Protestant missionaries in Russia are coming to terms with the long-standing tension with the Orthodox church and have begun the delicate task of mending fences, a move observers say is long overdue.

Friction between the two groups, which surfaced soon after the fall of communism in Russia and hundreds of foreign missionary groups began to flood the country, has mounted in recent months and has begun to pose a threat to foreign missionary activity.

Strained relations between the two groups "constitute a serious situation for missionaries," Anita Deyneka, cofounder of Russian Ministries, told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. "If we don't try to relate on a personal level in pursuit of common Christian goals, not only will the situation become more explosive, but the cause of Christ will suffer."

Some Orthodox conservatives have made no secret of their opposition to the missionary presence in Russia. Mikhail Antonov, chairman of the Union for the Spiritual Renewal of the Homeland, wrote in Pravda of a "purposeful brainwashing of the population in the spirit of Catholicism, Protestantism, and occultism with a clear purpose to discredit and eradicate Orthodoxy."

The Russian Orthodox Church and American Protestant evangelicalism are separated by centuries of church history, language, and many other cultural barriers, creating one of the most difficult challenges to face the missions community this century. Last year, conservatives in the Orthodox hierarchy backed legislation that would have greatly restricted foreign missionary activity. That law was buried when President Boris Yeltsin dismissed Parliament a year ago. In recent months, new laws—some backed by conservatives in the Orthodox church -have been drafted that would restrict foreign ...

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