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God’s Promises Hold! LWF Assembly
10 May 2017 - The survival of the church through tribulations is the fulfilment of God’s promise, participants in the Twelfth Assembly of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) were reminded during the opening worship.
“God’s promises concern life and everyday existence, our daily bread and all our works, God’s promises open for us a truth that everything makes sense, all our deeds and even thoughts and feelings have a meaning, and the ultimate goal is that we, with all our thoughts and deeds, can be saved.” This was the message from Rev. Dr Elena Bondarenko of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in European Russia, in her sermon at the Assembly eucharistic worship.
The service attended by some 800 people was held in a worship tent erected on the grounds of the Safari Court Hotels and Conference Center in Windhoek, where the highest decision-making body of the LWF is meeting, jointly hosted by the three member churches in Namibia. A mass choir and musicians from the local churches accompanied the hymn singing.
Preaching on Isaiah 61: 1-4, Bondarenko urged the congregation members from around the world to trust in God. “God’s promises are really held. For 2,000 years the Christian church has been teaching, proclaiming the gospel and administering Holy Sacraments. […] The church is victorious because Jesus promised it.”
The worship tent, which will be the meeting point for most of the assembly worship and prayer services, has an altar table, font and pulpit made of wood from fallen trees collected in Namibia.
The assembly host churches namely, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia - German Evangelical Lutheran Church, bring together some 1.2 million people. They join hands under the banner of the United Church Council of the Namibia Evangelical Lutheran Churches, through which they collaborate to enhance church unity in the country.
God’s gifts are not for sale
Bondarenko’s reflections on the Assembly theme, “Liberated by God’s Grace,” and sub-themes elaborating that salvation, human beings and creation are “not for sale” also set the tone for the Sunday, 14 May, global event to commemorate the Reformation anniversary at the Sam Nujoma Stadium.
She suggested the sequence: creation-human beings-grace-salvation, to affirm the order of biblical history, and the most important of God’s promises. “God’s gifts are not for sale. God gives us freedom and grace in abundance. God comes to save us in our time. And it is time to rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated, it is time to worship God according to the tradition, but also with our own, new song,” she added.
Bringing meaning to life
A church dean, who has been involved in reconciliation work with congregations in the Ukraine amid the Crimean crisis, Bondarenko noted the 500th Reformation anniversary also coincides with the 100th anniversary of two Russian revolutions that brought persecution to Christians there.
She asked the congregation to imagine what it was like in Russia to live under official atheism for almost 90 years, “without our faith in God” and “without the beauty of the Holy Scriptures and church liturgy [or] God’s guidance and support in the chaos of times.”
Emphasizing that God’s promises hold, she said, “When everything was done to make the church silent and dead, it is a real miracle that the Bride of Christ, the church survived.”
Her message to Christians today, facing new challenges and questions to which they might not have many answers: “Let us humbly confess our ignorance and trust in God our Creator. What is in our power is to be honest and honestly to proclaim God’s grace and to preach that creation and salvation are not for sale. This was the basis of the Reformation 500 years ago, this is the principle that we renew in a modern way nowadays,” she added.
ELCRN Bishop Ernst Gamxamub presided at the Eucharist, which was distributed at different points in the tent. Other liturgical parts of the service were led by Bishop Dr G. Raja Socrates Sathyachandar from the Arcot Lutheran Church in India, and Church of Norway Presiding Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien, who is also LWF Vice-President for the Nordic region.
After the service, participants moved from the tent to the conference center plenary hall to begin the Assembly business sessions, which today will include the address of the LWF President and presentation of Messages from the Women and Youth Pre-Assemblies.
“500th Anniversary of the Reformation” Conference in Moscow
On May 30-31 an ecumenical conference dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was held at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Moscow. Representatives of the Moscow government, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant groups spoke at the opening event.
“This anniversary year challenges us to cleanse and to heal memories and to restore Christian unity in accordance with the Gospel,” said the Papal Nuncio in the Russian Federation, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. He reminded everyone that Christianity is the only world religion that has an ecumenical movement. According to him among Christian denominations “consensus is growing regarding understanding Christian unity as reconciled diversity.”
The Secretary of the division for external church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Archpriest Stephan (Igumenov) greeted Lutherans in the name of the Russian Orthodox Church. Speaking of the Reformation he noted that “these events far away from Russia” all the same during all these 500 years have influenced our country. He mentioned that Lutherans have been in Russia more than 400 years and have a “dignified place in the multicolored palate” of the country and wished the “relatively small, but vivid” Lutheran congregation prosperity.
The historian Pavel Gnilorybov presented his book "Five Centuries of Moscow Lutherans"
During the concert dedicated to the opening of the conference works by Bach, Mozart, Frank and Barber were played by the chamber orchestra “Instrumental Cappela” and the «Soli Deo Gloria» chamber orchestra of organ and soloists directed by Oleg Romanenko. A special treat of the concert was the performance of the III and IV parts of Symphony #5, the “Reformation” symphony of F. Mendellsohn-Bartholdy, which was played in Sts. Peter and Paul for the first time.
”Today all those church leaders and representatives of government structures mentioned that the Reformation taught us a lot. It taught us to value the common root that is the source of our hope, our faith in Jesus Christ” – said Archbishop Dietrich Brauer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in summing up the first day of the conference. “We are to be reconciled with one another, to go together along the path of peace and harmony with those people who represent various peoples, various convictions. We are all united by the One who invites us to follow Him, our one common Lord.”
During the second day of the work of the conference there were a number of papers dedicated to the heritage of the Reformation. ELC Seminary President Anton Tikhomirov spoke about Protestantism in Russian poetry. Pastor Bradn Buerkle's theme was the canonicty of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia. Participants heard from Ulrich Heckel of Tubingen University about Martin Luther's understanding of the Church in an ecumenical context.
The historian Pavel Gnilorybov presented his book “Five Centuries of Moscow Lutherans.” This book about the history of the founding and development of the Lutheran congregation in Moscow came out specially for the Reformation anniversary year. The book follows the lives of Protestants in the Russian capital; in its pages – famous teachers and pastors, philanthropists and patrons, the main addresses of Moscow Lutherans, and all the ups and downs of the relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the state. The publication is illustrated by photographs and by a series of 12 graphic works by the famous artist Andrey Sergunkin.
Artistic Album of German Russian Heritage Published in the Year of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
In the year of the 500 anniversary of the Reformation the International Union of German Culture (IUGC) prepared a unique artistic album “ «From Heaven Above...» about the history of the most important Lutheran symbols of Russia – active and abandoned kirchen. The album (1000 copies of which were printed) contains historic information, prose texts, rare architectural plans of buildings and contemporary photographs, as well as digital painting by Russian German artists especially created as part of an art lab.
“This year is marked by an event of worldwide significance – the whole world celebrates the 500 anniversary of the Reformation, which had enormous influence on the development of scientific thought, art, and faith of many people and cultures. The album published by the International Union of German Culture is more than just a project that presents the history of Lutheranism in Russia. It is also a large artistic and analytical work which is meant to save that integral part of the historical heritage of our country which is the Lutheran tradition of Germans of Russia,” noted Igor Barinov, the leader of the Federal Agency of ethnic affairs.
The publication is unique insofar as it presents a living reflection of Lutheran culture of our country; in addition to historical facts, it has real artistic value. The name of the album comes from a line in the poetry of Martin Luther: “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come...” - the poetry of a person whose theses caused upheaval in the Christian world.
“On the one hand we wanted to give a sign of respect to our ancestors who started to come to Russia already in Luther's lifetime and then, in the years of Catherine (the Great) II’s manifestos inviting Germans (1762-3) when Germans settled en masse in the Russian provinces and founded more than 75 Evangelical Lutheran colonies in the Volga region alone. On the other hand we wanted to tell our fellow citizens and European society about the rich history and tradition of Lutheranism in Russia,” said the album's publisher, the first vice-chair of IUGC, Olga Martens.
At the core of the album are the results of the work of the Art Lab of the Creative Union of German Russians, especially their expeditions to the Volga. In 2016 and 2017 painters created around 30 canvases with Lutheran cathedrals of Russia as their main subjects. Some of these historical monuments have been restored; others are abandoned, having been used in the Soviet period as grain bins, auto repair shops, clubhouses, swimming pools, barns... after that tragic page in the history of German Russians began in 1941 – deportations, forced labor, eternal exile.
Even in the most difficult circumstances of repression and homelessness Russian Germans were able to retain their ties with their religion. Faith helped many of them to survive the periods of deportation and repression. The Germans of Russia were always very pious and many families saved their families' Bible and hymn books. Even today a majority of Russian Germans are Protestant. This confessional commitment played and continues to play a big role in the preservation of German culture and identity.
“The Reformation was not only a religious event. It prompted man to think about his relationship with God as well as his place in human society. The Reformation began with one person and many others were caught up in it. We are heirs of the Reformation whether we are members of Lutheran churches or not. In these kirchen the main thing that happened was that there was a Reformation of the heart. In these building songs of praise were song to the One who gives life. Here people found inspiration for transforming and reforming life around them,” said ELCR Archbishop Dietrich Brauer in his forward to the album.
The exhibition and album are intended to acquaint readers with the history of Russian Germans through the prism of the Reformation and the confessional agency, Lutheran and German architecture. The album includes never before published historical documents – architectural plans and historical information about Lutheran churches and congregations in the capitals and in large cities as well as in the areas of German settlement on the Volga. The chronology of development of Lutheranism in Russia and these historical texts about church buildings were written by the most qualified specialist on the history of Lutheranism in our country, Prof. Olga Litsenberger, Ph.D.
The presentation of the first paintings from the exhibition of German Russian artists entitled “From Heaven Above....” first took place in the Temple of Jesus Christ in the village of Zorkino (Zurich) on August 28, 2016 – the 75 anniversary of the deportation of Soviet Germans. Then the pictures were sent to the Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral in Moscow as part of the Forum of Germans of Russia in October 2016.
The ceremonial presentation of the album and the mobile exhibition took place as part of the 500 Anniversary of the Reformation events in the city church of Bayreuth (Bavaria, Germany) on May 22, 2017. Visitors will be able to see the exhibition in other German cities as well – in Augsburg and cities of Saxony-Anhalt, after which the exhibition and album will be presented in various places in Moscow.
Original text from the site: www.rusdeutsch.ru