East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 7, No. 3, Summer 1999, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

News Notes

Violent Persecution of Christians in the Caucasus
On 29 June 1999, after 230 days of captivity in southern Russia, American TEAM missionary Herb Gregg gained his freedom.  Abducted 11 November 1998 in Dagestan, Gregg's captors cut off one of his fingers at the second knuckle.  Neither TEAM nor the U.S. government paid any ransom for his release.

While Gregg has been released, members of the Groznyi, Chechnia, Baptist Church continue to be taken captive.  In early August 1999 abductors raped and murdered an 82-year-old widow identified only as "Zhenia." According to Compass Direct correspondent Barbara Baker, the widow was the only witness to the 12 March abduction of Baptist church leader Aleksandr Kulakov, whose severed head was found several weeks later in the Groznyi market.  Also, the murder of Groznyi Baptist Church pastor Aleksei Sitnikov, taken captive in November 1998, has now been confirmed.  In a separate incident, a 70-year-old woman was beaten to death in her home the first week of August.  Church member Aleksandra Zaradniskaia was also kidnapped in early August, with captors asking $4,000 for her release.  Vitalii Korotun, a 23-year-old deacon, was kidnapped on 14 August.  His captors reportedly demand $10,000 to spare his life, and $100,000 for his safe return.  Korotun, who had succeeded the murdered Kulakov as pastor, had begun attending church only a year ago. He was one of only two men remaining in the church.  According to Herb Gregg, Christians are executed at a "killing camp" in the mountains.

On 17 July 1999, an armed party abducted Heiromonk Zakhariia (Vasilii V. Yampolskii), rector of the Groznyi Orthodox Church of St. Michael the Archangel, together with the church's acting warden, 26-year-old Yakov V. Riashin, and another church worker.  As many as eight Orthodox clergymen have fallen prey to criminal abductions in recent months.  Not a single Orthodox priest is now at liberty in the Chechen Republic.

Sources:  "The Brutal 'Evangelical Cleansing' in Chechnya Continues as Two More Christians Are Murdered and Another Two Kidnapped,"  Assist Communications, 24 August 1999; TEAM press releases of 29 June, 9 July, and 31 August 1999; "Chechen Kidnappers Demand Ransom for Baptist Deacon," CompassDirect, 15 September 1999; "Another Hijacking of Orthodox Church Workers in Chechnya," Communications Service of the Moscow Patriarchate, http://www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru/ne907261.htm. See also East-West Church & Ministry Report 7 (Winter 1999), 13.

Russian Orthodox Bishop Deposed
On 19 July 1999 the Russian Orthodox Holy Synod removed from office Bishop Nikon (Oleg Mironov) of Ekaterinburg.  Charges against Nikon reported to Patriarch Alexy II by Orthodox parishioners, clergy, and monks included homosexual advances against seminarians and monks, mishandling of diocesan funds, and inappropriate behavior during celebrations of the Divine Liturgy.  In May 1998 Bishop Nikon ordered a book-burning in the courtyard of the Ekaterinburg Orthodox Seminary for allegedly heretical works found in students' possession written by Fr. Aleksandr Men, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and Fr. John Meyendorff.  Western as well as Russian press carried extensive coverage of critical reaction to the book-burning, in part because of the high regard in which many believers hold American Orthodox theologians Schmemann and Meyendorff, and Fr. Aleksander Men, killed by an unknown assailant in September 1990.

Sources:  Svetlana Dobrynina, "The Bishop on His Knees," Nezavisimaia gazeta--religiia, 1 September 1999;   "Bol Tserkvi:  Otkrytoe obrashchennie prikhozhan Ekaterinburgskoi eparkhii [The Church's Agony:  Public Appeal of Parishioners in the Diocese of Ekaterinburg]," 9 May 1999, http://www.chat.ru/~pravdolubov/Letter4.html; "Who are You?  I'm a Bishop!" Russkaya mysl, 29 April 1999; "Open Letter," Vechernie vedemosti, 20 April 1999.  English translations of relevant articles are available on Paul Steeves' Religion in Russia website, http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews. An excellent collection of related Russian-language documents and letters is available at http://www.chat.ru/~pravdolubov/.

Editor's Note:  Widespread lay and clergy disapproval of the leadership style of Archbishop Spyridon of the U.S. Greek Orthodox Church also led to this heirarch's forced resignation in August 1999.  It is unusual in the Orthodox Church, with its highly centralized structure, for protests from clergy or laity to lead to the removal of bishops, who traditionally hold lifetime appointments.

Protestant Institute for Mission Studies
Barbara Kertai

A main purpose of the four-year-old Protestant Institute for Mission Studies (PIMS), Budapest, Hungary, is to facilitate and improve missiological education and research, both in Protestant seminaries and in other forums in Hungary.  The Protestant Institute's new library, dedicated 10 April 1999, serves as a regional center for missiological materials and resources.  The collection includes over 3,000 books, 170 periodicals, and over 200 audio tapes. The majority of the documents are in English (65 percent), with additional materials in German and Hungarian.

Since the main purpose of the library is to encourage missions among Hungarian Christian youth, a missions conference followed the library dedication. By discussing issues such as young people's involvement in the church, the call of a Hungarian missionary, and cross-cultural mission fields in Hungary, the conference was a symbolic act of "passing on the baton to the next generation," in the words of Dr. Tibor Fabiny, head of the library project on the board of PIMS.  At the conference 15 mission agencies, both national and international, sponsored displays, a joint effort of PIMS and Magyar Mission Link, Hungary's mission networking organization.

Uzbek Churches Registered
The government of Uzbekistan recently registered five Baptist churches, bringing the total to 20, reports Pavel A. Peychev, president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Central Asia.  Churches in Chirchik and Almalik are among the most newly registered.  Peychev says that the registration process has been going smoothly.

Source:  European Baptist Press Service, 10 September 1999.

Dr. John Bennett, president of Overseas Council International, Indianapolis, IN, died suddenly of a heart attack on 25 August 1999 at age 47.  Widely respected for his contribution to Christian leadership training worldwide, Dr. Bennett is succeeded on an interim basis by Dr. Charles Spicer, Overseas Council founding president.

Dr. Mark Elliot, "News Notes," East-West Church & Ministry Report 7 (Summer 1999), 15.

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© 1999 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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