By Elizabeth Ahlman
History was made between two LCMS partner churches at the 24th Synod Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) — one of those partners — Oct. 16 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) — the other LCMS partner-church body — served alongside ELCIR Bishop Arri Kugappi for the first time ever in celebrating the annual convention’s opening Divine Service at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church. This also was the first time that the bishops of the two confessional Lutheran church bodies have celebrated the Lord’s Supper together.
Separated by many miles and by difficult transportation systems, the two Russian church bodies are members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
The SELC is in Siberia, and while there are one or two ELCIR congregations in that far-eastern region, the vast majority of them are in Western Russia. The distance between Moscow in the West and Novosibirsk in Siberia, for example, is 2,081 miles — several time zones apart.
Among those attending the ELCIR convention were LCMS Eurasia Associate Regional Director Rev. James Krikava (who is now the regional director for Eurasia) and Regional Business Manager Rick Sovitzky.
‘United in faith, witness’
“Despite the divides of time and distance,” Krikava said, “these two confessional Lutheran church bodies are united in their faith and witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. As they celebrated the Lord’s Supper together for the first time, they showed unity in the confession of the faith.”
Lytkin also acknowledged the importance of that unity in his opening remarks to the assembly.
“Our country is gigantic, its distances are very long,” he said, “but when they divide us in parts, the Lord unites us again. He unites us in one Church whose parts are in communion with one another like the branches of one tree, like sisters.”
The Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church has been an autonomous church body for eight years and a partner church with the LCMS since 2010 (ratified in convention in 2013).
The ELCIR has been in existence since 1992 and has been an LCMS partner church since 1998.
A growing relationship
While the two Russian church bodies have long worked with the LCMS, their relationship with one another has been growing over the last few years.
The Rev. Mikhail Ivanov, the secretary of the ELCIR convention, spoke of the visit of the SELC delegation to the convention.
“We know that as we face a Lutheranism that is becoming increasingly secularized, we are called to seek maximum consolidation with spiritually healthy, conservative Lutheran churches, one of which is no doubt the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church,” Ivanov said.
The LCMS supports projects with both of these partner churches, including work done in cooperation between the ELCIR and the SELC in Siberia.
‘This is Lutheranism’
Krikava remarked in his greeting to the convention on the unity found in Christ and in the Divine Service: “I’d like to say I was really moved and joyful by the wonderful Lutheran worship service we’ve just had … I am always thankful when I enter a Lutheran church and can recognize [it] as such. Even though I don’t understand Russian, it was clear to me that this is Lutheranism.”
“The ELCIR and SELC are dedicated to continuing to grow the unity between them in order to work together to reach more in their communities with the love of Christ,” Krikava later said. “They know that in working together in witness and mercy they can reach more of the Russian people with the pure Gospel. The LCMS stands ready to assist these partners in their work of witness and mercy as we all celebrate our life together in Christ.”
Quotations in this story from the ELCIR convention are courtesy of Darya Shkurlyatyeva of ELCIR Information Services and are translated from the news reports on the ELCIR website (ELCI.ru) by Aleksei Zubtsov.
Deaconess Elizabeth Ahlman (email@example.com) is communications specialist for the Eurasia Region with the LCMS Office of International Mission and is based in Leipzig, Germany.
Posted Nov. 13, 2015