Thursday, October 22, 2009

Candles and prayers

Listen to an audio version of this post at

Sometimes great historical change comes amid fire and blood. Sometimes it comes amid joy and singing.

The joyful kind unfolded one unforgettable night 20 years ago.

The Berlin Wall fell Nov. 9, 1989, without a shot being fired. As Germans on both sides of the wall gleefully tore it down over the ensuing days, communist rule in Eastern Europe began to crumble (see it as it happened at Within a few years the Soviet empire collapsed and the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist. Thus ended more than 70 years of tyranny that killed millions of people, oppressed hundreds of millions and regularly threatened the West with nuclear annihilation.

Today’s children grow up in the shadow of international terrorism. But they don’t have to crouch under their schoolroom desks during air-raid drills like many of us did back in the 1950s and ’60s — as if that would have protected us from an atomic blast. They don’t have to wonder if the world will end tomorrow in a mushroom cloud of “mutually assured destruction.”

The fall of the wall came with a suddenness that surprised even the people who expected it. Despite the pressure for change coming from all sides — even from Soviet reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev — the East German state was prepared to fight a long, twilight struggle against freedom. It probably would have crushed any attempt by its people to force political change.

“We were ready for everything,” a top East German government leader admitted after the fall. “Everything except candles and prayers.”

Candles and prayers — offered up with incredible courage in peaceful public demonstrations by East German Christians and others who joined them — sparked the fire that eventually consumed the tyranny in their land. True, larger political, social and economic forces set the stage for change. But the believers who put their lives on the line in those last fearful days of communist rule helped turn fragile possibility into reality. Their bravery inspired others throughout Eastern Europe to do the same.

The years since have seen many waves of change sweep the former Soviet empire. The early days of euphoria and freedom gave way to economic struggle and chaos, particularly in Russia. Some nations have solidified democratic institutions; others have moved back toward authoritarian rule.

Missionaries and Western evangelicals flooded into Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. At first they found a warm welcome from people hungry for truth. Later, some governments began to limit access. Orthodox church leaders in the region began resisting what they called “cults” and “sects” encroaching upon their territory. Secularism and the headlong pursuit of long-denied material luxuries competed to squelch the call to spiritual things.

And a deeper darkness continues to haunt the region.

“This area is defined by the lingering shadow of communism — the oppression of spirit and repression of freedoms that robbed people of their identity and dignity,” writes an IMB (International Mission Board) worker based in Eastern Europe. “The residual effect of this passing regime now permeates society as a sense of hopelessness. A cavernous void exists in the very soul of the people that longs to be filled — a void left by an atheistic system that imprisoned its inhabitants in demeaning commonality. Though the population had longed for political freedom, it arrived with a sense of disillusionment.

“The road back to true freedom will require more than a new government. It requires hope.”

Case in point: The three out of every four Russians who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction — or have a family member who does — need hope. Some are finding it in Jesus Christ.

Russian Baptists have opened 80 rehabilitation centers over the past 10 years to help addicts. The home- or apartment-based centers typically house eight to 10 people. They receive practical help and encouragement along with the hope of new life in Christ (see a short video about the ministry at

About half of the recent church growth in one part of Siberia “has come from people in recovery or related to recovery,” reports IMB missionary Andy Leininger. “We are seeing God at work in some powerful ways and want to reach the millions in Russia who are slaves to addiction.”

The mass movements to Christ that many evangelicals envisioned when the Berlin Wall came down haven’t occurred — yet. But the hope Eastern Europeans seek can be found only in the Gospel of grace.

Candles and prayers lit the fire that brought down the wall. They will yet bring true freedom to the millions still struggling to emerge from its shadow.


Anonymous said...

Why do you ignore the revival of the Church in Russia?

We Orthodox Christians in America (I'm a convert from evangelical Protestantism) are seeing answers to OUR prayers in the movement of the Holy Spirit who is reviving the spiritual life of the Church in Russia.

Yes, the Orthodox Church is still recovering from her war against the godless, satanic Soviet state, but she is recovering nonetheless.

The antipathy in Russia towards protestant sectarians is a sign of renewed strength, a recovery of the over 1000 year old Christian Faith of the Fathers.

Thank God that a fruit of this recovery is the revival of Orthodox Christians around the worlo by the Russian Orthodox Church in places like China, Western Europe, and yes, the United States.

Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ for the Russian Orthodox Church and for using her for the salvation of my family and myself.

"O Lord, save thy people and bless thine inheritance, do thou grant victory to Orthodox Christians over their enemies, and by virtue of thy Cross, preserve thy Commonwealth."

27 January 2009, 18:23
Russian Church monasteries increased thirty-six fold, parishes and clergy – more than fourfold under Alexy II

Moscow, January 27, Interfax – The number of the Moscow Patriarchate monasteries has increased thirty-six fold and a half - from 22 to 804.

Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Kirill has cited this data in his report at the Local Council in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on Tuesday.

Russia has opened 234 monasteries and 244 nunneries, the CIS-countries and Baltic States – 142 monasteries and 153 nunneries, other foreign countries – three monasteries and three nunneries. Besides, the Russian Church Outside of Russia supervises over 16 monasteries and nine nunneries. There are 203 monastery representations and 65 hermitages.

The number of parishes increased fourfold for 20 years (from 6 893 to 29 263 parishes), the number of dioceses - twofold (from 76 to 157), clergy - more than fourfold (from 7 397 to 30 670) and the number of bishops increased almost thrice (from 74 to 203).

The number of acting churches in Moscow has increased twenty-two fold - from 40 to 872. The city had only one monastery acting before 1990, now there eight monasteries, 16 monastery representations, three seminaries, two Orthodox higher education establishments.

Brian, the old man said...

Praise the Lord! I really enjoy you including the audio version of your articles. Having lived through many of the things you discuss, I understand the significance candles and prayer played. I pray our children and grandchildren will never have to endure or experience this type of authoritarian rule in their lifetimes. I pray for all of those who are suffering and struggling for freedom one day will find peace, hope and faith through our Lord, Jesus Christ. I pray for the missionaries in their successful journey in their goals. Thanks for sharing this article. Have a great weekend.

Erich Bridges said...

I don't mean to ignore the true spiritual revival within the Orthodox churches where it is occurring. I've had the privilege of meeting some wonderful Orthodox priests and believers in Russia.

However, Orthodox leaders need to recognize the validity and right of other followers of Christ to practice and spread their faith. Baptists, for instance, have been in Russia for more than 100 years, and they suffered greatly for their faith during communist times. I refer you to the portrait of the Baptist prison camp inmate in "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, a great champion of both freedom and Orthodox faith.

Anonymous said...

The Orthodox Church (anywhere) will not and cannot recognize was is invalid by recognizing the "validity" of the Baptists.

The Baptists and other Protestant sectarians had their chance in the go-go 1990s when Russia was wide open to missionaries of all sects. The Baptists came, set up their revival tents, handed out tracts and Bibles, sent hordes of short term vactioners/missionaries, to no avail.

The closing of the door to sectarians such as Baptists is a show of strength and also a partial fulfillment of prophecy.

Elder Anatole the Younger of Optina (I know he means nothing to Baptists, but he is a Saint in the Orthodox Church), in the very first days of the Revolution, in February 1917, made a prophecy in the form of a vivid picture of the future of Russia: “There will be a storm. And the Russian ship will be smashed to pieces. But people can be saved even on splinters and fragments. And not everyone will perish. One must pray, everyone must repent and pray fervently. And what happens after a storm? ...There will be a calm.’ At this everyone said: ‘But there is no more ship, it is shattered to pieces; it has perished, everything has perished.’ ‘It is not so,’ said Batiushka. ‘A great miracle of God will be manifested. And all the splinters and fragments, by the will of God and His power, will come together and be united, and the ship will be rebuilt in its beauty and will go on its own way as foreordained by God. And this will be a miracle evident to everyone.”

Further, many modern day Saints (Russian and Greek) of our Church have prophesied that Orthodox Russia will be the rallying point, the leader of the faithful at the time of the battle against Antichrist. Now we are seeing the gathering of forces and strength of the Church in Russia in preparation.

Daniel said...

The goal of the "sectarian" Baptist missionaries is not simply to vacation. I have had the joy of seeing the word of Christ spread by Erich's side in Turkey as well as in southern Romania on more than one occasion.

The goal of the body, as a whole, is to spread the message so that all may know the truth. Whether orthodox, "sectarian" protestant, or any other true Bible-based denomination, we should be doing that very thing. The divisiveness of comments placing all Baptists in such a light is both unfair and incorrect.

Personally, I pray for all the brethren, whether orthodox or protestant, (and all the lost who are still searching for something they have yet to find) not based on denomination but rather the fact that we are ALL ONE BODY.