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Reflections on Harvest Festival / Thankfulness
Pastor Zhanibek Batenov (Astana)
Watchword of the month: “Be generous when you worship the Lord, and do not stint the first fruits of your hands. With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness (Sirach 35.10-11)
Dear Readers! Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ!
In Old Testament times there was a special place in the Jewish calendar for the holiday celebrating the first fruits. On this day every family was to be happy for the new harvest and to sacrifice to God the first sheaf of barley. But the temptation to minimize the first fruits of their labors was a problem not only for the ancient Jews, but remains so for contemporary farmers. And not only for them. It is rare that you hear from someone in our villages that it was a good harvest of potatoes or wheat. Even if it was an abundant harvest, a village dweller will search for a reason to be dissatisfied: “there's a lot of potatoes, but they're little. They won't preserve well..” “There's too much wheat. We don't have time to dry it all out. It's burning up in the sun.” Those who have dachas do the same thing. It is as if every person is literally scared to be happy for the harvest. When the harvest is poor people complain about that. When it is not, they also complain. There's a joke in Germany – “when a peasant boy is born, they put a rock on his chest so that he learns right away how to whine and complain.”
The reading from Sirach is relevant in our day, for our church, too. Many pastors and ministers in our church as well as regular congregational members are like those complaining village dwellers. “There were more of us before.” “Again two families left for Germany.” “Our congregation is getting smaller.” They forget, though, that there was a family that was baptized not long ago, or the grandmother and her two little granddaughters who started coming to church regularly. But even of our first fruits are small, we still have no right to minimize them. When we do that, we neither value our own labor nor that which the Lord does. It is God who gives Christian faith through the preaching of the Gospel in the sermon; it is God who unites us with the Kingdom of God through Baptism; it is God who gives forgiveness of sins. God does this all through our hands...or through out mouths when we speak to people of His great love for them. Therefore I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to notice the wonderful things God is doing in our congregations. Rejoice that our sisters and brothers are saved. Rejoice for new people in the congregation. Rejoice at that which to you seems to be insignificant, but which before God is a great miracle – the forgiveness of sins which God gives to us here and now. Rejoice for the sermon which you and the worship service in which you take part.
But, of course, most of all we should praise God “with a cheerful face” for that which we can be thankful even if we are in prison, seriously ill or facing death – that is Jesus Christ who died for all and who rose to save all. Honestly speaking there are a lot of reasons that can be found for rejoicing before the Lord. Maybe they are the ones that I wrote about here...but maybe instead it is the little things – a sunny day after a rainy week, rain after a drought, clean air which you breath in deeply in the early morning as you stand on the balcony, the smell of fresh ink in a new textbook... we have that and much more in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for.
“2014: 100 Years After the First World War; 75 Years after the Second World War; 25 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall Europe and Russia Today”
This year the Cultural Days in Vladivostok was a joint project of Germany, France, Poland and Russia. There were three different aspects to the event: the political aspect; the celebratory aspect; the standard aspect.
2014 is a special year in the history of the world. Three wars celebrate their anniversary years: the First World War, the Second World War and the so-called “Cold War”. We want to remember these wars not only to honor the veterans, but also to ask the following question: What are the positive outcomes of these three negative experiences?
For Europe it is obvious what the positive outcomes were: the road to the European Economic Union, which is now the heart and soul of German-French friendship. This is why we are so happy that the French Ambassador (along with other diplomat staff from France) brought an exhibition that shows us through pictures and in Russian the formation of this friendship and how it points to the formation of the European Economic Union. We opened the cultural days on the October 1 with the revealing of this exhibition in our church courtyard. Poland also sent a high-level delegation, headed by the Polish Ambassador, and accompanied by world-renowned organist Wittold Salewski from Krakow. Poland, Germany and France were at odds with each other in the course of last century, but came together as one in Vladivostok. This is something we can be proud of - the German Cultural Days were transformed into European Cultural Days.
The first evening, October 1, had the theme: The Peaceful Unification of Europe as the Fruit of two bloody Wars and the end of the “Cold War.”What was the situation for Russia at the end of these three wars? That was the theme for our second evening, October 2. The theme for lectures that night was “The Unusual Road to Peace and Prosperity in Russia and Its Role in the Present-Day World of Tension.” This was the most exciting and interesting evening of all of them. One organization and two lecturers had to cancel their speeches because they were afraid of the current political situation.
The celebratory part consisted of two receptions at St. Paul’s Church. A. The reception to honor the German National Holiday “The Day of German Unity” was held on October 3. It was given by the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Germany Jaroslaw Kotyk and the German Embassy in Moscow. There was also a reception on October 6 given by German Ambassador to Moscow Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch. At this reception Manfred Brockmann received the German Federal Cross of Merit.
The standard part of the celebration was in the hallways of the University, where we met with the students. There was a gathering of German students in the Goethe Lecture Hall (Speaker was Ludmilla Kornilowa). The Theme for this lecture was “The Theme of War in German Literature”. There also was the traditional “Evening of Polish Music” hosted by the Vladivostok National Organization “Dom Polski”. There were four organ concerts at St. Paul’s. Two of them featured Christian Lorenz from Pfungstadt, Germany and two superb concerts by Witold Zalewski from Krakow. There was a concert by a Brass and String Ensemble from the Vladivostok Opera along with a Clarinet Quintet playing Mozart. The final concert was put on by the ensemble “Concertone” under the direction of our own Alexander Borghardt.
Almost all of the events took place in the St. Paul’s Church. This church proved once again that it is a church that is at the center of life in this city and is always available to the city. It is always open and has lots of visitors. Our church council president Konstantin Pawlenko says quite often: “The people going into the church always come out of it with a different look on their faces. They leave with a look of comfort on their faces.”
We wish to thank all those who became involved in the difficult task of organizing these special cultural days. We also thank all the participants and guests who traveled such a long distance to be with us. We thank all of those who for 18 years have kept the faith concerning these cultural days. Finally, we especially thank our sponsors who have so faithfully supported us.
Trip to Saratov
In Saratov – in the building a a new church, in the ministries of the congregation, in fellowship – God's presence is always clearly felt. For that reason the congregation in Ulyanovsk was happy to once again organize a trip to visit their fellow Lutherans on the Volga. Pastor Vladimir Provorov led a group of 11 to visit the congregation, to help them during their work day, and to celebrate Harvest Festival with them one week after they marked that day in Ulyanovsk. Pastor Alexander Shaermann asked him to preach and he took up the theme of thankfulness. Being thankful is not just being polite, it is our reaction to the grace given to us in Jesus Christ... and we are enriched in the process.
There were a number of special moments about the trip, including the singing of brothers and sisters in Christ from Nambia at the closing worship service as well as the stops on the way back from Saratov in the towns of Marx and Zorkino. In both of these places churches are being built; in the first, a new building to replace the one destroyed during Soviet times and in the second place – the restoration of the historical building. In Zorkinko they've already installed the bell tower; we saw the clock installed there and heard the bells summoning to prayer.
Theme: Building and renovations
A Meeting of Stars
On Oct 4 in Potsdam a new partnership agreement was signed between the congregation in Marx (Saratov oblast) and the congregation of the “Star Church” in Potsdam. This agreement is a part of the wider new agreement between the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg and Silesia of the Upper Lusatia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of European Russia). The main goal is over the course of the next 4 years to strengthen the congregational structures in Marx.
The “Star Church” was built as part of the “Church for New Cities” program and was dedicated in 1990. Although totally destroyed in a fire in 1997, it was re-dedicated in 1998. The name (“Sternkirche”) it got from the form of its building. The star, a symbol of Christian promise and hope, was reflected in the architecture of the building.
At the beginning of August of this year the restoration of the church building in Marx began; the bell towers should be re-created. In 2015 the restoration of the facade should be completed. This brick church, building in 1840, was the largest church of the Volga Germans. During the Soviet times it was used not according to its original purpose. Its bell tower and cupola were sacrificed in order to build a cultural club building. As part of the restoration the original exterior of the church should be restored.
On the Path of Revelation
Revelations are everywhere. The slogan of the Days of German-Russian culture this year - “On the path of Revelation” suggested that we look at the world around us from the point of view of a researcher. Every day is like a journey, full of surprising revelations, when you see the world with a clear and inquisitive gaze. The festival invited people on a journey during which each person could become an investigator and make his own discoveries – in movies, exhibitions, lectures, meetings and, of course, in conversation.
The days of German-Russian culture in Khabarovsk, which took place October 3-11, took place already for the 17th time. The main organizer of the festival – St. John's Lutheran congregation and the team of co-organizers who continue to initiate and development creative dialog with artists from Germany and Russia. They invite people to open meetings with art, with one another, with other points of view – meetings with widen horizons and open up new paths.
The festival of new German cinema, organized by the Goethe Institute of Novosibirsk, acquainted people with the best German films of the last couple of years. The movie theater “Sovkino” hosted the opening of the festive, “Measuring the World” (director Detlev Buk), based on the novel by Daniel Kelman. It told about the life of the famous German researchers, Alexander von Humbult and Karl Friedrich Gauss, in an exciting and intriguing way.
The them of journeys and revelations was taken up at the exhibition – “Alexander von Humbult – a man of the universe” in the Grodenkov history museum. September 14 would have been the 245th birthday of the leading German scientist. His American and Russia-Siberian expeditions were an example for other scientists-explorers. Thanks to Humbult contacts between scientists throughout Europe were made more active. He believed that the “scientific republic where the peoples of Europe should be in mutual exchange brings hope for further fruitful cooperation of all European countries.”
The center of academic events for the Days of German culture was the Far East State Research Library. Among the interactive lectures given there was one by the congregation's former pastor, Markus Lesinski. His lecture was entitled “I am not like you. Something of you is in me, and also in you there is a peace of me. Globalization and Mobility as a path to trans-culturalism.” Pastor Lesinksi, after ministry in Khabarovsk and Germany and projects in Egypt and Ethiopia is now working in New Delhi; Markus not only led a lectures, but also actively worked in the team of organizers – gave interviews with the press, participated in the opening of the exhibition,
met with university students and representatives of the Khabarovsk Russian Orthodox Seminary. During the seminar he led Bible studies, worship and celebrated Harvest Festival together with the congregation. This was Pastor Lesinksi's second visit to the Far East this year. We are thankful to Dean Manfred Brockman for inviting him as a lecturer to the summer seminar of the deanery in the Bay of Vityaz.
This year's German-Russian days came to a close with a youth “happening” by the “Forum Theater.” This is already the 10th year that this theater has invited people to come to new revelations about their ideas, their talents, themselves and the world around them.
This event helped us think about the next, 18th, Days of German-Russian culture in Khabarovsk. The festival remains popular in the city and the region and shows that St. John Lutheran church is a congregations which is alive, creative and open to conversation and dialog.
300 Years of Lutherans in Siberia
The International Academic Conference entitled “Lutherans in Russia: marking the 300th anniversary of Lutheranism in Siberia” was held in Omsk on October 9-10. The goal of this meeting was to think about the historical role of representatives of the Lutheran church in the settlement of new Russian territories, in forming a unique cultural layer in the material and spiritual culture of the region.
Lutherans began to move to Siberia at the end of the 18th century, especially by taking part in the building of the form of Omsk, where Swedish Lutherans were prisoners of war and in 1716 the first Lutheran church of Omsk was built. A stone building, St. Catherine's Lutheran Church, was built in 1792 in Omsk; for a long time it was the only Lutheran church building in Siberia and it contributed to the development of the largest Lutheran congregation in Siberia.
More than 100 people took part in the work of the conference. There were representatives from 22 cities in Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Estonia and the United States. The fields of study touched upon included ethnography (including a special working group dedicated to the culture of Scandinavian and Baltic peoples in the history of the region), history, architecture, sociology and theology.
The conference brought public attention to the role that the Lutheran church has played and continues to play in the public life of the region, including its role as a peacemaker.
On the 9th of October the papers of the conference that were submitted before hand were presented in published form; lectures and public discussions on these papers followed. Our church was represented by Pastors Anton Tikhomirov (Theological Seminary), Dimitri Schweitz (Abakan Region), Bradn Buerkle (Equipping for Service project) and former seminary teacher from the United States, Chris Repp. On the 10th conference participants traveled to the Azov German National region of the Omsk oblast, where there was the opportunity to visit a museum of the life of a German-Russian Siberian village and to watch a concern put on by local singers and dancers.
Inter-confessional dialogs on Religion and Peace
In Tblisi in October, 10 leaders of various religions (including not only Christians but also Ezidi, Jews and Muslims) were invited to visit with Georgian President Georgii Marvelashvili and his wife about violence in Georgian society, including violence against women, and what religious communities might do about it. Bishop Hans-Joachim Kiderlen represented the Lutheran church there. The reason for the president to issue this invitation was the wave of violent murders of women that have shaken up Georgian society over the past few months. These acts of violence were committed in the family, and the Georgian president asked the opinions of religious leaders about the reasons for this. The common opinion was seen as being the tension in society between traditional society, which puts men in the foreground, and the reality of the situation on the ground, where many men are not together with their families or are out of work and women take on the responsibility of supporting the family.
Bishop Kiderlen noted that it was very interesting to see that none of the religious leaders disagreed with the position of the representative of the Muslim community, who said that religions do not support the traditional privileges of men and moreover, that all religions, including Islam, support equal respect and equal rights between men and women. The president also agreed and asked participants to find ways to call their congregational members to respect women and to maintain equal access to education. Bishop Kiderlin pointed out the need for congregations to do pastoral care in order to find a way of solving problems without violence.
In Moscow on October 16th Archbishop Dietrich Brauer took part in the conference organized by the city of Moscow – “Religion and Peace.” The theme of the conference were the questions of peace and war and also the place of religion in modern large cities and the service work of denominations.
Dietrich Brauer presented the work of the St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral in Moscow and spoke about the contribution of the Lutheran church to the life of the city – kindergartens, Christian theater, a place for exhibitions and organ concerns. In this way the Lutheran church is not only developing its own, individual spiritual life, but also is strengthening the ties among people, uniting them in Christian community and spreading the good news in contemporary secular society.
Guest in the Tomsk congregation.
The 17th Sunday after Pentecost was a Sunday the congregation had been waiting for for a long time. It had been quite some time since they had had a visit by an ordained pastor, and this time their guest pastor was a particularly interesting and deep person – Pastor Chris Repp from the USA, former lecturer at the Novosaratovka seminary.
He arrived at the congregation thanks to the help of the former area Dean, Bradn Buerkle, and Bishop Otto Schaude. Despite technical difficulties that meant the worship service started late, we were still very happy and thankful to God that we were able to worship together in this way.
The Synod of the ELCUSFE
The Synod Assembly of the ELCUSFE was held on October 17-19. Delegates from all the regions of the church came together again in order to share with one another Christian fellowship and to make responsible decisions for the further development of the spiritual life of the congregations of the church. Bishop Otto Schaude gave his report, as did Archbishop Dietrich Brauer. As usual the synod closed with a common worship service in which members of the Omsk congregation took part.
How to Build a Home – The Synod of the GELCU
“I see a brigade of construction workers, trying to restore a building. They frequently argue with one another and do not trust one another. Some say that neither a plan nor building material is necessary, the only thing that matter is to stir up the cement. Someone else says that you just need to build one wall and to destroy the other ones completely. Others still try to control everything but don't know the difference between paint and white wash...» Bishop Sergey Mashevsky in his report to the synod, painted this portrait of a building that could be compared with the state of the Ukrainian church today. The theme of the synod of the GELCU – “Thinking about the past, striving ahead” – called everyone to think about such questions.
The meetings lasted from Oct 20-22 in Odessa, and the most important point was the election of a new Presidium of the synod. In the church structure used by GELCU, the Presidium of the Synod has many tasks. This is the organ that fulfills the role of the consistory and acts, as such, as the administration of the church.
According to the new rules for election, each of the 5 geographic regions of the GELCU presented two or three candidates up for election. The new presidium is made up of Oksana Klundt, Odessa (south), Oleg Fisher, Krivoy Rog (south-east), Alla Wolf, Lozovaya, (east), Evgeniya Donetskaya, Simferopol (Crimea), and Konstantin Burlov, Kiev (Northwest). The church council president of St. Catherine's in Kiev, Konstantin Burlov, was elected as the President.
The main report on the synod's theme was given by the representative of the partner church the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria, Ulrich Zenker, the former pastor of the congregation in Zmeevka and the long-time friend of Ukrainian Lutherans gave the opportunity to analyze the current situation. Synod delegates split into working groups to discuss spirituality in action, use of gifts, optimal church structure and strategic development.
The first need is to create a clear and functioning system of management and transparent structures of interaction in the church, bishop Sergei Mashevsky underlined in his report. The first step to this, according to his words, should be a new document defining the structures of GELCU and confirmed by delegates on the last day of the synod. Also Bishop Mashevsky underlined the importance of the representation of the church on the government level; work still needs to be done in this area for better cooperation. He spoke of the successful development of partner relations with the churches of Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which are not meant, however, to replace existing relationships with other church, but only to widen and enrich them.
The Synod ratified the agreement of the Union of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (ELC), as a member of the organization. At the same time synod delegates confirmed the importance of direct members of the GELCU in the Lutheran World Federation; this needs to be done in the immediate future. And present the Ukrainian church is represented as a part of the ELC Union.
“...but there are others still who carefully and constantly work. Brick by brick, mortar after mortar, screw by screw... these people build the house not only for themselves, but they think about residents of the whole area. They have blistered hands and bruised knees, but their eyes are clear and honest.” This is the kind of building of the Church, according to the opinion of Bishop Sergey Mashevsky, that needs to be striven for today.
Warm Meetings in Cold Crimea
The final weekend of October turned out to be windy and cold in Crimea, but bad weather did not take away the joy that local Lutheran congregations felt thanks to the visit of Archbishop of the ELC and Bishop of the ELCER, Dietrich Brauer, and pastor of the Moscow congregation and head of the administration of the ELCER, Viktor Weber.
Despite the fact that the visit lasted only 2 days, Archbishop Brauer and Pastor Weber were able to attend worship in Feodosiya and in the capital of the Republic of Crimea, Simferopol, where almost all local Lutherans gathered to meet.
After worship with Holy Communion there was an interesting discussion about the inclusion of the congregations of Crimea into the legal framework of the Russian Federation and the process of re-registration. At the same time, as Dietrich Brauer clearly underlined, spiritual ties with the GELCU will, of course, remain. It is also possible that there will be fruitful cooperation and joint projects. The main goal of the re-registration of congregations is to use the new opportunities that arise for them in Russian Crimea; the most important of these is the possible buildings to the church.