Friday, August 02, 1996 12:38:55 PM

PROTESTANTS MARGINAL IN ULYANOVSK by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service When Pentecostal pastor NIKOLAI BARINOV wanted to read the early Christian theologian ORIGEN, he did not look for a Russian-language text through his western Protestant contacts or even through the Russian Orthodox Church.  The easiest way to find such a book in his home town of Ulyanovsk on the middle Volga was to visit the Rerikh Centre, the local office of a religious and cultural movement influenced by Far Eastern mysticism and enjoying a privileged relationship with the local secular authorities.  At the Rerikh movement's bookshop he purchased an edition of Origen's basic writings printed by the movement's own publishing house in nearby Samara and including a commentary  by one of the Rerikh family. 'I just ignored the Rerikh annotations', Barinov told Keston News Service. Contrary to widespread charges by Orthodox leaders that western Protestants are achieving spiritual 'expansion' and the 'occupation' of Russia's heartland, in Ulyanovsk the Protestants clearly occupy a marginal position.  The more militant, traditionalist Protestant groups live in deliberate self-isolation, shielding their members from influences like the Rerikh Centre but also largely forfeiting the chance to influence the community outside their own circles.  More 'open' Protestants such as Ulyanovsk's Methodist congregation have more success in reaching out to students and young adults--but find that their own members are influenced by ideas from the Rerikh movement and other eclectic forms of spirituality. Pentecostal leader Barinov lives in Ulyanovsk's ugliest and most remote district, the 'New City'--40 minutes by bumpy bus ride across the river from the historic city centre with its immaculate administrative buildings, Lenin Museum and Rerikh Centre.  In his cluttered three-room flat, which he shares with his wife and their five children, he explained to Keston why his congregation refuses to register with the secular authorities: 'When a church is registered it becomes part of the state machine, it compromises its spiritual freedom.'  He estimated the total number of Pentecostal believers in Ulyanovsk oblast at about 200, half of which are in the oblast capital. The congregation meets for Sunday worship in a cinema, to which it moved after an oblast decree restricted access by 'non-traditional' confessions to other public buildings.  (In this bastion of socialism, nearly all such buildings are still state-owned.)  A visiting American missionary wanted to turn this decree into a political issue, Barinov said--'but frankly I am not a supporter of such struggles.  We rely only on God.  I tell my congregation to be prepared for persecution; we're in the hands of the Lord, and no hair falls from our heads without His will.' The Pentecostal pastor added that he does not go out of his way to attract converts from other Christian confessions, including the Orthodox.  But his attitude toward non-Christian groups such as the Rerikh Centre is different: 'I cannot tell people that they can be saved through Buddhism or New Age movements.  Salvation is only through Christ.' The congregation of Baptist pastor STEPAN PROKOPOVICH is even more isolated than the Pentecostals.  It meets on Sundays in the home of one of its members, an old wooden building on the southern edge of town.  On the day of Keston's visit about 40 of its members were squeezed into a space the size of a small British or American living room.   In classic Baptist style their worship service emphasised congregational participation, including not just personal prayers and Scripture readings but also recitations by individual members of their own religious poetry.   Keston asked if the congregation had made any attempt to rent public buildings; Prokopovich replied that using such buildings, just like seeking official registration, would make them dependent on the state.  They do not even seek to build a prayer house of their own, because they would have to get permission from the secular authorities to do so and they simply do not want any contact or cooperation whatever with those authorities. But a recent encounter with the federal authorities turned out well.  One young member of the congregation is now serving in an army garrison in the Moscow area, but has refused to bear arms.  The garrison commander pressured him to change his pacifist stance and even wrote to the congregation in Ulyanovsk, asking them to reinforce this pressure.  The congregation replied with a letter explaining its doctrinal commitment to pacifism, and the commander's pressure on the Baptist soldier stopped. Keston asked whether the authorities interfere with the unregistered Baptists' freedom of speech; for example, are they able to publicise their children's camp through the mass media?  The answer was revealing: 'Why would we want to advertise it?  The camp is for our own people, not outsiders.' Ulyanovsk's Methodist congregation, founded three years ago by clergymen visiting from Oklahoma, has a radically different style.   TATIANA MALTSEVA, a physician and former Orthodox Christian, told Keston that she and other converts were attracted by the Methodists' 'openness' and 'freedom'.  'Now we are allowed to express our joy, to discuss our problems,' she said. 'The Orthodox ritual of confession is not enough.' YEKATERINA MORSAKOVA, the Methodists' 22-year-old youth director, told Keston that she and her friends in school developed a great curiosity about all sorts of religions in the late 1980s.  She read spiritual literature from various traditions and was attracted by Buddhism and Theosophy.  Though baptised as an Orthodox Christian at the age of 15, largely under her friends' influence, she was strongly influenced by the seminars and poetry readings of the Rerikh Centre.  She still calls herself 'grateful' for the role which the Rerikh movement played in her spiritual development, though she now considers the movement's ideas 'superficial'.   'I deeply respect the Rerikh family,' she said.  To this day she displays her religious eclecticism, wearing both a Roman Catholic pendant of the Virgin Mary and a ring inscribed with the Orthodox 'Jesus prayer'. Unlike the unregistered Baptists and Pentecostals, the Methodists are eager to be part of the mainstream of life in Ulyanovsk.  They have even joined with the city's century-old Lutheran parish to form a joint student club at a local university.  But they still do not have a building of their own, or any visible prospect of getting one.  Keston asked Miss Morsakova whether the Methodists are free to advertise their activities through posters and the like. 'We depend on personal contacts to distribute information', she answered. 'Our people are afraid to use posters'. (END) --=====================_839028953==_ Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" Lawrence A. Uzzell Keston Institute, Moscow office phone/fax (7-095) 928-8202 --=====================_839028953==_-- --- Internet Message Header Follows --- Received: from g23.relcom.ru (g23.relcom.ru [193.125.152.117]) by linux.nildram.co.uk (8.6.12/8.6.12) with ESMTP id NAA26042 for ; Fri, 2 Aug 1996 13:51:26 +0100 Received: from d198.z194-58-227.relcom.ru by g23.relcom.ru with SMTP id QAA09893;  (8.6.12-Ext/1.0) Fri, 2 Aug 1996 16:38:55 +0400 Date: Fri, 2 Aug 1996 16:38:55 +0400 Message-Id: <199608021238.QAA09893@g23.relcom.ru> X-Sender: 9133.g23@pop.w.g23.relcom.ru X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Light Version 1.5.2 Mime-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="=====================_839028953==_" To: keston_institute@cin.co.uk From: "Uzzell Lawrence A." <9133.g23@g23.relcom.ru> X-Attachments: C:\WWD\ULYPRO2.TXT;