Reports from the Soviet Union reflect a continued growth of religious interest, especially among young people. The latest documentation is a remarkably candid twenty-four-page letter that reached the West over the signature of Anatoly Levitin, an outspoken Russian Orthodox layman.
He cites numerous conversions to Christianity and says that the “religious reaction” among young people in the Soviet Union, “in intensity and strength is no less than the feeling of fiery enthusiasm among the earliest Christians.”
A dispatch from Moscow in November by Harry Trimborn told of a purportedly unbelieving couple in Kiev who caused a big stir by exchanging marriage vows in a beautiful old cathedral instead of at the city registry office or the special “wedding palaces.” Trimborn said the pair represent “a new element in the Soviet view of troublesome youth. For they are part of a growing number of young people attracted to the church, its rites, history and physical beauty.”
“How much of this encompasses a spiritual conversion is difficult to tell,” Trimborn states. The Levitin letter, however, leaves little doubt that the change is most profound. It says “all the efforts of professional anti-religious propagandists in Khrushchev’sAn article in a Brethren periodical in Britain said reports of Khrushchev’s conversion are based on rumor circulated in an inaccurate tract. The rumors add interest to what are said to be the deposed Soviet leader’s memoirs now being published in the West. time to spread anti-religious fanaticism ended in complete failure.” It adds that “more and more frequently there are cases in Moscow where the sons of Communists and even of old tchekists (security police) are baptized.”
In recent years, there have been sporadic reports of what might be called religious awakenings. The Levitin letter is the most substantial documentation of renewal. The writer is described as a schoolteacher who has been in and out of prison as a result of his criticism of Soviet authorities in previous letters. He had been writing under the pseudonym of A. Krasnov. An English translation of the latest epistle appears for the first time this fall in Religion in Communist Dominated Areas, a National Council of Churches newsletter edited by the Reverend Blahoslav Hruby.
Levitin is quoted as asserting that people in the West “very poorly grasp the psychology of the modern Russian person and the position of the Russian Church.” He said he has never had occasion to talk with a foreigner and “cannot turn to any particular one of them” so he addressed the letter to “the Great Foreigner,” Pope Paul VI. The letter says Levitin does not believe in papal infallibility but does regard the pontiff as “supreme high priest of the universal church.” He wrote about the Russian church “so that all corners of the earth may know her inner authentic life.”
The writer regards himself as a loyal Soviet citizen. He is quoted as saying that “one must not imagine the Soviet system as a paradise descended to earth, nor paint it only black.” It is said to rest on “sound foundations,” but “at the same time the Soviet system gave birth to Stalinist tyranny, to Yezhov and Beria secret police, which were the worst crimes against mankind.… But now a new generation is arising, which knew not Stalin. The most interesting thing in Russia now is the youth.…”
The Russian youth are described as seeking “socialist democracy,” which would include “complete freedom of opinion, free scientific research, freedom of philosophical and religious convictions.”
“Modern youth in Russia is a disturbed youth,” the letter declares. “It seethes and passionately seeks for something. A religious reaction is characteristic of quite many of these young men and women.”
It is noted that conversions usually provoke sharp clashes within families and sometimes complete alienation from unbelieving parents.
“In most cases,” the letter says, “the process of conversion to Christ takes place instinctively, and a special role in it belongs to the laity.” (Levitin in previous letters has been critical of church authorities for acquiescing in allowing the state to control ecclesiastical appointments.)
“Young people newly coming to the Church are usually filled with the desire to proselytize, and they in turn lead other young men and women, their companions and friends, to God. There are frequent cases where a young person who has come to the faith converts to Christ his future spouse, and so a Christian family is formed, consisting of two young people who only a short time before were unbelievers.”
The Levitin letter gives numerous accounts of individual conversions: a young engineer whose spiritual pilgrimage began with the witness of a simple, old, woman believer who was a neighbor; another young man baptized after meeting a monk while watching pilgrims at a Moscow cathedral; and several who came to belief through reading the Scriptures. The works of Dostoevsky and Berdyaev are credited with often being the initial impetus toward Christianity.
The letter states that Baptists in the Soviet Union “can be proud of even more conversions” than the Orthodox. “The Baptist church as compared with the Orthodox is more easily understood by the less educated, and thus a strange selectivity takes place: people less mature in spiritual life, of more rationalistic minds, go to the Baptists, whereas people capable of deep mystical experience go to Orthodoxy.” (Most Protestants in the Soviet Union are designated Baptists.)
The Orthodox, the epistle relates, are getting along with other Christians better than ever: “There is an authentic ecumenism, in living religious practice, and this ecumenism takes place without conferences, official speeches or great banquets, as in the case of Amsterdam ecumenism [an apparent reference to the World Council of Churches, which held its organizational assembly in Amsterdam in 1948], but just because of this it is authentic ecumenism.”
Christianity In The Sudan: Facing Arab Colonialism?
Harassed Christians in Sudan suffered a new setback when the Khartoum government nationalized printing presses in October, thus putting the only religious publishing house out of operation. The Sudan Evangelical Council, South, a joint Protestant group that printed Christian literature in dialect on a Roman Catholic press in Khartoum, finds itself with literature supplies cut off. And other laws enacted last summer will curtail even the supply of Bibles into the Sudan by restricting imports from “hostile” (Western) countries.
The Sudan (missionaries were evicted in 1963) has been in turmoil since British rule there ended in 1956. At logger-heads are the country’s two main racial and ethnic groups—blacks and Arabs—who are also largely divided along religious lines. The racially mixed Sudannese of the north are Muslim, style themselves Arab, and speak Arabic. They have close ties with Egypt.
Southern Sudan is black Africa, an area of 4 million pagans, and a sizable Christian minority (a 1968 United Nations estimate gives Sudan’s population as 14.7 million). Even before 1956 the south sought separation or at least federation to forestall northern domination.
Although Sudan’s continuing civil conflict is basically political rather than religious, the fact that most of the educated among the persecuted southerners are Christians has decimated the church there. Untold thousands—pagans, Christians, and some Muslims—were killed during the fourteen-year civil war, which began as a mutiny in the southern army, composed mainly of Christians. Presently there is no southern army and the south is in a state of emergency with the northern Muslim army in occupation.
Sudanese Christians report that the present socialist government of President Jaafar Muhammed Nimeiry seems to regard all religions as dangerous—although Nimeiry is a practicing Muslim. The Christian church is identified as “Western.” One Sudanese Christian described government interference as the most serious problem the church in Sudan now faces.
Permits must be obtained for all church meetings, and lists submitted of those planning to attend. Catechism classes are forbidden in many districts except for specified times. Even small Bible-study groups—if they meet regularly—are subject to investigation. And government spies, often recruited from Christian groups, have aroused mutual suspicion in some congregations.
There is a serious lack of indigenous Christian leadership, and the country’s two seminaries—one Catholic and the other Protestant—have been closed for five years. The Protestant school was burned by government groops.
Church attendance and offerings have decreased, not only because of the scattering of many Christians, but also because government employees who are Christian fear church participation will cause government questioning. Pastors hesitate to perform marriage services in the districts and some Christians are afraid to receive visiting ministers and evangelists.
Although there are a few Christian congregations in the north, ethnic differences and fear of identification with the southerners have kept them from giving much help. One of the few foreign religious leaders remaining in Sudan is Anglican bishop Oliver C. Allison of Khartoum. But he is allowed to travel only to major cities; his two Sudanese assistant bishops are in exile. The Roman Catholic bishop is Sudanese.
Although Christians are not barred from leaving Sudan, they are discouraged from doing so, and with the exception of Arab countries, southern Sudanese are not allowed to study outside the country unless the student or the country he wishes to go to is socialist.
The church of Sudan—facing up to the problems—shows only limited hope. In 1969 a Presbyterian evangelist and a pastor-trainee were sent to Melut, a former Sudan Interior Mission town, to establish a church (the town had been demolished and the pastor killed by government forces in 1964). New converts are often strong since God is their only hope, say Sudanese Christians.
Still, religion is said to be becoming liberal because of the lack of sound instruction and Christian associations. A few converts are made to Christ—but seldom to church attendance.
New French Concordance
An important new tool of French biblical scholarship, a kind of combined Bible dictionary and concordance with a unique classification system, has just been published in Paris by Cerf Company. A 796-page New Testament concordance is the fruit of fifteen years of work by Catholic scholars, at a cost of 100 million (pre-devaluation) francs. The volume will sell for 170 francs ($34) in France, and more abroad.
Since the same Greek word can often be translated into several French ones—with possible confusion—the words have been arranged according to themes or concepts taken from the Greek text. By this system, all the 5,594 Greek words used in the New Testament are grouped under 358 major themes, thus simplifying translation of the work directly into other languages, according to Cerf editors.
The first concordance produced in France was a thirteenth-century work based on the Latin Vulgate version. Concordances of the Greek and Hebrew testaments followed. Several hundred thousand copies of the new concordance are expected to sell in the French-speaking world of about 100 million; an Old Testament companion volume is in preparation.
ROBERT P. EVANS
Religion In Transit
Railroads will continue to offer reduced fares to clergy during 1971, according to the Clergy Bureau of Eastern Railroads.
An appeal by the Second United Presbyterian Church of Johnstown, New York, to the state Supreme Court contesting an earlier ruling to dissolve the church failed; the high court ruled that the local property and assets be vested in the Presbytery of Albany.
Moral Advance is a new organization launched by the Christian Freedom Foundation and its publication Christian Economics, to “watch” institutions and courts, encourage law enforcement, and report on drug abuse and pornography.
The Roman Catholic Society of the Divine Saviour, $8.6 million in debt after sinking millions of borrowed money into the misued funds of a Washington, D.C., real-estate developer, filed for bankruptcy last month—reportedly becoming the first American religious order to go broke.
About a year and a half ago three Catholic priests in Minneapolis launched a team ministry at St. Stephen’s inner-city parish. It was dissolved last month; all three had left the priesthood.
The United Methodist Church, now with 10,671,774 members, suffered a loss for the fifth year in a row, according to figures released in Portland, Oregon, last month. The drop started before the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren.
The United Presbyterian Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations will cut its budget by more than $750,000 next year to $14.8 million.… The United Church of Christ World Ministries has adopted a $6.9 million budget, down $500,000 from 1970; a $1.2 million deficit is expected nonetheless.… Falling income will mean a probable decline in the number of Lutheran Church in America missionaries from 325 in 1969 to 250 by 1972.
Gospel radio station WIVE in Ashland, Virginia, has a sure way to keep faithful listeners from straying to another frequency: a pretuned radio “for twenty-four-hour listening.” Yes, it will only receive WIVE.
The fixed-tuned table FM receiver ($32.15 including tax and shipping charges) is available through the station’s Christian radio and bookstore division (Box 272), and the ad says the set “is of particular help to the elderly or sick who may have difficulty dialing for their favorite Christian station” (100.1 mc.).
First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, claims that 11,348 present in Sunday-school classes November 8 is a world record.
One thousand Methodists over age 45 said service to the local congregation is the foremost job of the denomination. A survey by a restructure committee also showed that the same members rated ecumenical activity least important in a list of six jobs.
The Episcopal Diocese of Rochester voted $750,000 on a “no-strings” basis for the national Episcopal Church to use as the presiding bishop and the Executive Council “deem most appropriate.” The money comes from a private will bequeathing $7.7 million to the diocese.
The Pennsylvania Senate rejected a house-passed bill that would have permitted church groups to obtain special liquor licenses for picnics and bazaars.
Unusual Film Studios of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, is producing a two-hour movie about the Spanish Inquisition. Tentatively titled Flame in the Wind, the picture involves 1,200 students, staff, and faculty and is slated for release next year.
Twenty-two Orthodox priests met at a retreat house in Clinton, Ohio, last month in a first-of-its-kind conference aimed at eventual union of the Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian Orthodox churches. “We are tired of waiting for our bishops to make the move,” explained the conference convener.
An advertisement for an abortion service agency in the Observer, the University of Notre Dame campus paper, drew ire from Bishop Leo A. Pursley of Fort Wayne-South Bend, among other Catholics.
The president of the largest of nine Lutheran Church in America seminaries, Dr. Stewart W. Hermann, 61, has resigned from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago; his future plans were unannounced.
The Reverend Paul D. Mork, 37, associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Forest City, Iowa, will become president in January of Waldorf College there, the only junior college of the American Lutheran Church.
The new president of the World Convention of Churches of Christ (Disciples) is Dr. J. Daniel Joyce, dean of the Graduate Seminary of Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma.
“Lutheran Hour” radio speaker Dr. Oswald C. J. Hoffman will spend his second Christmas visiting American servicemen in South Viet Nam this month.
A married man with eight children became the first Canadian Roman Catholic to be ordained a permanent deacon, an office reestablished a year ago by Pope Paul. Louis Levesque, 45, will continue as assistant director of the Quebec Police College.
“I attend services of all denominations,” quipped Bob Hope to 1,100 at a meeting of the Protestant Business Leaders of Greater Chicago. “I don’t want to miss the hereafter on a technicality.”
At the National Press Club’s annual art show there was one entry—a bust of Vice-president Spiro T. Agnew—entitled: “Judges 15:15, 16.”
Boy Scout officials in Foster, Rhode Island, reversed themselves and endorsed James Clark, 16, for eagle rank, after a hassle over whether he is an atheist. The scout council had said a boy who doesn’t believe in a Supreme Being couldn’t qualify as an eagle.
Brigadier General Henry M. Gross of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, will retire as Selective Service director of the state this month. At 85 Gross is the oldest state director in active service; he has served continuously since 1945. A ruling elder in Pine Street Presbyterian Church, Gross has taught Sunday school there for more than fifty years.
Lance Rentzel, star pass catcher for the Dallas Cowboys, whose name has been associated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was charged with indecent exposure in an incident involving a ten-year-old girl. Rentzel, 27, had been undergoing psychiatric care for some time. An FCA spokesman said the athlete’s participation in the fellowship had been “very limited.”
Membership in the Wycliffe Bible Translators increased by 178 this year; total staff is now 2,500, according to executive director Benjamin Elson.
As World Vision International enters its third decade this winter, a major goal is to evangelize Mainland China, says president W. Stanley Mooneyham.
Forty Orthodox Jews laid claim to a wasteland site near El Bira, twelve miles north of Jerusalem, last month, claiming it was the biblical location where ancient Jews erected the first temporary temple over the Ark of the Covenant. The Israeli army prevented a clash between the Jews and angry Arabs.
A bill legalizing divorce in Italy was approved this month despite strong objections by the Pope and the Catholic Church, who consider it legally and morally unacceptable.
The first civil divorce in Israel’s history was granted last month in a district court to a Jewish husband and a Christian wife.
When Israel tried to run an international “Grand Prix” auto race on the Sabbath last month, ultra-orthodox Jews put up $60,000 in “compensation money” and threatened to spread oil, nails, and stones on the track unless the race was shifted. After a rousing pray-in, the race was set for a Sunday—but hordes of teenagers invaded the track, forcing cancellation of the race.
A new college in Bangkok has been established to train Thai Buddhists for missionary work. Eighty priests and 553 novices have applied; enrollment is expected to top 3,500 by 1982. Scholarships to Buddhists are being offered in fourteen Southeast Asian countries.
Greater use of the pill and more abortions have caused less need for the Church of England’s ninety-five Children’s Society homes; seventeen will close within two years, the Bishop of London reported.
During its twenty years of publishing, the Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) has printed 11 million books and 100 million tracts, according to TEAM missionary Kenneth McVety.
Annual income for the Church of England rose from $72 million in 1956 to $140 million in 1968 according to recent figures, but membership decreased by more than 250,000 to a present 2.6 million.
The new Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin, directed by Jesuit Michael Hurley, has a half Roman Catholic, half non-Roman student body, and the course includes involvement in a local church of another tradition.
After a break of nearly 400 years, Lutheran and Reformed churches in Poland celebrated Communion together, sealing a declaration of pulpit and altar fellowship between them.
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