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How the Orthodox Church is Gaining Influence in Post-Communist Russia

 

A review essay of John P. Burgess, “In-Churching Russia: Journeying Through the Efforts of Orthodoxy to Return Russia to Faith” First Things (May 2014), by Rachel Mock.

The article “In-Churching Russia” by John P. Burgess not only helped me to reexamine my childhood as a Charismatic missionary kid in Moscow, but it also gave me a newfound understanding of the Russian Orthodox Church and its effects on post-communist Russia.

As I read this article, I kept asking myself the question, Should Evangelicals see the Russian Orthodox Church as competition or as a Christian ally? When I was a child growing up in Moscow, where my parents started the first American Charismatic church in 1991, I assumed that we were in competition with the Orthodox Church. I was told that we needed to evangelize to the Orthodox, because they were people who followed religious rituals instead of pursuing a personal relationship with Christ. Now, as a 32-year-old non-denominational Christian, I can see several benefits of Evangelical churches partnering with the Russian Orthodox churches.

In order to fully appreciate this article, I decided to research the author online. Burgess is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a professor of theology who has been working at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary since 1998. He spent time in Russia as a Fulbright Scholar in 2011 and a Luce Fellow in Theology 2012, and according to his faculty page on the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary website, the focus of his research was “the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in shaping a new national identity for post-communist Russia.”

Burgess went to Russia primarily as a researcher, not an evangelist. He is also a Presbyterian, not a Charismatic or a Pentecostal. Perhaps these factors helped him to take a more positive view of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the article, he describes the spiritual moments that he shared with Russian Orthodox people he met. He wasn’t on a mission to guide them toward the Sinner’s Prayer or the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so he was probably more able to notice the benefits, rather than the risks, of the Orthodox Church gaining influence over the Russian people.

The article “In-Churching Russia” describes how the Orthodox Church’s sphere of religious, social, and political influence has been expanding greatly in post-communist Russia. The Church’s motto over the past five years has been the word votserkovlenie, translated into English as “in-churching.” According to Burgess, Russian Orthodoxy “aspires to achieve nothing less than the re-Christianization of the Russian nation.”

The Orthodox methods of re-Christianizing are, of course, different from the Charismatic and Pentecostal methods of evangelizing. Instead of encouraging people to hand out tracts and share testimonies, Orthodox leaders, such as the patriarch Kirill, are urging the Russian people to find their spiritual and social identity within the Church. According to Burgess, “Orthodox moral and aesthetic values, [Kirill] argues, lie at the heart of the nation’s historic identity.”

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Category: Church History, Spring 2014

About the Author: Rachel E. Mock is a writer and a mental health counselor who lives in Florida with her husband. She grew up as a missionary kid in Europe in the 1990s, and she has continued to do international mission and humanitarian work as an adult. Rachel loves to learn and write about people of other cultures. She has worked as a correspondent for The Herald of Gadsden County and has written for several other publications, including Tallahassee Woman and tallahassee.com. She blogs about her thoughts, her cultural experiences, and her spiritual journey at rachelmock.com. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest.

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