Religious persecution has increased in the Soviet Union since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the resulting damage to Soviet-American relations. The most publicized victim has been scientist Andrei Sakharov who, although not himself a believer, has defended the rights of Christians and Jews to worship in freedom. Of comparable importance, however, has been the arrest of Russian Orthodox priest Dimitri Dudko, one of the most prominent activists for religious freedom in the Soviet Union.

“It seems that 1980 will be a very difficult year for all of us,” wrote Dimitri Dudko early in January. “Some have already been seized. I have been summoned to interrogation as a witness, and maybe yet as [one who is] accused.… However, all this is of little significance if we stand united.…”

In the early morning on January 15, Dudko was arrested at his parish church in Grebnevo outside Moscow, and taken to Lefortovo Prison. Officials searched the church and his Moscow flat for the next 12 hours. They confiscated everything of a religious nature: Bibles, prayer books, religious books and manuscripts, all of Dudko’s sermons, and a full set of the children’s magazine Trezvon—published in the U.S., it contains religious and Bible stories. All of the family’s money was taken.

Dudko became well known early in the 1970s for preaching fearlessly in Moscow’s Church of Saint Nicholas against labor camps, the timidity of the Russian Orthodox Church establishment, and the presence of informers in the hierarchy.

Dudko’s growing influence and popularity attracted the attention of the authorities, and in July 1972, he was summoned to the Moscow Patriarchate to account for his popularity. Official pressure for his dismissal increased.

At the end of 1973, Dudko began question-and-answer sessions with parishioners after church services. This soon tripled the number of his church attendee, including many young people and non-Orthodox Christians, Jews, and even unbelievers. Intellectuals such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vladimir Maksimov also were attracted. Dudko preached the Christian faith and the way a believer should organize his life.

In May 1974, after nine such sessions, Patriarch Pimen ordered them suspended. But at the urging of his parishioners, Dudko held two more sessions in his home.

Later that year Dudko was transferred from his Moscow church to one in Kabanovo, a village some 40 miles from Moscow. This congregation grew steadily, augmented by people traveling there from Moscow and other towns.

Article continues below

In June of 1975, Dudko was involved in an automobile accident of suspicious nature, in which both legs were broken. Because he had been under surveillance by the secret police, many feel the accident was actually an attempt on his life. Dudko was dismissed from the Kabanovo church in December of that year, although parishioners wrote 10 appeals in his support, some signed by more than 100 people. Early in 1976 he was appointed to another church, in Grebnevo, about 20 miles from Moscow. He was attacked by name in the Literaturnayci Gazeta in April 1977, but without hesitation openly refuted the charges.

Toward the end of last year, Dudko was not allowed to serve in church on Sundays and was threatened on a number of occasions. Many of his parishioners were harassed by the militia. Undaunted, Dudko began publishing an unofficial parish newsletter for his flock.

Last October, 20 representatives of the KGB searched his apartment. He was summoned to Metropolitan Yuvenali, the bishop in charge of the diocese of Moscow, who warned Dudko against continuing his sermons.

After that, Dudko adhered scrupulously to spiritual questions—that is, until the arrest of fellow priest Gleb Yukunin (Dec. 21, 1979, issue, p. 44). In a statement dated November 26, Dudko condemned the arrest of Yakunin, the leader of the Committee for the Defense of Believer’s Rights in the USSR.

Dudko turns 58 this month. He is suffering from thrombophlebitis, and was feeling ill at the time of his arrest. His wife, Antonina Ivanovna, has taken bandages and mineral water to the prison, but thus far authorities have not accepted them. Dudko’s son, Mikhail, has been threatened with expulsion from the institute where he is studying and with his immediate drafting into the army.

On the day of Dudko’s arrest, house searches were made at seven homes of worshipers at the Grebnevo church. One house searched belonged to Viktor Kapitanchuk, the new secretary of the Committee for the Defense of Believers’ Rights.

Late last month no witnesses had been called for interrogation in Dudko’s case, and there had been no indication of the official charges against him.

In his letter, written several days before his arrest, Dudko wrote: “If anything happens to me, let this [letter] be my message from behind prison walls.… It is quite clear now why the authorities put away Father Gleb [Yakunin]—they want to silence dissenting voices [within the church] as far as possible.… They do this—grievous as it may be to say so—by the hands of the church leadership. The directives are issued in the name of the patriarch, but they are signed by the senior administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Alexi, who is extremely obedient to the Soviet authorities. Sound the alarm: ‘Silence and compromise are not tactical steps, they are betrayal.’ ”

Article continues below
Bangladeshi Authorities Put Missions on Shorter Leash

Turbulence in the Islamic world has rippled eastward to the Muslim nation of Bangladesh. A recent government order has specified that all missionary societies must now register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Each mission must produce audited financial statements, lists of projects, details of future plans, as well as projections for nationalization of existing institutions. In the future, government officials will approve or disapprove all missionary visas, budgets, and projects. There is a likelihood that each mission agency will be forced into the funding and supervision of social services in order to maintain its presence in Bangladesh.

Politically, this nation of 86 million people is calm. President Zia Rahman has restored a type of controlled democracy. A former military officer, Rahman is respected for his integrity and firm leadership qualities.

Inflation continues to hinder economic progress. Gasoline and kerosene shortages appear sporadically; crops have been adequate in the past few years. Demographically, Bangladesh is a statistician’s nightmare: more than 1,500 people presently occupy each square mile of land. Through the communications media, which are widely used, the Bengali people are exhorted to avail themselves of information and products distributed by government birth control centers.

Bakht Singh’s Movement Still Full of Grassroots Vitality

The old section of the Indian city of Hyderabad was still under dusk-to-dawn curfew in the aftermath of communal rioting. The riots began after inflammatory radio broadcasts, which reported the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s accusations that Americans were responsible for the armed takeover of the Grand Mosque at Mecca. Enraged Muslims of Hyderabad, once the capital of a Muslim state under British rule, asked the city’s Hindus to join them in an anti-American demonstration. The Hindus’ refusal sparked the riot, which caused loss of lives and property on both sides.

In this explosive atmosphere, it would seem that what wasn’t needed was another demonstration—especially one involving Christians. But that is exactly what happened that day last November. Marching four abreast, many wearing aprons bearing Scripture texts, 20,000 persons marched the dusty roads in a column extending for three miles. They held high their banners with more Bible texts, and sang songs of love, peace, and life.

Article continues below

These were members of the assemblies loyal to Bakht Singh, 76, who began this Brethren church movement indigenous to India nearly 40 years ago. Some 25,000 people from all parts of India were in Hyderabad for the assemblies’ nine-day annual All India Holy Convocation.

The convocation meetings were held on the grounds of “Hebron,” the Hyderabad headquarters of Bakht Singh’s ministries (where, characteristically, the walls of the buildings are painted, both inside and out, with verses in English, Hindi, and Telegu). Men and women sat separately—on opposite sides of a central aisle—in a large tent designed to hold 7,000 to 8,000, but packed with many more. The overflow crowd sat in two or three smaller tents.

The speakers, both Indian and Western, challenged the congregation with messages on the convocation theme, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Although this was a Christian family conference, rather than an evangelistic event, about 2,800 persons signed decision cards, 422 were baptized, and several volunteered for full-time service in India or abroad.

The approximately 20,000 out-of-town participants were housed and fed in more large tents. The participants were divided into teams for cooking, serving, drawing water, sweeping, guarding, and so on. There was no registration fee and “Brother” Singh made no appeal for money. “These are the guests of the King of kings and Lord of lords: therefore they should be treated as such,” said Singh.

Here, as in the assemblies, collections were taken only on Sundays at the time of the worship service. No plate was passed: instead, believers took their offerings to boxes placed at the front.

To provide fellowship for new converts scattered throughout India, Singh, taking his cue from Leviticus 23, began the first yearly convocation at Madras in 1941. The Holy Convocations, central to Singh’s work, now are held yearly in four cities—regional centers of southern India: Madras, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, and Kalimpong. The largest of these annual gatherings is the Hyderabad convocation. It is surpassed in size in India only by the Maramon Convention, sponsored by the Mar Thomas churches of Kerala. Members of the assemblies dismiss the Maramon Convention, however. “It has become like a Hindu festival,” sniffed one assemblies worker.

Article continues below

A legendary figure in his own lifetime, Singh was born to well-to-do Hindu parents in the northern Punjab sector of India (now part of Pakistan), but dedicated to the Sikh religion. While studying agricultural engineering in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he was converted to Christ in 1929 at the age of 26. Four years later he returned to India, where his refusal to soft-pedal his own beliefs turned his parents and other relatives against him. His wife left him, never to return.

Singh plunged into evangelism, and worked in fellowship with all the Protestant denominations for eight years. Conversions on an unprecedented scale and the outbreak of revival accompanied his ministry. J. Edwin Orr observed that, during this period. “Bakht Singh became an all-India evangelist, rather than a provincial preacher.…”

Concerned that existing denominational churches were not adequately caring for the new converts, Singh spent a night on a mountain in prayer. He came down with the conviction that he should start assemblies patterned after the New Testament principles but applied within an Indian cultural background. This approach helped many Indians understand that they need not adopt Western culture to become Christians.

Singh and his coworkers have started some 500 indigenous assemblies in India—mostly in the South—since 1941. There are no paid workers in the assemblies, and no membership. The full-time workers, numbering about 400, are chosen by consensus, not elected. They are also expected to live by faith. The assemblies are among India’s largest and fastest growing churches.

Singh never attended Bible college or seminary and reads no biblical commentaries (his assemblies have no training school). He reads and meditates on Scripture upon his knees for hours each day. With something of a photographic memory, he is noted for his power of scriptural recall. Despite a speech impediment, he has preached his way to wide acceptance in India and around the world.

Singh shies away from publicity and seeks no seat among national or international Christian leaders. One Danish Christian leader commented, “Here we all love Brother Bakht Singh, mainly because he is a man of great humility.”

Singh’s desire to act only according to Scripture, and his refusal to compromise with church traditions or theological liberalism, make him a controversial figure. Critics say Singh is antimissionary and legalistic. But Singh, perhaps more than any other Indian leader, has popularized the daily use of the Bible. He carries his Bible everywhere and encourages others to do the same.

Article continues below

Singh says he will accept no preaching invitations either in India or abroad unless he feels he has God’s direction to do so. And in spite of his age, he remains in high demand. Many in Christian circles question whether the assemblies will live on after Singh’s death, but Singh says that the Lord, who started the work, will care for its future.

T. E. Koshy

The Netherlands
The Pontiff Puts the Heat on Avant-garde Dutch Church

The small but influential Dutch Roman Catholic church has been a special concern of the Vatican ever since Vatican II (1962–1965) first opened up the church to more influence from its bishops around the world.

Fervently traditionalist before World War II, Dutch Catholics saw the rigid lines dividing them from Protestants breached during their joint resistance to Nazi occupation. Postwar prosperity created a new and affluent Catholic middle class that felt less dependent on Rome. A mood of innovation prevailed.

A new adult catechism sidestepped teachings such as the virgin birth. Obligatory Sunday mass was dropped and private confession fell into disuse. Some Dutch churches celebrated interfaith rites with Protestants. Married ex-priests were allowed to teach on seminary faculties. Lay “pastoral assistants” began to carry out almost all tasks traditionally reserved for priests.

The frustrated Curia regarded all seven Dutch bishops as liberal. Pope Paul VI moved only indirectly to contain the reforming trends in the Dutch church. As dioceses fell vacant, he appointed conservative bishops—over the objections of the Dutch hierarchy. He named Adriaan Simonis a bishop in 1971. Simonis is considered a moderate on the Dutch spectrum, but a Vatican official once described him as “about 40 degrees to the left of the most liberal U.S. bishops.” He named Jan Gijsen, a conservative in anybody’s book, in 1972.

There has been nothing but wrangling ever since. Gijsen, especially, has attacked the liberalizing trends. Unhappy with the way the bishops had attached their five seminaries to state universities, he set up his own. (The number of his new priests has been falling off drastically over the last decade, and Gijsen’s seminary now is producing the most new priests.) He also set up a new missionary organization. Gijsen’s outspoken denunciation of his fellow bishops’ permissiveness has kept the hierarchy tense and those in the pew confused. The Dutch primate, Cardinal Jan Willebrands—himself mildly liberal, but also a conciliator—has failed in attempts to establish working harmony among the bishops.

Article continues below

Through last month’s special synod, Pope John Paul II put the Dutch bishops—as one Catholic reporter observed—in a pressure cooker. To the seven Dutch bishops he added Godfried Danneels, his newly appointed Belgian primate; six (conservative) Vatican representatives; and one Dutch theologian. Then for most of the two-and-a-half week synod he simply listened as the bishops grappled with the subjects on their agenda. Part of the pressure, though, came from his previous utterances on the issues under review.

The cooker experience seems to have worked on the bishops. They began by confirming the necessity for priests to remain celibate (in 1968 the Dutch bishops had passed on to the Vatican the recommendation of the Dutch Pastoral Council that celibacy should be optional for priests). The bishops went on to curb much of the innovation that has surfaced in celebration of the mass, and stressed that “individual confession and absolution” remain “the only normal way” for the faithful to be reconciled with God. They set up a commission to study whether priests in training are receiving adequate spiritual preparation in the university-attached schools.

The bishops also formed a commission that will define the status of pastoral assistants. During the synod they already had limited the assistants by specifically barring them from celebrating mass, hearing confessions, or anointing the sick. (The Dutch church has, in effect, overridden Vatican objections to women as priests and deacons and to married clergy by allowing them, as pastoral assistants, to perform virtually the same roles.)

While they may have satisfied the Pope, however, the bishops had to return to the Netherlands and win acceptance from their independent-minded colleagues, clerical and lay, who make the 5.6-million-member church function.

World Scene

Ten members of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan were arrested last month. The arrests appeared to be part of a quiet roundup of critics of the Republic of China government, following December antigovernment riots. The governing Kuomingtang regime is largely composed of mainlanders who evacuated to Taiwan in 1949, while the Presbyterians, the island’s largest Protestant denomination, are mostly native Taiwanese.

In the highlands of Vietnam, many people have been killed, pastors are in prison, and the populace is suffering great hardship. This report, in a letter from a young Koho tribesman, Krong, to Christian and Missionary Alliance missionary Helen Evans, also revealed that Pastor Sau (of Bamboo Cross fame) and two of his sons were shot to death while praying with a group of young men in a cave. Krong, himself, had been imprisoned under a death sentence, but he escaped, made his way to the sea, and eventually reached Thailand.

Article continues below

A steady flow of response mail from mainland China listeners to Christian broadcasts continues. The Far East Broadcasting Company reported receiving more than 11,000 letters in 1979. Its transmitters, together with those of Trans World Radio, broadcast a combined total of 391/4 hours a day into the People’s Republic.

Partial restoration of Babylon and “reconstruction” of the Tower of Babel on its traditional site are being explored by the Iraqi government and Japan’s Kyoto University. Headed by a professor of architecture, the university team will prepare and submit detailed proposals for rebuilding the great Ishtar Gate of Babylon, construction of a museum, a research center, and a modern traffic system to accommodate tourists.

Missionaries are returning to the Islamic Republic of Comoros after a two-year absence. The Africa Inland Mission entered the Comoros, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, in 1976. But the ready response to the gospel soon became “an embarassment” to the government then in power. After two AIM missionaries were arrested and expelled in late 1977, the mission withdrew its entire staff of 18. Now a new government has expressed regrets over the expulsion, and two AIM missionaries have returned.

Three Coptic churches in Alexandria, Egypt, were fire bombed last month. Members of a fundamentalist segment of the Muslim Brotherhood were responsible, said Shawky F. Karas, president of the American Coptic Association. The bombings all occurred on January 6, the Orthodox observance of Christmas, and there were injuries, “some severe.”

The All Africa Conference of Churches is in trouble. It has been facing a “leadership crisis” since its general secretary, Canon Burgess Carr, began a sabbatical leave in the United States in March 1978. Carr said he would not return to Kenya where the World Council of Churches-aligned body has its headquarters. Efforts to agree on terms for Carr’s return failed, and last month the chairman of the AACC General Committee, John Gatu, announced that “the post of the general secretary has now become vacant.” The organization also had a deficit of some $2.5 million at the end of 1979. Overseas donors have withheld funds pending resolution of the leadership problem and clarification of the direction of the AACC.

Article continues below

The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have decided that men and women with a homosexual preference and practice should be fully accepted as members of their congregations. The General Synod’s nearly unanimous vote followed the report of a synodical advisory committee. The Reformed Ecumenical Synod News Exchange reports the committee’s representative, B. J. F. Schoep, admitted the starting point of committee deliberations was not biblical texts on homosexuality.

Belief in the divinity of Christ has steadily eroded in Britain over the last two decades, according to a study by Princeton Religious Research Center (an affiliate of the Gallup organization) done for the London Sunday Telegraph. Only about 55 percent of the British population now believe that Jesus is the Son of God, compared to 60 percent in 1963, and 71 percent in 1957. By contrast, 78 percent of Americans say they agree that Christ is divine, the center says.

The world’s oldest active editor was promoted last month as his magazine changed hands.The Christian Herald magazine, Britain’s largest interdenominational weekly and a family enterprise since its founding in 1866, has been purchased by Herald House Ltd., a new company backed by two Christian businessmen. Editor T. Wilkinson Riddle, 93, became editor-in-chief. He has been associated with the publication since 1938.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.