Moscow - The Baptist Vitaly Vlasenko is the Russian Evangelical Alliance’s (REA) new general-secretary. That was decided during this year’s conference at the VSEKh’s (“All-Russian Fellowship of Evangelical-Christians”) Moscow headquarters on 8 April. He replaces Sergey Vdovin, who had served in this capacity from 2011 until Christmas 2020. Sixty-nine-year-old Alexander Fedichkin, also a Baptist, was re-elected President. Both positions involve six-year terms.
At this year’s sessions, Sergey Ryakhovsky, the long-time President of the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE), complained that the Alliance had “only moved centimeters” in recent years, whilst the progress of the “The Advisory Council of the Heads of Protestant Churches in Russia” could be measured in kilometers.
Yet, as Rev. Vlasenko pointed out, tasks and issues suited for the Alliance to tackle abound. The German Lutheran Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher, who was named Secretary General of the “World Evangelical Alliance” in February, has long held ties to the Orthodox world. He spoke to the assembly on April 8 via Zoom and reported that he plans to visit Moscow in June at the invitation of Metropolitan Hilarion, Chair of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The Russian Orthodox are expecting Western support in their attempts to expand westward. Vlasenko pointed out that in return, one should expect the ROC to aid Protestants in resolving the issues confronting them in Russia. Turf access needs to be mutual. And also: The cancellation of an official status for the Jehovah’s Witnesses remains an open wound.
The Baptist Union’s chief diplomat for external relations from 2005 to 2017, Vitaly Vlasenko (born 1969) has extensive experience in dealing with conflict between Protestants, the Orthodox and the state. He finds it intolerable that in the Tula region alone, authorities are currently contesting church ownership of church-run facilities in four instances. Yet Vlasenko, as expressed to the author, believes in the de-escalation of conflicts and sees taking the government or Orthodoxy to court as usually achieving the opposite. He is well-versed in the resolution of conflict below the court level: “Courts are expensive and they raise people’s temperatures.”
The 2003-founded REA sees itself - in contrast to the afore-mentioned Advisory Council - as a grass-roots movement for Christian unity. Yet the vast majority of the roughly 35 persons attending the Moscow sessions were themselves pastors or church officials. Youth camps are being envisioned as one means of winning younger generations for the cause of the Alliance.
Vitaly Vlasenko is a pastor at the “Blagoveshchenie (Annunciation) Baptist Church” just west of Moscow. Its senior pastor is Nikolai Epishin; the congregation is a member of the Russian Baptist Union (RUECB).
CCD reprinted with permission.