Pentecostal Pastor Seeks Asylum in Germany, Fears Being Declared a Terrorist by Russia Gov’t

“Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”

(PHOTO: REUTERS/DAVID MDZINARISHVILI)A man passes a church during a sunset in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, July 11, 2017.

A Pentecostal pastor has applied for political asylum in Germany and is living there as a refugee with his family, saying that he is fearful of being arrested and treated as a terrorist back home in Russia.

“It is very dangerous to return to Russia. There, I will be declared a terrorist and put behind bars,” pastor Alexey Kolyasnikov said in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle.

Kolyasnikov, his wife and three daughters have been living in a refugee camp in Leverkusen since July. The pastor explained that he chose to go to Germany because “the Protestant Church here is strong.”

The pastor alleged that he has been investigated by Russian authorities simply for practicing his faith. He revealed that one evening back in 2014, he held a gathering with his Pentecostal congregation at a cafe in Sochi, since they do not own a church building.

Kolyasnikov explained that police officers and members of Russia’s main intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, appeared during the Bible reading, and accused him of holding an unauthorized gathering.

The pastor said that one young woman, who six weeks prior to the incident started attending the meetings, turned out to be aiding an FSB member, and later testified in court against him.

Kolyasnikov was punished with a fine for  organizing “an unauthorized gathering,” which led to him filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.

A letter sent to the public prosecutor’s office of the southern Russian Krasnodar region revealed that Kolyasnikov was also accused of being part of “pro-West Protestant religious movements” and supporting Ukraine in its ongoing strife with Russia.

The pastor insisted, however, that he condemns all forms of violence and bloodshed, and said that he does not understand why he is being mistreated.

He recalled another incident back in 2012, when an FSB major spoke with him in relation to terrorist investigations in Russia, and demanded that he provide a list of his congregation members, along with their personal details.

A number of Christian pastors have reportedly been arrested in Russia after the country’s notorious “anti-missionary” laws, officially aimed at tackling possible terror activities, took effect last year.

Sergei Zhuravlyov, a representative of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior, was one of the first Christian leaders arrested last year while he was preaching before the St. Petersburg Messianic Jewish community.

Zhuravlyov was accused of “fomenting negative attitudes toward the Russian Orthodox Church,” and of having ties to the Ukrainian nationalist political party called Right Sector, which is banned in Russia.

The controversial law, which bans evangelism outside of churches, led to thousands of churches in Russia fasting in opposition back in July 2016.

“This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church,” said Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries.

“Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”

Norway-based group Forum 18 reported in August that evangelical Christians make up the majority of the 181 cases that have so far been prosecuted by Russian authorities under the law.

The report noted that officials have cracked down on prayer meetings at homes, and on posting worship times on a religious community’s website, which police have interpreted as  banned “missionary activity.”

written by Stoyan Zaimov  

Vladimir Putin’s Christianity is a facade, says expelled US missionary

Don and Ruth Ossewaarde. A Baptist preacher, Ossewaarde was fined 40,000 rubles for holding religious services in his home.
Russia is, technically, a secular country – although you wouldn’t know it from the way the Orthodox Church is presented in the Putin-controlled media, says Ossewaarde

It is now well over a year since Vladimir Putin’s Russia passed ‘anti-missionary’ laws and more than 180 cases have since been brought.

Activities ranging from prayer meetings in homes, posting worship times on a religious website and praying in the presence of other citizens have been interpreted as ‘missionary activity’ with Christians making up the vast majority of the law’s victims.

One case is that of Donald Ossewaarde, an American Baptist preacher living in Oryol, who was expelled for hosting a church meeting in his house.

Having lost appeals throughout the Russian judiciary system, Ossewaarde’s case is now with the European Court of Human Rights. Although confident he will win there, Ossewaarde is convinced he will never be allowed back into Russia.  ‘I am quite sure based on precedent they will rule in my favour. But I am not sure it will have a great effect on the situation in Russia,’ he says.

‘Russia has lost many many times in the European Court. Sometimes they pay. Sometimes they ignore its rulings. It doesn’t seem to make a big difference to the way they practise when it rules against them.’

As well as dozens of Christians, the law’s ever broadening reach and interpretation has led to more than 40 Jehovah’s Witness-linked prosecutions as well as four Mormon-related cases, nine Muslims and more than 10 Hindu-linked prosecutions.

But the one religious group not affected by the so-called Yarovaya law is the Russian Orthodox Church.

Speaking to Christian Today at a conference run by ADF International, a legal charity that represents Ossewaarde, he explains his conviction the Church was behind his arrest.

‘I know that they have profited from what has happened to me,’ he says. ‘They are obviously the ones who benefit the most from going after any other form of Christian.’

The Russian Orthodox Church is used ‘as a political’ tool, he says, by Putin whose history raises questions about the sincerity of his faith.

‘With his Communist KGB background I cannot believe he really is a true Christian but he finds it very useful to present himself in that way,’ says Ossewaarde.

‘So he very publicly attends services in the holidays. He and the Patriarch are often photographed together. They are obviously colleagues supporting one another.

‘They [Russian Orthodox leaders] are obviously happy he is president and he [Putin] often speaks of the Orthodox Church as the guarantor of Russian values.’

Don and Ruth Ossewaarde. A Baptist preacher, Ossewaarde was fined 40,000 rubles for holding religious services in his home.

Russia is, technically, a secular country – although you wouldn’t know it from the way the Orthodox Church is presented in the Putin-controlled media, says Ossewaarde.

After it endured systematic persecution under Soviet rule, Putin has made the Russian Orthodox Church emblematic of the socially conservative values his rule promotes.

Around 70 per cent of the population are now members of the ROC and it has grown to be the largest and most powerful of the 14 Orthodox Churches with 144 million members, 368 bishops and about 40,000 priests and deacons.

And with the highest ever numbers of young men entering seminaryto train for the priesthood, the Russian Orthodox Church is set for sharp growth for years to come.

But Ossewaarde is scathing about Putin’s closeness to Patriach Kirill, the Church’s head.

‘It is all a façade,’ he says, bemoaning Putin’s propaganda success in presenting himself at home and internationally as a champion of conservative Christian values by opposing homosexuality and abortion.

‘I think that is all just for show. He portrays himself to the Russian people as a moral leader, a Christian leader. I think that is just a façade he puts on because he knows it sells well.’

Such is the Orthodox Church’s rise since its exile during Communist rule, it is now considered the only patriotic option for Russian citizens. Billboards tell people it is their duty to protect the Orthodox Church and any threat, including from evangelical missionaries like Ossewaarde, is to be resisted.

Although optimistic about the state of his legal case, Ossewaarde is deeply pessimistic about the future of evangelical Christianity in Russia.

If things don’t change this law could be the end of missionary activity there, he says.

‘The way things are right now, Russia seems determined to hold onto this definition of extremism or ‘missionary activity’ as anything that is not Orthodox.’

Evangelicalism, he believes, will be more and more restricted. ‘It’s obviously not welcome. They look at Protestant-evangelical type of groups as being in the same types of category as Jehovah’s Witnesses – some kind of way-out cultish type of faith that they don’t welcome and would rather went away.’

[written by Harry Farley]

Russia’s culture minister warns Orthodox ‘fanatics’ against protesting Tsar film

a-scene-from-uchitels-matildaRussia’s culture minister has made a rare government intervention in the row over Alexei Uchitel’s film Matilda, which tells the story of a romance between Nicholas II, before he became tsar, and a dancer.

Vladimir Medinsky has seen the film and insists there is ‘nothing insulting’ whatsoever to the tsar, regarded as a martyr by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Matilda is set in the 19th century and is slated for release next month.

Its title refers to the half-Polish dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya, who described the relationship in her memoirs.

Russia’s largest operator of movie theaters has already said it will not screen the film amid accusations of ‘blasphemy’ and threats.

Medinsky, Russia’s minister of culture, said the government had tried to refrain from interfering, but his hand has been forced by recent events.

Writing on his Russian ministry website, he says he does not know what has guided those who have started and supported the ‘hubbub’ around the film. ‘Moreover, I am not ready to discern the motivations of the various “activists” who are brazenly calling themselves “Orthodox”. I am often reproached for being too conservative. And as a conservative, I want to say: such self-styled “activists” discredit both the state cultural policy and the Church,’ he writes.

Orthodoxy is about love, not hatred, he states, suggesting that those protesting the film in the name of the Church are no different from ‘fanatics’ of the worst manifestations of other faiths.

‘And now the hysteria has reached unprecedented heat: public threats, the persecution of film authors, arson, the refusal of some movie networks from the rental – just for security reasons.’

Any controversy about the film is now pointless, he says. ‘Personally, I saw the movie. I will not discuss its content – it’s just not right until the audience sees it. But I testify: in it there is nothing insulting either for the memory of Nicholas II, or for the history of the Russian monarchy.’

He said: ‘The Ministry of Culture issues rolling licences to films strictly according to a lawful procedure. The law clearly describes the grounds for refusal. They are not in the case of Matilda. We are guided by the law, and not by private tastes.’

The Russian news site Vedemosti reports that the most vociferous opponent of the film is the State Duma deputy and former Crimean prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya, who believes that the screening of the film will violate the law, since it offends the feelings of believers.

[written by Ruth Gledhill]