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Russian Lutheran laments “sinfulness of this war” during European ILC meetings

Destroyed buildings on the streets of Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2022. Photo: YuriiKochubey.
Destroyed buildings on the streets of Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2022. Photo: YuriiKochubey.

ONLINE – On March 21, 2022, the European World Region of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held meetings online. The meetings were led by Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who serves as the European representative on the ILC’s Board of Directors. Among other topics, participants discussed how churches might help people in Ukraine during the current crisis, as well as aid those who have fled.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), attended the meeting as a representative of his church body. “What was particularly moving at this meeting was not only the great helpfulness of the ILC member churches,” Bishop Voigt noted, “but also a statement that a participant from a church in Russia made to the participants and which he also made available in writing after the meeting.”

What follows are the words of the Russian representative. For security reasons, neither his name nor the name of his church is given here.

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The Russian participant reported: “The shock of what has happened is so grave that we will probably be able to realize it only years after. I think that at the moment we are going through the first four stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. ‘It can’t be! We can’t have started a war!’ ‘Damn this war!’ ‘There must be some way out!’ ‘It’s all hopeless…’ The world we lived in has been shattered and there is no way to undo it.

One can hardly imagine the multiple layers of crisis that Russia and its people are now facing. It is not only political and economical, but foremost existential: the war has divided society. It has left honest, thinking people helpless and feeling fear and shame.

The current situation facing media is unprecedented. The censorship is monstrous. A new law allows people to be sentenced to 15 years in prison for sharing “fake” news about the war. That even includes just calling the “special military operation” in Ukraine a war at all.

People have to use VPN services to avoid bans of social networks. Most opposition media sources have closed down and journalists have left Russia. Those very few that remain are not able to cover the war.

People do protest. But all meetings are forbidden and people are immediately detained and fined. Those who are detained for a third time are imprisoned. Some of our congregation members went on anti-war strikes and have been detained. One Russian-Orthodox priest faces a charge because of a sermon where he urged people to pray for peace and sign a petition to stop the war. (By the way the petition was signed by 1.2 million Russian citizens. It could be even more popular but, as it requires personal information, people are reluctant to sign it—and the organizer of the petition has already been detained.

As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon—and we live-stream it too—I wonder: when will my turn come?

As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon, I wonder: when will my turn come?

I would say that the main feeling people in Russia have now is fear. Firstly, it is the fear to speak up. People are afraid not only to publicly share their opinion but even to “like” or repost the opinions of others. Secondly, people feel a paralyzing fear for their future. With the rise in inflation and the consequences of sanctions, people are afraid it will cut down not only supplies to foreign goods and luxuries but also to necessities, and even lead to famine.

But the church has immunity against both of these types of fear. Firstly, we have been confessing our faith boldly for more than 2,000 years now. We have learned to preach the truth no matter how unpopular it is or how dangerous it is. “So every one who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Secondly, we have learned to trust God and not to worry for He Himself will provide: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:33-34). “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

So we continue to do what we are called to do: preach the Law in all its strictness and the Gospel in all its sweetness. As we preach the Law, we also point to the sin of the war and admonish all those responsible for bloodshed to repent. As we preach the Gospel, we remind people of God’s love for us sinners and His continual care.

In these days, we again think a lot about the Confessing Church (“Bekennende Kirche”) from the Nazi-era in Germany. But the main conclusion that I make is that the church should have preached the Law and the Gospel diligently and boldly before it came to the point when it was impossible. This is the only way to prevent society from turning to fascism.”

Bishop Voigt has expressed his admiration for the frank assessment of this Russian participant at the meetings of the ILC European World Region. “I am deeply impressed by the courageous and unflinching statement of our brother from Russia,” he said. “When I asked if we could publish his words, he answered ‘yes’ without hesitation.”

“In these days, with the horrific images from the Kiev suburbs circulating in the media, this Lutheran minister’s words show a different Russia,” Bishop Voigt continued. “Let us not tire of praying for the people of Ukraine, as well as for this ‘other Russia’

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The International Lutheran Council is supporting relief efforts in Ukraine and refugee assistance. For information on how you can help, click here.

Dust to Dust: A Solemn Response to the Invasion of Ukraine

Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill.

by Timothy C.J. Quill

On February 24—the day the Russian military attacked Ukraine—I was enjoying a delightful glass of beer with a small group of German “conversationalists” at a stimulating Stammtisch at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany.[i] The conversation flowed spontaneously from one topic to another: art, classical and pop music, American movies, and international politics. Then, out of nowhere, the German artist asked: “You are a Christian pastor and professor, so what side of the Russian Ukrainian conflict is God on?” The question came from one of two regulars at the Stammtisch who also happen to be atheists. And so, the discussion was off and running in which the real issue proved to be the existence and nature of God and religion.

Over the next twenty-four hours, alarming details began to emerge revealing that the assault was indeed a major, comprehensive invasion by more than 150,000 Russian air, land, and naval forces on Ukraine from the north, east, and south. It was bad. People huddled in basements. Thousands of refugees were fleeing to the Polish and Rumanian boarders. Among the masses were members of several small Lutheran Church bodies—the remnants of what was once a large Lutheran Church before its destruction by the Communists.

Christ victorious over death and the devil. Detail from “Law and Grace” (Prague type) by Lucas Cranach, 1529.

So, what is the position and response of the International Lutheran Council, its 60-member church bodies and seven million members in regards to the Russian invasion? Rather than begin by wading into the swamp of international relations, politics, economics, and sanctions, or by considering questions like “Which side is God on?” and “Why does God allows evil?”, I will begin in another place. The right place to start is always with the God of grace and His Son, Jesus Christ, who was sent by His heavenly Father to do battle against sin, evil, suffering, death, and the devil.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is not a time for power plays by the mighty and powerful with their military weapons and political sanctions. Lent is a time of “self-sanctioning”—that is to say, Lent is a time of self-denial, fasting, and repentance for our sins: for the sinful conflicts we have caused in our lives and the lives of our loved ones, families, friends, church, and community.

Lent is not a time for power plays by the mighty and powerful with their military weapons and political sanctions. Lent is a time of “self-sanctioning”—that is to say, Lent is a time of self-denial, fasting, and repentance for our sins: for the sinful conflicts we have caused in our lives and the lives of our loved ones, families, friends, church, and community.

These are solemn days in Ukraine, Russia, and other European countries. The fear is palpable. How long will this conflict last? A week? A month? A year? Years? Lent is also a solemn time. It lasts forty days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. It is a time of solemn, serious repentance in which we take an honest account of the state of our sinful hearts, desires, and actions. And yet, amid this darkness in our hearts and in this fallen world, Lent does not extinguish but brightens the light of God’s love and grace. Lent is about our heavenly Father sending his only begotten Son to carry our sin within Himself on the cross. Ash Wednesday and Lent is a time of both repentance and absolution. Not just penance. Not just forgiveness. There is no season of Lent without both repentance and forgiveness. During Lent, we prepare our hearts to receive the crucified and risen Lord. To receive Jesus is to receive the forgiveness of sins, and where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life—real, eternal life!

Christ crucified. Detail from “Law and Grace” (Prague type) by Lucas Cranach, 1529.

During these unimaginable dark and horrible days in Ukraine, the light of Christ must and will again shine and bring life and joy and peace. Look at the ravaged, dead body of the pure and holy Lamb of God on the cross. What do you see? You see Ukraine. You see the suffering and death of all those engaged in the battle, those on both sides and their families in Ukraine and in Russia. Isaiah depicts a heart-wrenching picture of what Jesus carried within himself on the cross: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions… upon Him was that chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Black ashes on our forehead are a sign of penitence and a reminder of death. When the ashes are imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the pastor says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Even if we escape the bullets and bombs of war, we will all most certainly die one day, and we therefore need the forgiveness of sins from Jesus.

After black come white. The blackness of sin, guilt, regret, despair, and the utter darkness of hell is replaced by the white of Easter Sunday and the resurrection. In Holy Baptism, we are covered with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness and purity.

Whose side is God on? The battle between the armies of Ukraine and Russia is real, brutal, and tragic. Soldiers and non-combatants, young and old will suffer and die in this heart-breaking travesty. And yet what we are seeing in Ukraine is only the tip of the iceberg—a horrific, destructive, painful tip of the iceberg, yet only the tip. The Apostle Paul describes the rest of the deadly iceberg in Ephesians 6:12ff: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present age, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This war is far worse and has eternal consequences. But the battle has been won by Christ.

It is significant that the war in Ukraine is being fought during the season of Lent. This sends a powerful message from God to all of us—Russians, Ukrainians, Europeans, Americans, and all nations—that it is a time for us to repent. The Lord declares that now is the time “to return to Him with all our hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; a time to rend our hearts and not our garments. A time to blow a trumpet in Zion.” Not a war trumpet but to “consecrate a fast, a solemn assembly” (Joel 2:12-19). Ash Wednesday is a solemn assembly, and it is more than a brief one-day event. It marks the beginning of a season of forty days of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on the holy suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ and from Him draws life and hope. Lent likewise is more than just forty days. Rather, the forty days of penitence shape every day of life as one lives in repentance and forgiveness, hope, and joy. This is how the Small Catechism instructs all who have been baptized to live each day:

What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

The ILC is preparing to assist refugees and others in need once the chaotic events make it possible to undertake concrete acts of mercy for those devastated by the conflict.

Since the day Russia attacked Ukraine, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) has included a Litany for Ukraine on its homepage and encouraged churches and individuals to pray. The ILC is also preparing to assist refugees and others in need once the chaotic events make it possible to undertake concrete acts of mercy for those devastated by the conflict. Ora et labora. Pray and work. Since its founding following World War II, the ILC has committed itself to the Gospel of Salvation through Jesus Christ through both the serious prayerful discussion of theology and works of mercy. Great effort, time, and money were given to help the immense refugee problem caused by the Second World War. The ILC retains the same commitment today.

Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord; Peace in our time O send us! For there is none on earth but You, None other to defend us. - LSB 778

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Rev. Dr. Timothy C.J. Quill is General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.


1 The Old Latin School International Lutheran Center is located adjacent to Martin Luther’s St. Mary’s parish church in Wittenberg. The Old Latin School is managed by the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg gGmbH (ILSW).  This German non-profit organization is a partnership of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), and the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

Prayer for Peace in Ukraine

UKRAINE – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is urging prayer, following the beginning of what some are suggesting may be the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Media reports indicate that Russian forces have invaded Ukraine from three sides, using ground, air, and naval forces. There have been airstrikes and shelling in numerous areas.

“We ask our members to pray for peace,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt. “May God bring an end to the hostilities and prevent further bloodshed.”

Congregations are encouraged to use the following intercessory prayer for peace:

Intercessory prayer for peace

Liturgist: In peace let us pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.

Lector: For peace in Eastern Europe /that the Lord may bring an end to the war and restore peace and freedom to the people of Ukraine / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For the children and young people / that the Lord may preserve them in body and soul from suffering and injury /let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For the brothers and sisters in the churches of Ukraine and Russia / that God may keep their hearts from hating one another / that He may show them ways to serve peace, proclaim the Word of God, and celebrate the sacraments / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For all who have political responsibility / that the Lord may direct their hearts to peace / that He may help them to serve truth and justice / that He may guard the hearts and minds of people from error and falsehood / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For peace and harmony in our country / that the Lord may prevent the polarization of society into opposing interest groups / that He may give and keep peace in workplaces, universities, and schools / that He may give new strength to teachers and keep their love / let us pray:

Congregation Lord have mercy.

Lector: For peace in our homes and families / that the Lord may help spouses who have a hard time with each other / that He may give good understanding between generations / so that children may grow up in peace, and for unborn children / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For an end to the worldwide pandemic / that the Lord may preserve people from sickness / that He may give new strength to nurses and doctors / for all who are sick, and whose names we mention here in silence… / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For our church and congregation / that the Lord may keep us in His truth / that He may raise up young people willing to enter His service / for Lutheran Seminaries worldwide / that the Lord may establish teachers and learners in His Word / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Liturgist: Merciful God, keep us in Your peace, and grant peace to all people for whom we have prayed, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.

All: Amen.

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Estonian Lutherans commemorate persecution under the communist regime

Participants in the Estonian memorial’s tenth anniversary commemoration service.

Participants in the Estonian memorial’s tenth anniversary commemoration service.

RUSSIA – Ten years ago, Bishop Vesevolod Lytkin of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) consecrated a monument in the Estonian graveyard at Estono-Semionovka, commemorating the Estonians who suffered during the years of political repression under the communist regime. This time of persecution rapidly eroded the once-majority Lutheran faith among Estonians.

In the lead up to 2020, the SELC had been planning a commemoration prayer service to mark the tenth anniversary of the installation of the monument in Estono-Semionovka, with Bishop Tiit Salumäe of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) also intending to participate. However, the interruption of international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic made his attendance impossible, so EELK Bishop Tiit instead sent a video address to Siberian Estonians.

During the commemoration service, SELC Bisho Lytkin reflected on the persecution of Estonian Lutherans, and what Christians today can learn from their story. The text of his remarks follow:

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Brothers and sisters, friends,

We just read from the Gospel about the cross. But we did not only read; we stand near a cross. This cross is erected here in memory of our ancestor—the people who came to Siberia to live and to work, to build a happy new life for themselves and their children.

SELC Bishop Vesevolod Lytkin speaks during the commemoration service.

You know, some people often say that Lutheranism is a “German faith.” But, according to the statistics, at the end of the 19th century there were more Estonian Lutherans in the Tomsk province than German Lutherans. So, we can say that on this land, Lutheranism was an Estonian faith.

But in fact, Lutheranism is a non-ethnic faith. In Siberia, there were many people who spoke different languages and confessed Lutheranism. Someone estimated that Lutherans spoke 26 languages. Can you imagine?

Our ancestors, no matter who they were by ethnicity, suffered many trials. When they arrived here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they did not know what awaited them. At that time the Russian government was trying to populate Siberia. A great many people from the western outskirts of the Empire came here to start a new life. It was difficult here, but there was freedom. Labour brought results and joy—as it should be.

The immigrants built houses, farms, and then schools, and in some settlements even churches. And where there were no churches, pastors from bigger towns came to visit the parishioners. Those who lived here in this place were parishioners of the parish of Saint Mary in Tomsk.

They did not know what awaited them. They hoped for the best. And then it began… The Russian revolution, civil war, forced collectivization, the confiscation of property, persecution for the faith, and the enlargement of villages, reorganized in order to deprive people of their roots—of their past.

We must keep the memory of them. Because without memory, we simply do not have anything left. Without memory of our ancestors, we ourselves are nobody.

Moreover, how wonderful it is that the top of this monument is crowned with a cross. Frankly, I remember how ten years ago, when I was asked to consecrate this monument, I was a little worried. What would be in it? What is this monument? But when I saw the cross on top, I calmed down and rejoiced. When I saw the cross.

Why are crosses placed in cemeteries? Because the cross is a sign of victory over death. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth to die on the cross for our sins. He died and then He rose from the dead. If we believe in Christ, we will live forever. Earthly death will be for us not a cessation of existence but a gate to paradise.

Christ died on the cross for the sins of each of us. And now for every person the cross of Christ means a choice: either we ourselves will answer in the Last Judgment before God for our sins, or we will believe and trust in Christ, Who died for us, instead of us. Either God’s judgment will condemn us to eternal perdition, or Christ will become our Savior.

This is what I want to say: I am so sad to see that among the descendants of the settlers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there are very few who still believe in God. They live like unbelievers, sometimes even like pagans. They don’t remember God, they don’t pray, they don’t go to church.

But our ancestors believed in God. And they lived and died with faith in Christ. That is why we are gathered here today: to thank God for the faith that He gave to our ancestors. For eternal life—the symbol of which is this memorable cross.

Siberian Estonians were persecuted for their ethnicity, for the fact that they knew how and wanted to work, for the faith that they did not renounce even in the face of death. Their life was terribly difficult: they got into the most terrible meat-grinder. But they carried their cross to the end. They lost their lives for the sake of Christ and saved their souls for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now they are in heaven. And that means we will meet them again. And we will embrace them and bow to them—our brothers and sisters, who during the earthly life carried a heavy cross… and now live forever.

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COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Russia and Togo

Participating in Easter worship online, with ELCR General Secretary Pastor Mikhail Ivanov broadcasting from St. Mary Cathedral in Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

WORLD – The member churches of the International Lutheran Council continue to reach out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we highlight the work of ILC member churches in Russia and in Togo.

Russia

Russia now reports 187,859 cases of COVID-19 as well as 1,723 deaths so far. Different areas have enacted quarantines and lockdown procedures, with many citizens ordered to self-isolate, and a do-not-work order runs at least through May 11, 2020.

Rev. Igor Alisov of St. Trinity in Moscow prepares to lead evening devotions online.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCR) has moved much of its work online during this situation. On a daily basis, several congregations (and two dozen on Sundays) are live-streaming or publishing record videos of worship services, theology classes, Bible studies, confirmation classes, devotions, and more. Each week, Bishop Ivan Laptev and General Secretary Mikhail Ivanv go live online, answering viewers’ questions.

“The Church is exploring a new missions field in the internet,” the church reports. “The Word of God has come to every home. And even secular specialists—through the expertise in internet technologies—are becoming involved in the work of Christ.”

Other ongoing activities include online meetings of youth and the publication of Bible classes for children. The Theological Institute has implemented distance education programs.

The church is also reaching out with practical care as well, providing support for those in need of material assistance who have no other means of support.

“We are longing to meet with one another again, and with Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” the church reports. In the meantime, “we continue to pray, praise, and worship together as we joyfully celebrate the Easter season.”

Togo

In Togo, 145 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, as well as 10 deaths. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, several official measures have been taken, with gatherings restricted to 15 people are fewer.

Rev. Remy Lari Lamboni holds a worship service with five members of his parish in Sankpong, Togo.

The Lutheran Church of Togo (Église Luthérienne du Togo – ELT) faces a difficult situation ministering to its members during this crisis. “The coronavirus pandemic has affected our church negatively,” notes President Kolani Lambon Lare. “The public celebration of Holy Communion, Baptism, weddings, conventions, Sunday schools, and church meetings are all stopped.”

In remote areas, some pastors have been permitted to hold small gatherings of five to ten people. During these services, church members are asked to practice social distancing, wear masks, and wash with hand sanitizer. Some pastors are also able to provide baptism and holy communion in small family settings.

The church has no website, complicating their outreach to church members. The ELT has turned to WhatsApp to share devotions with members every Wednesday and Sunday. President Lare has also encouraged members to study their Bibles at home, and to pray against the pandemic.

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

COVID-19 and ILC Churches in the Philippines, Russia, and South Africa

LCP President Antonio Reyes leads Easter worship for residents in the immediate vicinity of the Lutheran Center in Tiaong, Quezon Province, where he and his wife were stranded when the nation-wide quarantine began. The church here has also been distributing rice, milk, and hygienic products.

WORLD – The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect nations around the world, and churches are responding with practical and spiritual care. In this report, we highlight the work of International Lutheran Council (ILC) member churches in the Philippines, Russia, and South Africa.

Philippines

The Philippines has reported 9,485 cases of COVID-19 so far, with 623 deaths. The country entered into quarantine measures on March 15, 2020 in order to combat the spread of the disease, and those measures have been extended at least through May 15. Authorities have called on citizens to refrain from attending mass gatherings and to ensure social distancing.

In response to the spread of COVID-19, the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) responded immediately, encouraging all members of the church to abide by and respect the government’s directions. Through the church’s website and social media channels, the LCP has published a wide variety of resources to assist church members during this time of crisis. These resources have included the broadcast of worship services online, the publication of written devotionals and sermons, and posting regular prayers and inspirational articles.

Faith Lutheran Church in Batuan City, Philippines, distributes face masks to local residents as part of their practical support during the coronavirus pandemic.

On the local level, pastors and congregations are also reaching out with practical support to the people in their communities. Faith Lutheran Church in Batuan City, for example, has distributed face masks, as well as food supplies, to families in need. Similar distributions of foods and other necessities have taken place in Tiaong, Quezon Province; Patag, Opol, Misamis Oriental; and in Sitio Suapog Barangay Camachile, Bulacan, among other locations.

In a prayer posted on the LCP website, President Antonio Reyes writes the following: “I come to You in behalf of those affected by COVID-19. You are the Great Physician and healer. You have healed people of old and You can do the same today.”

“Protect those serving on the frontline around the world: doctors, nurses, and others in the medical profession,” he continues. “Protect and bless the government representatives. Give wisdom and good health to those working for the antidote of the virus, that they may develop the cure.”

“Lastly, I pray for Your mercy and grace in Jesus, because it is really You who heals our sickness… Help us to be patient… Come, Lord Jesus, save us from this predicament. Amen.”

Russia

Russia reports 145, 268 cases of COVID-19 as well as 1,356 deaths so far. Different regions have enacted quarantines and lockdown procedures, with many citizens ordered to self-isolate.

SELC Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin leads Easter worship in Novosibirsk, Russia.

As late as Easter, the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) noted that its churches were still able to be open, even as they worked diligently to comply with sanitary requirements, doing everything possible to ensure the safety of members.

In an Easter letter to all parishes of the church, SELC Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin asked members to reflect not only on their physical health during the crisis but also on their spiritual health. “After all,” he wrote, “not only temporary health but also eternal life is given to us by a God who has died for us and has risen, for Whom no doors can be an obstacle.”

Noting that the current pandemic meant many parishioners were unable to attend church, Bishop Lytkin encouraged members to remember that the Eucharist will be waiting for them when they are finally able to return to church. “If current circumstances and restrictions keep you from this for the time being, please remember that in the church every service with the Holy Communion is a little Easter. And this is the main joy of Easter: Christ has risen to be with us and not to leave us; therefore, He is always waiting for us at the altar.”

South Africa

South Africa has reported 7,220 cases of COVID-19 and 138 deaths. A national lockdown began on March 26, 2020, with the country entering into a period of gradual easing of restrictions beginning on May 1.

LCSA Bishop S.M.A. Modise Maragelo leads members in a live-streamed service.

From the beginning, the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (LCSA) called on its members to heed government calls for lockdown, with the Office of the Bishop postponing and suspending all church activities.

Like many other churches around the world, the LCSA has embraced a number of various mediums of communication to ensure continued spiritual care for members. This has included recording and live-streaming sermons, as well as sending regular messages to members via the church’s Facebook page.

Individual members and congregations have also reached out to the needy with food parcels where possible.

“It could seem at times as if things were out of control,” acknowledged LCSA Bishop S.M.A. Modise Maragelo. “But things never get beyond the control or the reach of God. Because of the fact that He is in control, we can always look to Him and we can always trust Him.”

“We trust God to give compassion and dedication to medical professionals,” he continued, “and wisdom to researchers as the world faces this pandemic.”

“Fear and panic have been the order of the day,” he said. “Yet there is hope because God is still alive and still in control.”

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Ingrian Lutherans in Russia elect new bishop

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria holds its 30th Synod in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo: ELCI News, Liliann Keskinen).

Bishop Elect Ivan Laptev.

RUSSIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCI) in Russia elected Rev. Ivan Laptev to be their new bishop during the church’s 30th Synod held October 18-19, 2019 at St. Mary Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Rev. Laptev will be installed as bishop on February 9, 2020.

Rev. Laptev was elected on the second ballot, receiving 48 votes out of the total 80 ballots cast. Other candidates for bishop who had allowed their names to stand were Rev. Olav Panchu, Rev. Mikhail Ivanov, and Rev. Ivan Hutter.

Rev. Laptev, born in 1979, is rector of the Theological Institute of the Church of Ingria. He further serves as head pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Gubanitsy and as pastor of St. George’s Church in Koltushi. All candidates for the position of bishop were required to have served at least ten years in the Church of Ingria; to have higher theological education; to have a good reputation; and to be no less than 35 years of age.

Bishop Arri Kugappi.

Rev. Ivan Laptev will succeed Bishop Arri Kugappi, who is soon to reach the ELCI’s canonical age of retirement; synodical statutes require the bishop to retire no later than 67 years of age, which Bishop Kugappi will reach in February 2020. Bishop Kugappi was ordained as bishop in 1996. From 1993-1995, he served as Bishop’ Vicar. He was ordained a deacon in 1990 and a pastor in 1992.

The ELCI’s 2018 synodical gathering had voted to make an exception in the case of Bishop Kugappi to allow hm to serve until seventy years of age. However, constitutional difficulties became apparent thereafter and so Bishop Kugappi advised the Synodical Council that he would leave the episcopal ministry in February 2020 as originally called for in church bylaws.

In the run-up to the election, the church met at St. Mary Cathedral in St. Petersburg for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Synod on September 14, 2019 to consider and approve amendments to church law.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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Eastern European Lutheran bishops meet in Ukraine

Caption: Back: Bishop Alexander Yurchenko (SELCU), Vice President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU), Rev. Daniel S. Johnson (LCMS-SELC), Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis (LELB), Rev. Olav Panchu (ELCIR), Valera Partizan (DELKU). Front: President Matthew C. Harrison (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Rev. Andris Kraulin (ELCL), Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC).

UKRAINE – The heads of several Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union recently met together in Ukraine for the Eastern European Bishops Conference, along with the heads of their North American partner churches.

The conference, held in Odessa in late February, was hosted by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) and its Bishop Sergey Maschewski. DELKU, long associated with the state (territorial) Lutheran churches of Germany, has in recent years begun aligning itself with more conservative bodies like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC). In addition to the presidents of LCC and LCMS, DELKU also hosted the bishops (or their representatives) from several other Lutheran church bodies in eastern Europe, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The conference also welcomed a number of ecumenical guests.

Ecumenical guests at the Eastern European Lutheran Bishops Conference. (Photo: Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul).

During the conference, the bishops reported on their respective churches and the challenges they face. A number of these churches have to do their work over long distances: SELC, for example, is stretched out over a vast territory spanning 7,000 kilometers. DELKU, as another example, struggles with a severe clergy shortage, currently operating 28 congregations with only nine pastors. Many of these congregations are distant from the nearest neighbouring pastor or parish.

The bishops also discussed opportunities for future cooperation between their churches. “United by much of our common history and—what is of more relevance today—by similar theological outlook, we felt that there was a need for closer cooperation in the future,” explained Rev. Alexey Strelstov, rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia. Rev. Strelstov presented on education in a confessional Lutheran context on the final day of the conference.

Part of that future cooperation may well take place on theological education. One evening of the conference, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine invited participants to visit their seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa. Representatives of the Siberian church expressed interest in forging closer ties with SELCU on seminary education. There were discussions on assisting the Ukrainian seminary in procuring more Russian-language theological books for its library, as well as the possibility of SELC seminary professors coming to teach short-term courses in Usatovo. “The interaction between these Russian speakers, all keenly interested in the faithful biblical training of pastors, was a real joy to watch,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee. LCC has long-supported SELCU’s seminary education program.

Morning and afternoon devotions at the bishops’ conference were held in DELKU’s Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in downtown Odessa, restored in recent years after having been destroyed by the Soviet regime decades ago. “Although this church was rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale, it once seated 1,200 worshippers and was the centre for spiritual life of the entire German community before the communist repression,” noted LCC President Bugbee. Lutheran churches were severely persecuted during the soviet era.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church are both members of the International Lutheran Council, as are Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is a partner church of LCC, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania are partner churches of the LCMS. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, meanwhile, has been seeking closer relations to the LCMS in recent years.

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20 Years of Summer Theological Seminars in Siberia

Participants in this year's Summer Seminar.

Participants in this year’s Summer Seminar.

RUSSIA – Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) and its Theological Seminary recently held their 21st Summer Theological Seminars in Siberia under the general title “1996–2016: Ad Fontes” (To the Sources). But what are the “fontes” or “sources” of the seminars themselves?

The history of the seminars dates back to meetings with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in St. Louis in 1994 and Fort Wayne in 1995. Following this initial acquaintance with confessional Lutheran theology, Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin (then a pastor of the Lutheran parish in Novosibirsk) requested the LCMS’ Rev. Dr. Wallace Shultz to provide theological education for the Lutheran people in Siberia.

Thanks to leadership from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne) and a generous grant from the Schwann Foundation, the founding of Lutheran seminars in Siberia became a reality. But the enterprise’s real success had to do with the fact that the initiative came from the local people. When asked “How can we help you?” they responded: “Please provide theological education to us. We need solid Lutheran training.”

Rev. Dr Timothy C.J. Quill was a key contact on the American side who participated in the process of selection of teachers for the Siberian program. The first two seminars of 1996 and 1997 were perhaps the most representative and best attended ones, because they were held almost exclusively in Novosibirsk. People came to Novosibirsk from as far as St. Petersburg in the west and Sakhalin Island and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east. The first speakers included, among others: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthur Just, Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Rev. Kurt Marquart, Rev. Dr. David Scaer, Rev. Dr. Horace Hummel, Rev. Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn, and Rev. Dr. Scott Murray.

During the second seminar of 1997, the first building of the Lutheran Seminary in Novosibirsk was dedicated by Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe, with classes starting in September of that year. Alexey Streltsov, aged 23 at the time, was installed as rector of the seminary. Establishing the Seminary was a major result and culmination of the Summer Seminars, as well as the ultimate realization of the initial request of Rev Vsevolod Lytkin.

But the Summer Seminars did not cease merely because a seminary was established. They continued as the ground base for providing theological education for laity and church workers. These seminars were used for different purposes: missionary, catechetical, recruitment of the new seminary students, and so forth. Over the years the seminars expanded to include such location as Tomsk, Novokuznetsk, Ekaterinburg, Khakassia, Chita, and others.

While the circumstances varied year to year, Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church was deeply committed to the Summer Seminars as a form of sharing theological expertise with the wider circles of the church. With no external funding, the activities were still performed in the local congregations and by local people. With no speakers to come from the outside, the Seminary instructors took upon themselves the responsibility of caring for the theological well-being of the SELC flock.

The 2016 Summer Seminar was like the first seminar in a number of ways. More than 110 people participated in this event with people attending from different parts of Siberia and Russia: Krasnodar and Moscow in the west, and Chita in the east. And this seminar’s speakers included three of the original teachers: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthrur Just, and Rev. Dr Timothy Quill. Also teaching was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver who has also participated in previous seminars. The topics had to do with exegetical, dogmatic, and pastoral theology. Besides lectures, there were numerous discussions of the seminar participants both with the presenters and among themselves in the small groups.

The content of the lectures and the seminar’s overall warm family atmosphere has left a long lasting impression on the clergy and laity of SELC. Now as SELC and her seminary move toward greater ecumenical engagement with the world around Siberia, it was good to remember how it all started and be reinforced in the depths of confessional Lutheran theology.

The second week of the seminar activities saw Rev. Dr Arthur Just hold a number of teaching session on a smaller scale. Dozens of Lutherans in Novokuznetsk, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Beloretsk, and Moscow were able to listen to his lectures on St. James and the theology of the Gospel of St. Luke.

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church rejoices in such opportunities to gather around the faithful teaching of God’s work and to exercise genuine Christian fellowship at an event where doctrine and worship go hand in hand, strengthening the faithful for life in this world.

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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ILC member churches in Russia strengthen ties

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) Bishop Arri Kugappi.

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) Bishop Arri Kugappi.

by Rev. Alexey Streltsov

RUSSIA – In this time of disintegration of institutional Christianity in the countries of the developed world, it is noteworthy when the opposite trends mark the desire of confessional Lutheran Christians to abide in the unity of faith and love.

There was a time when the Lutheran Church of the old Russian Empire constituted one of the major Lutheran Churches worldwide. Well-known events of the communist revolution and atheistic purges of the 20th century have tragically changed the course of Christianity in that part of the world. Lutheranism in today’s Russia is relatively small and insignificant, only a shadow of what it once has been. However, even now the Lutherans in Russia trace their origin and history to that old Imperial Church. A sense of history is important for the Russian Lutherans. Along with that those Lutherans who are serious about their confessional subscription to the Holy Scripture and the Book of Concord naturally tend to not be in isolation from each other.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) are two voices of the confessional Lutheran movement in Russia today. These are two sister churches and share certain parts of their history. The Ingrian Church is the older of the two, with some of her parishes dating back to the early 17th century. Being in origin a church focused mostly on serving ethnic Finns on the territory of Ingria (Ingermanland), the ECLIR has grown today to combine Finnish Ingrian tradition with an appeal to people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. SELC, which formerly was a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Estonia, has included people of various cultures from the beginning.

The SELC and ILCR bishops serve as communion celebrants together.

SELC Bishop Lytkin and ELCIR Bishop Kugappi serve as communion celebrants together.

SELC Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and SELC Seminary Rector Alexey Streltsov recently visited the General Synod of ELCIR in October, the first such General Synod visit in 18 years. There has been remarkable progress in relationships between the two churches in recent years. Bishop Lytkin shared in the Eucharistic celebration with ELCIR Bishop Arri Kugappi at St Mary’s Church in St Petersburg, and preached for the service. Earlier this year, Rev. Alexey Streltsov preached at the service in the Moscow ELCIR parish of St. Peter and Paul in April and at Christ the Savior parish in Novosibirsk in November of this year.

Plans are being made for a joint seminar in spring of 2016 between the clergy of the Siberian deanery of ELCIR and SELC clergy. While instructor of the ELCIR Theological Institute, Dr. Sergey Isaev has been coming to the Theological Seminary of SELC in Novosibirsk for a number of years. And now, for the first time, Novosibirsk lecturers are scheduled to teach in Koltushy in 2016. ELCIR students residing in Siberia are likely to enroll at the seminary in Novosibirsk for the 2016-17 Academic year.

In short, some remarkable progress has been made within the last year. Bishop Kugappi observed at the Synod that such representation of the SELC at the Ingrian Synod was a major sign of unity of the two conservative Lutheran Churches in Russia. Bishop Lytkin states that never before in the history of the two churches were relations as close as they are now. He also expressed his admiration for the church’s strong witness of the declaration on the “Same sex relations” that was accepted at the ELCRI Synod. Their position is all the more admirable, he said, given the strong pressure from liberal European Churches that the ELCIR comes under for its confessional position on human sexuality.

Relations between the two Russian Lutheran churches have not always been as close as they are now. While conscientious Lutherans in both churches have hoped that obstacles would be overcome in the future, it is remarkable that such positive changes have occurred already in this generation. While there were historically challenges between the two churches, the fellowship between the sister churches was never broken: SELC seminary graduates served in the ELCIR parishes, there was interchange in hymnody, and in the work in the youth summer camps. Now relations between the two churches have grown to a strong new level.

There is an important lesson to learn here as well as great cause to give glory to God for the true unity in faith that comes only from Him. When people are serious about their confession and tradition, they naturally tend to join together in common witness for the truth. We are stronger together. In such a traditional society as Russia’s, it is extremely important to present Lutheran values in the public square not as a strange modernist antinomian phenomenon but as a historic Christian confession with clear emphasis on Christ and His Gospel, a serious attitude toward the commandments of God, and a respect for the liturgy and sacraments.

As Russian Lutherans move forward, they are hopeful that they will be able to keep faithful to their roots and present a viable alternative to apostate voices in which the voice of the Shepherd can no longer be recognized.

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Rev. Alexey Streltsov is Rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Lutheran Theological Seminary.

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