Preaching to a Strange Nation

Western Evangelism and Russia

        "Receive me, then, O Lord and lover of Mankind, even as the harlot, as the robber, as the publican, as the prodigal . . . "
—The Prayer of St. Basil the Great

The Law on Religion passed this year by the Russian State Duma restricts the activities of "non-traditional" religions (Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism were accorded "traditional" status), requiring a religious group to have been active in Russia for 15 years before acquiring certain legal rights, such as the right to own property. The law breezed through the Duma and was signed by Yeltsin. It is true that the Russians attempted to portray the law as an attempt to curtail the activities of dangerous "cults," but everybody knew that the real target was Western Protestant evangelizing. The law's proponents were effectively able to turn the vote into a public test of loyalty: One is either "for" or "against" Russia. The vote could be couched in such terms because the Russian Orthodox Church is to many Russians an indispensable part of the landscape of their homeland and a determinate factor in Russian identity. The familiar onion domes and icons are a warming, soothing element of the Russian lands, like birch trees and the interminable steppe. (Imagine the sensations, sensory and psychological, evoked in many Americans by an image of the...

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