Roots in the Peasant Reform
What were the main reasons of Baptist movement beginning in Russia? First of all it was the peasant reform of 1861 during the kingdom of Alexander II. After the abolition of serfdom, much of the population of Russia was craving a spiritual quest. “The people contained by serfdom experiencing freedom eagerly looking for their interest,” wrote Bishop Alexey Dorodnitsin. “They realized themselves as people experiencing the pleasure from pursuing spiritual life.”
The surge in God seeking did not find understanding among the official-bureaucrastic part of the Orthodox clergy. On the opposite, their reaction was hostile. It provoked a deep dissatisfaction with the current church, from those who was longing for a spiritual life that transcended church on Sunday. “The people passionately searched for a spiritual renewal, and after seeing the civilian changes in 1861, they challenged the indifference and undevelopment of their pastors toward the path of religious enthusiasm” noted a well known public figure Anatoliy Koni.
The peasant reform, the spiritual crisis of the dominant church and the translation of the bible into Russian have raised the interest in the original source of Christian faith among all stratum of Russian people. Everywhere in the capitals and small provinces the first bible study groups were formed and that’s where some talented preachers came from. The seekers of higher truth were not satisfied with the empty ceremonial style of church life anymore. They were longing to serve God in spirit and truth, following the example of the first Apostolic Church. The wealthy aristocrat V.A. Pashkov, the Counts M.M. Corf, A.P. Bobrinsky, Princesses E.I. Chertkova, N.F. Leaven, V.F Gagarina organized public gatherings with the preaching of the Gospel in the capital mansions and in their family estates. The people of Evangelical movement would get nicknames such as Pashkovtsy and sectarians. Despite some differences in rites and forms of ministry, all serious believers in Christ were united by theology and idealogical principles of the Christian baptist Church.
The word «Baptist» derives from a Greek word in the New Testament «Baptidzo» which means baptism or a total immersion in water. The origins of the Christian baptists go back to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth and are connected to the gospel teaching of baptism. The baptists regect the baptism of babies confessing a concious, meaningful baptism of personal faith with solid christian beliefs and a rejection of a sinful way of life. All christians are equal before God. The elder does not have absolute power, and the most important issues are decided at church meetings and conferences. The services have a creative nature and cosists in multiple sermons, congregational singing accompanied by musical instruments, special music, praying, reading spiritual poems and greetings from other churches. The baptists movement always put the apostolic ministry (preaching of the Gospel) in the first place recreating the spirit of christianity from the first centuries. Therefore, the Russian Baptist Christians are known as champions of spiritual enlightenment. They used to deliver the Scripture in the most far areas of the Russian Empire, and still do today.
Development & Key Figures
The main Russian christian movements delivered a lot of eminent spiritual figures. There are three names that shine most vividly on the sky of Russian Prostentism: V.A. Pashkov (1831-1902), V.G. Pavlov (1854-1924), and V.S. Prokhanov (1869-1935). The aristocrat from St. Petersburg V. Pashkov founded «The society of spiritual reading». Pashkov and his collaborators – the Count M.M. Korff, the Countess E.I. Shuvalova published more than 200 various books and brochures of spiritual content: collections of poems for singing, theological treatises, sermons, stories. Booksellers distributed these throughout Russia. «The Russian Worker» a monthly magazine, became popular among the normal person. Pashkov's friends also were a part of this publication. It had stories from Sacred History, the preaching of John Zlatoust, the conversations of Tikhon Zadonsky, essays on spiritual-ethical topics.
In 1884, Pashkov convened the first Russian congress of evangelical protestants in Russia. Pashkov was expelled from Russia for being an active doer of God's work and ended his life abroad. The Patriarch of russian baptism, V.G. Pavlov stood at the origins of the evangelical movement, carrying out human rights ministry, devoting his life to the preaching of the Gospel, for which he was constantly persecuted, being imprisoned forty times, surviving two hard deportations where he lost his wife and three children. The route of his mission ran from the Caucasus' to the Far East, from Odessa to America.
Religious public figure I.S Prokhanov labored in preaching, book publishing, spiritual protestant education, and in a christian cooperative movement. He spoke at the State Conference organized by the Temporare Government in August 1917 with an extensive program of intellectual, moral and spiritual enlightment of the Russian people.
Persecution & Soviet Union
There were a few quite years in the history of the Russian Baptists. The most brutal years of persecution fell during the turn of the 19th century. Religious meetings outside of Orthodox churcesh was considered extremly dangerous. Marriages of Russian Protestants would not get registered, children were not accepted to school, and preachers were exiled to hard labor in Trans-caucasian regions and Siberia.
One of the descendants of Volkonsky family, a famous figure of Russian culture, Prince Sergey Mikhailovich repeatedly spoke to the Russian people and Western countries with criticism of religious and nationalistic views. Due to the confusion of the relation of terms «Russian» and «Orthodox», life had become logically absurd and morally cruel. Poison spewed against those who weren't Orthodox, having a harmful irreversable effect. More and more people heard that only Orthodox people are true russians, non- Orthodox people are not loyal patriots.
This was devastating to Christians, as they do not think about creating a single dominant church, just as Christ taught, but to serve others humbly in love. It's not by chance that the common Christian prayer begins with the words «Our Father». Is the almighty God only God of orthodox or Baptists or Catholics? The Creator of heaven and earth is the Father of all mankind, and all who honor His teachings and His Son are free from the spirit of separation.
During Soviet times, baptists christians had lots of problems with authorities. The issue of Baptism as the free, open gathering of Christian would often go against the laws forbidding them, saying they «practice the religious cult». The children were strictly forbidden to attend the church. And if young man or girl would proclaim their desire follow Christ they would be taught at school and at work not to.
In 1961, a special law was issued applying legislation on religion. The life of believers got even more complicated. The elders were forced to submit a list of new Christians to the authorities. They were not allowed to baptize people younger than 30 years old. The young preachers were not allowed to preach in the pulpit, and all expressions of faith outside of church were strictly suppresed. These policies caused a powerful protest movement among the Baptist churches. Praying for their persecutors, the believers asked God for patience and perseverance to confess Christ.
An era of the global change has come to our country over the past few decades, altering the position of the Christian Baptists in society. Baptists are confident that the establishment of evangelical ideals in the hearts of people will lead to a comprehensive improvement of society. Now the look of the church has changed, having many younger believers, and the educational level has increased. Every year, 8,000 – 9,000 new followers of Jesus Christ join the church of Christian Baptists.
The Russian Baptist communities have been open to Christian cooperation with fellow believers from abroad. Bridges to Christians of Europe were built by prominent preachers Prokhanov, Pavlov, and Fetler. Fraternal international contacts expanded the spiritual horizon of believers without losing their own distinctive face. In general, Russian Baptism is a peculiar phenomenon in the history of Christianity. It is a multi-dimensional fusion of Russian and Western spirituality, an organic combination of Christianity of the West and the East.
The gospel principles of Christian Baptists have gained respect throughout the civilized world. The advanced countries of Europe learned from the Baptists regarding democracy and spiritual freedom. The testimony of Baptists has not been ruined by persecution. Baptists proclaim the slogan: “Free Church in a free State”. Baptists are convinced that the spiritual culture of the people is created not only by religious denominations that have a high state status in society, but also by all living souls who sincerely love the Lord and their neighbor.
“Talk to people of the Gospel tirelessly, for destruction will come without the Word of God,” these words of Dostoevsky, spoken by the mouth of the elder Zosima, are taken to heart by spiritually revived Christians of all denominations, including Baptists. Therefore, in times of persecution and in days of freedom, they strove to make a reasonable, good, faithful confession for the eternal sake of saving man and restoring the image and likeness of God in him.