor

The articles [in the East-West Church and Ministry Report 15 (Spring 2007)] constitute a rather important set of themes to ponder seriously. The two papers on Russian Protestant conversions to Orthodoxy (Maria Kainova), and Russian Orthodox conversions to Protestantism (Geraldine Fagan), together with the piece by Evgeniy Yur’evich Knyazev on Russian public opinion becoming increasingly negative toward Protestants, are not only an important statement of what has changed in 20 years, but suggest reasons for that shift. Three comments come to mind: 1) Positive attitudes toward Protestants around 1988 had to do with the respect Russian Evangelicals had earned during the Soviet era and the public’s hope that more influence from them would heal the sickness in society; by 2007 Protestant tends to mean Western ways, i.e., the public image of missionaries, and hence scape-goating as social conditions are now much worse than they were in 1988; 2) Cases of the American cultural style of preaching that “dilute even the gravest moments with jokes” were the most obvious of many cultural signals that Protestantism is alien when compared to the feeling of “coming home” when Russian Protestants participated in the Orthodox liturgy; 3) Maria Kainova said little about the shift of the Russian intelligentsia away from Orthodoxy after too many unattractive encounters with obscurantist hierarchs and priests in the present Russian Orthodox Church, nor about the rather limited number that appear to have turned to Protestantism (Podberezky’s essays are an exception). Still, what comes through is that the nature of Orthodox worship and ritual fosters a mystical encounter with the reality of the Trinity and a more sacred experience of the Eucharist than Protestant worship offers (though less true of Russian Evangelicals, as Kainova notes). This seems to be true in spite of the clergy. But an Orthodox concern for a Christian presence in society is not commented on, in spite of the continuing ways Metropolitan Kirill and others keep making speeches and fostering conferences on the Russian Orthodox Social Concept statement of 2000.

Walter Sawatsky

Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Elkhart, Indiana