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Rector’s Letter April 2022

Dear friends,

Does Russia need a Bonhoeffer? 

Take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Ephesians 6.13

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the German Lutheran pastor and founding member of the Confessing Church who famously objected to Hitler and Nazism in the run up to, and during, the Second World War.  His punishment was to be incarcerated and eventually executed.  His book The Cost of Discipleship is a modern classic.

If Bonhoeffer and his co-leaders in the Confessing Church were able to make a stand for God and justice, should we be looking for equally courageous pastors in Russia today?  Most Christian leaders in Russia are against the war and are praying for peace in their churches.  Some are demonstrating in public.  They are clearly under intense pressure.

One leader who has already found himself in trouble is Ioann Burdin of Resurrection Church in Kostroma, 215 miles northwest of Moscow.  He was arrested for “discrediting the Russian armed forces” in his Sunday sermon.  His parish also allegedly shared an anti-war petition.  “We, Christians, cannot stand idly by when a brother kills brother, a Christian kills a Christian,” the statement said, as reported by the BBC’s Russian service. “Let’s not repeat the crimes of those who hailed Hitler’s deeds on Sept. 1, 1939.”  Does Russia need more like him?

The best example in the Bible of someone standing up to the cruel intentions of a dictator is probably Esther.  As a young Jewish girl, she became the queen of Persia and with the help of Mordecai her uncle, saved her people from a plot to destroy them.  She acted extremely bravely and shrewdly. 

However, it is very interesting that in the New Testament, we do not find the apostles writing directly against Caesar and the Roman authorities, but rather giving a strong call to prayer and perseverance.  Jesus never called for riots or politically based movements but in the Sermon on the Mount challenged his followers to be salt and light. And St. Paul calls us to bless our enemies, rather than curse them.  This is one reason why we have joined with other churches (notably Saintfield Road) to prioritise prayer for peace in Ukraine.

Samuil Petrovski, president of the Serbian Evangelical Alliance and IFES Serbia, has said, ‘Instead of being one-sided, as some people have done by displaying the Ukrainian flag and creating events for prayer for the Ukrainians specifically, they should also advertise the Russian flag and pray for the Russians too.  Christians should stand up in prayer, offer practical help, and appeal for peace—praying for the leaders on both sides. We must be extremely careful to avoid strong political debate, through which our Christian leaders can lose focus and forget the importance of Christ.’

Any modern-day Bonhoeffer will need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to provide the necessary Christian leadership in the current conflict.  He will need to stand firm for Jesus Christ and his gospel of peace.  He will need to see beyond the politics to the spiritual battle in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6.12).  He will require the support of brothers and sisters throughout the world. 

With love and prayers in Christ this Easter,

Bill