M o s c o w – Russia is wasting its greatest wealth of all – its youth. That was the opinion of Yuri Sipko, President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), at the National Prayer Breakfast in Moscow’s government-run President-Hotel on 17 March. He added that the sorry state of Russian youth is not the fault of the youth themselves, but rather of their parents. “What happens here in our house is a result of our own carelessness, arrogance and dishonesty.”
This 9th National Prayer Breakfast since 1995 was dedicated to the issue of youth. Alarming statistics were mentioned: More than 900.000 persons find themselves behind bars in Russia; two million (1,5% of the population) are addicted to drugs. The consumption of pure alcohol per capita is listed as 16 litres per year. (In the USA consumption is only half as high.)
Konstantin Bendas, „Manager of Affairs for the Executive“ for the Charismatic “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSChWE in Russian), expressed the view commonly held by Protestants. He stated that all Christians and well-meaning persons in general must join forces to combat the country’s social needs. Only a few days before, the journalist Roman Lunkin had confirmed in the oppositional Orthodox news service “Portal-Credo” that Protestants indeed have earned the right to express their views on social issues: “Protestants frequently are more active in working with drug addicts, street persons and the down-and-out than are representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate or Muslims.”
In a private conversation following the event the ambassador of a Western European country stated: „I enjoyed it very much. One did not skirt the real topics – which is often the case at state-run events. There was a clear and straightforward language here. I want to be sure and come again next time.” Foreign ambassadors were invited to the event for the first time this year; US-Ambassador John Beyrle was among the several who attended.
Hearty wishes for further expansion of the movement were expressed by the Prayer Breakfast’s long-time supporters. Alexander Torshin, Vice-Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation (Upper House), who addressed the assembly with “Brothers and Sisters”, had visited Washington D.C.’s National Prayer Breakfast with its 2.800 invited guests on 5 February. He consequently wished the Russian version a similar success curve. He expressed the distant hope that the State President and other leading government representatives might attend the 10th Prayer Breakfast next year. Another friend of the Prayer Breakfast and supporter of the concept of a pluralistic Russian society, Vladimir Lukin, the government’s Commissioner for Human Rights and Russian Ambassador to the USA 1992-93, expressed similar desires. Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan, Director of Moscow’s Bronnaja Synagogue Agudas Chasidei Chabad, also celebrated the Prayer Breakfast movement.
Though attendance remained stable at 350, spirits were dampened by the fact that important guests were missing. For the first time in years, the Moscow Patriarchate refused to send a delegate to greet the assembled. Despite the enthronisation of Patriarch Krill, who has a reputation for being cosmopolitan and open, six weeks ago, the Moscow Patriarchate appears to be strengthening its attempt to monopolise church-state relations. According to “Portal-Credo” in its report on the meeting of top government and church representatives in Tula on 11 March, the “Council for the Cooperation with Religious Organisations at the Seat of the Russian President” is to be transformed into a factual “Council for Cooperation with the Moscow Patriarchate”. The agency writes: “The position of all Russian religious organisations, except for the Moscow Patriarchate, will be weakened significantly.”
Internally, the Russian Prayer Breakfast movement must also contend with a few negative crosswinds. Many representatives of the Charismatic ROSChWE attended this year’s Prayer Breakfast, but their Bishop, Sergey Ryakhovsky, was made highly conspicuous by his absence. One is told it might take effort to halt a splintering of Russia’s small Protestant movement with its total membership of less than one million. At debate are issues of leadership and the proper amount of political distance to the Russian government – not theology.
Moscow’s National Prayer Breakfast has been meeting annually since 2002; National Prayer Breakfasts are now taking place in more than 60 countries. Board Chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation is Baptist pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, who also serves as the RUECB’s Director for External Church Relations.