- As early as the 14th century, Orthodox church authority was challenged in Russia by protoProtestant groups calling for a return to apostolic simplicity. During the Reformation, Protestants did not see Russia as a field for expansion, though Lutheranism did spread eastward to Lithuania and a variety of groups found their way to a relatively tolerant Poland. As early as 1575, Czar Ivan the Terrible granted Lutherans the right to build a church near Moscow, and in 1652, the first Reformed congregation opened in Tula.Catherine the Great (1729-96) actively recruited German settlers to help develop newly conquered territories, offering them various privileges, including freedom of religion. Both Lutherans and especially Mennonites began to respond to her offers. In 1789, for example, 228 Mennon-ite families settled on the Dnieper River, north of the Black Sea, where a smaller group of Lutherans had already taken up residence. Mennonites and Lutherans both continued to arrive over the next 80 years. During this same period, the first Reformed and Lutheran congregations were founded by German immigrants who settled along the Volga River. In the 1870s, faced with the abandonment of the privileges that Catherine had granted, many of the Mennonites began to leave Russia for North America.During Catherine's reign, another Protestantlike movement arose within Russian orthodoxy. These believers found their program in the Bible, enlivened by revelations and charismatic gifts. Among these groups were the Doukhobors and the Molokans. The Doukhobors rejected church ritual and took the Bible as their rule of life. Persecuted, they, like the Mennonites, began to migrate to Canada, where most now reside.The most Protestantlike of the Russian sectarian groups were the Molokans, founded by Simon Uklein, a former Doukhobor who rejected their excesses. Molokans rejected all ritual (their name came from drinking milk during proscribed fast days), including baptism and the Lord's Supper, but became intense students of the Bible. Like the Mennonites, they were pacifists. In the early decades of the 19th century, following Russia's conquest of the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), many Molokans (and also some Doukhobors) relocated into the region.A new wave of Protestantism came into Russia in the 19th century, with St. Petersburg as the primary disseminating point. In 1813, the British and Foreign Bible Society opened an office there and sent colporteurs throughout Russia distributing Bibles and preaching wherever possible. In the 1860s, the Bible was translated into spoken Russian (as opposed to the archaic Church Slavonic text used in the Russian liturgy). It was circulated among Free Church groups and among the many wandering serfs who had been freed from the land in 1861.In 1832, Johannes Bonekemper, a German-speaking pastor from Basel, Switzerland, heavily influenced by Pietism, settled at Rohrbach, to work in some of the German Lutheran parishes in the Black Sea region. He encouraged his congregation to meet in home groups for an hour (German stunde) for Bible study, prayer, and hymn singing. Soon this practice spread far beyond the territory to which he had been assigned, carried in part by migrant agricultural workers. Though Bonekemper encouraged people to remain in their former churches (even the orthodox), the movement finally evolved into a separate movement known as Stundists. It experienced a second spurt of growth following the arrival of new Bibles after 1861.On the heels of the Bible translation, BAPTISTS from Germany began to enter the country. In 1869, Johann Gerhard Oncken (1800-84), the father of the European Baptist Church, made a tour. Two years earlier, a Caucasus Molokan, Nikita I. Voronin (1840-1905), had accepted immersion and began evangelizing. In the 1880s, one of his converts, Valilii G. Pavlov (1854-1924), went to Hamburg, Germany, to study at Oncken's seminary. Voronin and Pavlov led many of the Molokans to become Baptists. The Baptists also moved among the Stundists and brought many to separate from their former Lutheran and Orthodox churches in the Ukraine. The first formally organized Baptist church was established in St. Petersburg in 1880, though it did not get a building until 1912.During the last half of the 19th century, a spectrum of missionary-minded groups in the West turned their attention to Russia. Some targeted the large Jewish community. The Basel Mission (a Reformed society based in Switzerland) used the Reformed churches already established in the Volga Basin as a base of operation. In 1874, theSwedish Methodists launched work in Finland (then a part of the Russian empire), which became the base for moving on to St. Petersburg. The first Methodist church was organized in 1889.St. Petersburg became the center of a new Protestant movement following the conversion of Countess Chertkova, occasioned by the death of her son. Her brother-in-law, Vasili Pashkov, was also converted, and he threw his wealth into the printing of Christian literature, including Russian Bibles, and in spreading his newfound faith among the Russian aristocracy. Arising in the same milieu was Ivan Stepanovich Prokhanov (1869-1935), a former Molokan who in the 1880s became the founder and leader of the Union of Evangelical Christians. The union was very close to the Baptists in belief and practice, but more open on the question of baptism by immersion. Prokhanov was active in the Baptist World Alliance and emerged as a rival of the leader of the St. Petersburg Baptist community, Wilhelm Felter.A new day arrived for Russian Protestants in 1905 with the declaration of religious tolerance by the government. In its wake, all of the Evangelical groups prospered and spread from St. Petersburg to other parts of the country. In 1907, for example, Anna Eklund (1867-1949) came to St. Petersburg and organized a Methodist deaconess home. In 1911, Finland was designated as a new Methodist annual conference, with the Russian work listed as a district.Pentecostalism entered Russian in the person of Ivan Voronaev (1886-1943), a Russian Baptist pastor who received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1908 in New York. He began work in Siberia and then the Ukraine after World War I, and in 1924 founded the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith in Odessa. Pentecostalism swept through the Free Church communities over the next five years.In 1928, the decade of postrevolutionary liberty enjoyed by Protestant groups came to a sudden halt when legal status was removed from all the churches. Repression became active, and much church property was confiscated. Among the first to suffer were the Methodists. The district superintendent withdrew, and care of the movement fell to Eklund, but by the end of the decade she, too, left the country, fearing for her life. The last Methodist bishop to visit the surviving group in 1939 effectively disbanded the work and advised the remaining members to affiliate with one of the other Protestant groups. The Lutheran Church in Russia was formally disbanded in 1938.The Baptists, the Union of Evangelical Christians, and the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith all gained some reprieve from persecution when they joined the national defense against the Nazi invaders. However, in 1944, the first two of the groups were forced to merge, with Pentecostals being added to the merger in 1945. The Pentecostals were also forced to suppress speaking in tongues. The new Union of Evangelical Christians and Baptists became the major Protestant body in Russia in the remaining years of the Soviet Union. Some of the surviving Mennonites associated with the union in 1963.Beginning in the 1930s, many Free Church groups went underground and did not come forward to join the 1944 union. About half of the Pentecostals stayed out of the union. During the post-World War II decades, some Western Christians targeted the Soviet Union with smuggledBibles and other Christian literature. At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church joined the predominantly Protestant World Council of Churches.The situation changed completely with the fall of the Soviet Union. During the 1990s, several Protestant churches (such as the Methodists) revived their work, while almost 100 churches and evangelistic associations launched efforts inside Russia. New indigenous Russian churches also sprang up. As the new century began, the entire Protestant spectrum was active within Russia, though most remain in limbo as to their legal status. The Russian parliament has attempted to take steps against so many foreign groups, which many believe are taking advantage of a period of vulnerability.Further reading:■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ Steve Durasoff, The Russian Protestants: Evangelicals in the Soviet Union, 1944-1964 (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1969)■ Albert W. Olema, History of Evangelical Christianity in Russia (Katy, Tex.: the author, 1983)■ M. Rowe, Russian Resurrection: Strength in Suffering: A History of Russia's Evangelical Church (London: Marshall & Pickering, 1994)■ Albert W. Wardin, ed., Baptists Around the World (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1995).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.