This year Russian Christians are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into their common language. In a country like the United States, where there are a dozen Bibles for each church member, such an anniversary might occasion only passing notice. But Russian evangelicals publicly anticipated the celebration of this centennial for many months. Their enthusiasm arises from two causes. First, their history as evangelicals in Russia is inseparably joined with the history of the Bible in Russian. Second, the continued scarcity of Bibles in their language gives the Russians special appreciation for a precious possession. We will do well to share their joy this year.

The land of the Russians had been officially Christian for almost nine hundred years before the whole of the Scriptures appeared in words they could understand. From 988, when Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev declared Byzantine Orthodoxy to be the religion of his realm, until 1917, when the last tsar fell, the Russian state and the Orthodox Church remained in close union. The religious history of Russia paralleled that of the most Catholic countries of the West. A highly liturgical religion incorporated all citizens; all were baptized by the priest as infants and were expected to present themselves at mass at least annually. The mass and the church books were in an archaic language, Church Slavonic, which the Russian people understood hardly better than Europeans comprehended Latin. No Protestant revolt, crying for a religion of the Book, spawned evangelical faith in Russian hearts. And no secularizing Enlightenment undermined the union of church and state. The autocratic tsar reigned as head of both.

The first steps in the preparation of the ...

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