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.

ILC welcomes new member churches

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC), President Marvin Donaire (ILSN), and Acting Bishop Torkild Masvie (LKN)  after their churches were received into membership in the International Lutheran Council.
Representatives of the newest member churches of the International Lutheran Council (left to right): Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church), President Marvin Donaire (Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua), and Acting Bishop Torkild Masvie (Lutheran Church in Norway).

ARGENTINA – On September 25, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) welcomed three new church bodies from Russia, Nicaragua, and Norway into membership. The ILC is currently holding its 2015 World Conference in Buenos Ares, Argentina.

The Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), and the Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN) were all accepted unanimously into membership during the afternoon session of September 25. Their acceptance brings the current number of ILC member churches to 38, with a number of other Lutheran church bodies around the world expressing interest in joining the ILC.

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC), President Marvin Donaire (ILSN), and Acting Bishop Torkild Masvie (LKN) were all present at the convention on behalf of their church bodies and celebrated their admissions into the International Lutheran Council. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt greeted each of the church leaders personally to express his congratulations, while the convention at large applauded each of their inductions in turn.

ILC Chairman Hans Jorg Voigt welcomes each of the new member churches immediately following the votes to accept them.
ILC Chairman Hans Jorg Voigt welcomes each of the new member churches immediately following the votes to accept them.

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New ILC Members at a Glance

SELC-webSiberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC)
Сибирская Евангелическо-Лютеранская Церковь
2,100 baptized members
25 congregations
19 clergy (1 bishop, 14 pastors, 4 deacons)

While Russia at one time counted more than a million Lutherans as citizens, the 1917 revolution led to the exile or execution of most Lutheran pastors and the closure of Lutheran churches by 1939. SELC grows out of evangelistic efforts by their current bishop, who began preaching Christianity in Novosibirsk, Siberia in the early 1990s. The mission became associated with the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1993, and eventually became an autonomous church body in 2003.

Prior to that, SELC formally contacted The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) for doctrinal discussions in 1998. In 2010, the two church bodies declared fellowship with each other, an act that was subsequently ratified at the LCMS’ 2013 convention.

Among other work, the church has established its own seminary program to serve SELC and other Russian speaking Lutherans.

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ILSN-webLutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN)
Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua
1,800 baptized members
23 congregations (plus missions in Nicaragua and Costa Rica)
26 pastors
37 deaconesses

The Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua was born through the mission efforts of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), which began work in the Central American country in 1997. Following Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and subsequent relief efforts, receptivity to LCC’s outreach increased dramatically. By 2008, the Nicaraguan people were ready to found their own church body and the ILSN was born.

In addition to serving Nicaraguans, the ILSN participates in mission work in Costa Rica and Honduras. It runs a very successful Children’s Education Program (led by the church’s deaconesses) through which more than 700 children benefit from nutritious meals, after-school tutoring, and Christian education.

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LKNThe Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN)
Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge
50 baptized members
1 congregation
8 preaching points
3 pastors (plus 1 retired pastor)

The Lutheran Church in Norway’s origin dates to the 2005 founding of The Church of the Messiah. The LKN currently operates through a multi-site ministry strategy where services in one location are live-streamed to preaching points elsewhere. Audio and video links allow several hundred people to benefit from the church’s services regularly. A majority of the church’s members are young adults.

The pastors of the LKN all formerly served in the Church of Norway. Because the church is small, three of the pastors serve on a voluntary basis, while the Acting Bishop, who serves as pastor in Oslo, receives a half-time salary. The church also offers a theological education program called AdFontes. Despite its small stature, the Lutheran Church in Norway has begun to receive significant media coverage as more Norwegians worried about the theological direction of the state church begin to look for alternatives.

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Ukraine’s bishop asks for prayer

SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).
SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).

UKRAINE – The situation in Ukraine continues to be tense, following the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russian military and pro-Russian militia. And things are only getting worse, according to Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU).

“The situation is deteriorating every day,” Bishop Gräfenstein reports in a March 4 letter. “Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. One of our brothers from Odessa, who is currently serving in the armed forces, reported that all soldiers are armed and constantly in a state of readiness for war.”

“Of course the Crimean Peninsula is the primary focus,” the letter continues. “Crimea formerly belonged to Russia, but was transferred to Ukraine in the Soviet period. Now, while Ukraine grapples with the question of whether to line up with Russia or with the European Union (EU), Russia threatens Ukraine with war, especially if Ukraine goes with the EU. Most Crimean residents are Russians who wish to be part of Russia. So now Russia uses this sentiment to hold the Crimea back from the EU.”

SELCU has five congregations on the Crimean peninsula, but Bishop Gräfenstein notes that, while the situation is tense, the people are still safe. “Our brothers and sisters are not doing badly at this moment,” he writes. “People in general are rushing to stockpile groceries, and nearly all the store shelves are empty. Everyone is concerned that, if it comes to war, a famine will break out.”

Bishop Gräfenstein ends his letter with a request for prayer: “We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace,” he writes. “Thank you for your prayer support.”

We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace.

SELCU is a young church body, with thirteen congregations throughout Ukraine. It has strong ties to Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) which has long supported its ministry, especially with theological education and missions. Late last week, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council) called on the wider church to hold up Ukraine in prayer.

“We ask the Lord to comfort the sorrowing who have lost loved ones,” President Bugbee wrote. “We ask Him to meet the legitimate needs of the Ukrainian people, regardless of their preferred languages and political orientation. We implore him that the work of our mission partners in the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine may not be disrupted by the trouble.”

“Above all,” he continued, “we ask God to give courage to our pastors and people there in the mist of turmoil to point their neighbours to Jesus Christ, the great Prince of Peace.”

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Published concurrently at The Canadian Lutheran.