Perhaps no issue so crystallizes the differences between the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christians as does disagreement over "proselytism and evangelism." Evangelicals insist that they are mainly engaged in evangelism, that is, sharing the Good News with those who are not believers or are not active members of any church. They contend that the great majority of foreign missionaries are not "proselytizing" among the active and seriously Orthodox. However, Russian Orthodox do not accept this "evangelical" distinction between proselytism and evangelism. The Moscow Patriarchate insists that virtually everything "well-financed" Evangelical Protestants and Catholics do among native Russians is "proselytism," since Orthodoxy is the historic faith of the Russian people and most have at least been baptized as infants. The Russian Orthodox Church believes that in light of the more than seven decades of Communist oppression and the resulting weakened state of the Russian Orthodox Church, the truly civil and Christian thing for non-Orthodox foreign Christians to do would be to support the Orthodox materially, or at least stand aside and let the Orthodox Church regain its strength. Many Evangelicals respond that the needs of those without Jesus Christ are simply too great to ignore, despite the demands of the Orthodox to leave Russia.
What is often absent in consideration of these issues is a full and balanced presentation of the historical background and contemporary scene regarding the religious landscape of Russia. Into this void comes the excellent compendium of essays and articles edited by John Witte, Jr., and Michael Bourdeaux--Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia: The New War for Souls.
John Witte is a noted legal and human rights scholar who directs the Law and Religion Program at Emory University. Michael Bourdeaux is regarded as the foremost authority in the world on religion in the Soviet Union and Russia. He is the founder and former director of Keston Institute, Oxford, England. Much of the research contained in this detailed volume was produced as a result of a three-year project on proselytism worldwide sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Following a very competent introduction by John Witte surveying the topic, the rest of the book is divided into three main parts, with contributions from highly respected authorities representing a variety of perspectives. Part One deals with "Religious Perspectives" and provides excellent historical sections dealing with the Orthodox Church and foreign Christians (Philip Walters) and the positive role of the Orthodox Church in recent historical events in the former Soviet Union (James Billington). The perspective of the Orthodox hierarchy on foreign missionaries is shared (Metropolitan Kirill), as is an Evangelical Protestant perspective (Mark Elliott and Anita Deyneka). There are important articles on interreligious relations (Aleksandr Shchipkov), Catholicism and Russia (Sergei Filatov and Lyudmila Vorontsova), Muslims and proselytism (Donna Arzt), relations between Judaism and Russian Orthodox (Yuriy Tabak), Seventh-day Adventists (Mikhail Kulakov), and recent charitable activities in Russia (Michael Bourdeaux).
Part Two focuses on "Legal Perspectives" by giving an historical survey of church and state in Russian history (Firuz Kazemzadeh), a thorough analysis of the new 1997 law on "Freedom of Conscience" (T. Jeremy Gunn), a Western legal scholar's defense of special privileges for the Russian Orthodox Church (Harold Berman), and a survey of federal and provincial legislation dealing with religious freedom in Russia (Lauren Homer and Lawrence Uzzell).
Part Three, "Signposts for a New Way," presents recommendations to American missionaries from an American convert to Orthodoxy (Lawrence Uzzell), as well as proposed guidelines from an American Evangelical missionary (Anita Deyneka). This fascinating and informative book contains a wealth of material on an important topic for all who care about the future of Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, Christian missions, and genuine Christian ecumenism. The problems and difficulties presented cannot be easily untangled, but it is certain that the book itself makes a major contribution towards a more informed understanding of these important issues.
Kent R. Hill, a specialist in Russian church history and author of The Soviet Union on the Brink, has taught and lectured in Russia. He has been president of Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, MA, since 1992.
Excerpt reprinted with permission from Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity 13 (March 2000): 35-36.
Volobaev, Aleksei. Kak vyzhit pravoslavnomu predprinimateliu v sovremennom rossiiskom biznese: tsel i metod [How an Orthodox Businessman Can Survive in Contemporary Russian Business: Goal and Method]. Moscow: Izdatelstvo Pravoslavnogo Bratstva Sviatitelia Filareta Mitropolita Moskovskogo, 1997. 112 pages. Reviewed by Olga Loukmanova.
Does business always involve theft, deceit, and greed? What about business in contemporary Russia, where all the power seems to belong to the mafia and selfish bureaucrats? Can a Christian ever become a businessman? Can one honestly strive for profit and success, and at the same time remain a person of faith and integrity? Aleksei Volobaev, a faithful Orthodox believer and a successful Russian businessman, tries to answer these and other questions in his witty and practical book. He honestly addresses the chaos and sinfulness of the contemporary Russian economy and possible difficulties that a believer may encounter as an entrepreneur. However, he is absolutely certain that it is possible for a Christian to be a businessman--and a good businessman at that, the kind so desperately needed in a country torn by greed and egotism. Volobaev's work, which takes a practical, common-sense approach, is clearly the result of extensive experience and careful thought. The author demonstrates excellent knowledge of the field and the specificity of the Russian environment and business mentality. His book is full of vivid images, simple examples, and reasonable advice. Volobaev treats everyday business practices and strategies as well as the moral issues involved. Certain rough edges (such as an idealization of the traditional Russian character and rash judgments about American spirituality) are more than compensated by the respectful and friendly tone of the book, references to Scripture, and the inclusion of commentaries written by the spiritual mentor of the author, an Orthodox priest. The volume is not a theology of work, but rather a helpful guide for Christians working in business or considering a business vocation.
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