Through the preaching of Lord Radstock of England, a significant spiritual movement took place among the Russian aristocracy in the late nineteenth century. Vasiliy Aleksandrovich Pashkov (1831-1902), Colonel of the Imperial Guard and one of the wealthiest members of the Russian aristocracy, dedicated his life to Christ as a result of Radstock's preaching in 1874. Pashkov soon became influential in the movement and assumed leadership upon Radstock's departure from Russia in 1878. Under Pashkov's direction, until his banishment in 1884, the new movement expanded across rigid social divides, influencing peasants and princes. It also expanded geographically, reaching from St. Petersburg to Sakhalin Island in the Far East. Pashkovite ministries included large evangelistic gatherings, private meetings for prayer and teaching, and hospital and prison visitation. Social outreach included soup kitchens, homeless shelters, schools, hospitals, and piecework to support poor women. The movement's large, privately funded publishing enterprise produced and distributed over 200 booklets and tracts at low prices.
While initially considering "Pashkovites" harmless, the Russian Orthodox Church soon came to fear them, and with the appointment of Konstantin Pobedonostsev as chief procurator of the Holy Synod in 1880, serious oppression began. In 1884, having ignored orders not to invite believers from across the empire for an All-Russian Congress, Colonel Pashkov and his associate, Count Modest Modestovich Korff, were banished from Russia, and their Society for the Encouragement of Spiritual and Moral Reading was closed. Yet their influence remained as believers continued to meet. Russian Evangelical Christians-Baptists today point to the Pashkovite awakening as an important part of their heritage.
What Can We Learn?
As during Pashkov's lifetime, tendencies today remain either to dismiss Pashkovite activity as irrelevant and short-lived or to idolize Pashkov and his followers. While either extreme is inaccurate, both national and foreign Evangelicals in the former Soviet Union can learn from both the positive and negative experiences of the Pashkovites. Several areas stand out in which Pashkovites excelled and from which many relevant lessons may be drawn.
Social and Ethnic Unity
Brotherhood among ethnic groups and social classes was a defining factor of the Pashkovite movement. In stark contrast to the social norms of the time, the unity displayed across class divides, perhaps more than any other factor, attracted newcomers to the movement, if at first purely out of curiosity. In the nineteenth century servants did not socialize with masters, nor peasants with princesses, and precisely for that reason Pashkovite meetings became the talk of the town. V. G. Pavlov described the brotherhood felt at the 1884 congress, at which "a peasant dined next to a count, and distinguished women served simple brethren," as one of the best times of his life.1 With today's ministry trend to follow sociological observations that "like attracts like," perhaps we can learn from the Pashkovite experience. American church members often focus on reaching out only to those similar to themselves, even moving locations in order to facilitate homogeneity. Within churches it is common to separate members by age, marital status, interests, and position in life. While many ministries have found this division helpful to attract a target group, Pashkovites found that those without common backgrounds united in Christ's love attracted all who encountered them.
While speaking ability apparently played a minor role in Pashkovite preaching and teaching, with few Pashkovites deemed especially capable orators, a common compelling element was to be found in the sermons of Radstock, Pashkov, and their early followers. Rather than emphasizing theological truths or logical arguments, Pashkovites spoke from their hearts of personal experiences. Their words "cut to the heart" of listeners.2 Seeking objectivity, many Western Evangelicals have stressed Bible exposition and have downplayed personal experience. This has resulted in the separation of knowledge and experience, with theologically sound believers living secret lives in contradiction to their teachings. The Pashkovite practice of preaching from the heart, emphasizing changed lives through Christ rather than theological subtleties or legalistic requirements, attracted people to the movement. Educated and uneducated alike understood feelings and desires and the consequences of sin in their lives. By sharing from his own life with clear conviction, Pashkov drew people to his teaching, rather than instilling the fear and oppression so often associated with organized religion.
Pashkovite meetings never held altar calls or expected instant public commitments to faith. Instead, Radstock and Pashkov met with people individually to discuss matters of salvation and belief. Radstock filled his days with personal appointments and Pashkov spoke to people individually after meetings, encouraging other believers to draw newcomers into conversation concerning spiritual matters as well. They never reported numbers of converts at meetings. Faith was seen as a personal journey that Pashkovites facilitated, rather than as an exclusive club to which a person either belonged or did not. A recent dissertation by Perry Glanzer confirms that still today Russians view conversion not as a one-time decision, but as a long process.3 Pashkov's emphasis on speaking with people individually rather than prescribing steps to salvation led to firm commitments and changed lives, in contrast to insincere prayers sometimes spoken under pressure from evangelists promising prosperity or instilling fear.
Pashkovites, in their generous sharing of their time and wealth, serve as an example to all. They did not allow their riches to stand in the way of the gospel. Princess Sophie Lieven dedicated her great malachite hall for the Lord's work, despite the risk and eventual occurrence of pieces of this semi-precious mineral being stolen from the columns. Colonel Pashkov and his family moved into a smaller apartment on the lower level of one of their homes, permitting the rental of a large section of their mansion. With the advent of persecution even greater sacrifices were made. Jenny de Mayer gave up the comforts of home to move first to the remote island of Sakhalin and then to devote her life to Bible distribution and evangelism in Muslim Central Asia. Churches today often teach giving out of abundance rather than sacrifice, and even pastors expect middle-class salaries. Prosperity theology teaches that God will materially bless those with whom He is pleased, leading to an even greater emphasis on wealth. This was never the experience of the Pashkovites, whose leaders gave up even their beloved homeland for the sake of their faith.
Examples to Avoid
Import of Western Tradition
Yet the Pashkovites are not to be emulated in everything. Because of their high-society upbringing and lifestyle, St. Petersburg Pashkovites were familiar with Western ways, often more so than they were with the lives of the Russian people. The religious practices of Lord Radstock were not as foreign to them as they were to the lower classes, and they never questioned Radstock's importation of religious traditions new to Russia: organ music, revival hymns, and extemporaneous prayer. While edifying to those familiar with them, these and other practices can hinder reception of the message by those to whom they are unfamiliar. At the same time, an emphasis on unity and a disregard for theology left many important issues unaddressed. This omission led later to peasant abuse of Pashkovite teaching, for example, burning icons and showing disrespect for the practices of the state church.
Pashkovite alienation from the people was also evident in the literature they produced. While quality improved over time, much money and effort were spent on literature that did not meet the needs of those for whom it was intended. Literal translations of English and German religious works, retaining even the unfamiliar foreign names, confused those unacquainted with Western ways. Such literature was not only difficult to understand but even distasteful to those who held Russian culture and religious tradition in high regard. While Pashkovites responded productively to criticism by doing their best to correct mistakes and produce literature appropriate to the masses, many ministries with roots in Western culture make similar mistakes today. Due to ignorance or resistance to criticism, this continues as decisions regarding funding and publication of Russian-language Christian literature remain in Western hands.
Lack of Foresight
A final characteristic apparent throughout Pashkovite ministry was errors in judgment and naivete. Often in the enthusiasm of the moment Pashkovites acted impulsively, with little regard for the consequences of their actions. While such actions demonstrated a sincere willingness to follow God's call, they may not always have been wise. Open defiance of authorities, with the assumption that their position in society would protect them, brought about severe consequences. Indiscriminate generosity reportedly led to both blatant exploitation and the reported occurrence of "rice Christians," those who converted for material rather than spiritual gain. Especially controversial was the reported practice of Pashkov to pay field workers who gave up their work to listen to his preaching. As concern began to arise among the Orthodox regarding the intentions of the Pashkovites, few efforts were made to allay their fears, and Pashkovites, instead, separated themselves from the established church even more.
A Few Words of Caution
For those striving to serve the Lord in Russia today, the temptation may be to copy Pashkovite methods, especially those that seem especially successful. While Pashkovite methods can well be adapted--likely with more success than can Western methods so often attempted--it must be emphasized that the Russia of today is not late imperial Russia, and that the new rich are not aristocracy. St. Petersburg in the late 1800s was in many ways more Western than Russian, and Pashkovism never gained the popularity in Moscow or other Russian cities that it did in St. Petersburg. While today, as during the 1870s, discontent and fear reign in the lives of many, causes differ, and years of Stalinism have discouraged revolutionary tendencies. With the presence of newspapers, television, videos, the Internet, and e-mail, large public meetings are no longer the most effective way to spread information, and ideas shared will no longer have the effect they may have had on those otherwise isolated from the outside.
Whether viewed as a temporary social movement, a religious revival, or a Russian reformation, evidence indicates that the Pashkovites played a significant role in the society in which they lived. Dedicating their lives to serve God and their fellow man, they crossed social and cultural barriers in an attempt to share their faith and demonstrate God's love to others. While operating legally for less than ten years, their influence through Bible and literature distribution, meetings held in secret, assistance to those in need, and support of fellow believers remained long after the leaders had been banished from the country. Many current practices of Russia's Evangelical Christians-Baptists have their roots in the faith of the Pashkovites and their associates. Their activities provide much to be learned that is relevant for Christian ministry today, both in Russia and elsewhere.
Sharyl Corrado, former assistant editor of the East-West Church & Ministry Report, began doctoral work in Russian history at the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, in August 2000.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Sharyl Corrado, "The Philosophy of Ministry of Col. Vasiliy Pashkov," Wheaton College Graduate School, M.A. thesis, 2000.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report