Jump to content
The World News Media

Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Russia. That doesn't stop them from worshipping.


Guest Kurt
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • Guest

In Putin’s Russia, JehovahÂ’s Witnesses are labeled “extremists” and accused of being American spies. Still, they keep their faith alive

 Aug 24, 2017

Image_uploaded_from_iOS.0.jpg

Jehovah’s Witnesses keep food on the table when they gather so they can claim they are meeting for a meal or party when police come.  Tara Isabella Burton

 

MOSCOW — “Stay in the car,” Yuri says. He looks out the window, up at the grey Soviet-era tower block we’re idling outside. An old woman is staring out the window. “She’s looking at us. She’s suspicious.”

Eugeny and his wife, Lyudmilla, have already gone inside. But Yuri (who, like everyone quoted in this article, has asked to be identified by first name only for security reasons) is worried that entering as a group will attract attention. Attention means somebody might call the police. And when you’re a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia — labeled by the government as a member of an “extremist” sect, the same designation they use for neo-Nazis and ISIS members — dealing with the police is the last thing you need.

Eight million Christians around the world self-identify as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their worship is characterized by frequent public proselytizing. In April, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the faith of an estimated 175,000 Russians violates the country’s anti-extremist statutes.

An appeal was refused late last month, continuing years of state-sponsored persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious group. Police frequently raid Jehovah’s Witness services — both in private homes and in Kingdom Halls — and, according to members, turn a blind eye to discriminatory civilian violence. Yuri recalls one instance where a “sister” — as Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to female members of their community — was beaten and threatened with a gun by another woman while out preaching, only for the police to dismiss her as a “cult member” and a thief when they finally arrived. But since the most recent Supreme Court ruling, Yuri says, things have gotten worse.

“We’re on their radar at all times,” says Yuri, an affable man in his 50s who apologizes, frequently, for his near-perfect English, which he taught himself through the internet. Their largest Kingdom Hall, located in a northern suburb of Moscow, lies empty, the entrance marked with caution tape, after the building’s owner deemed it too risky to let Jehovah’s Witnesses use.

Still, the community has developed a strategy to keep its faith and worship alive. They enter the building in twos and threes to avoid attracting attention. They mix up the homes they use, to keep it difficult for government forces or potential harassers to track. They set a table laden with food, which, during the Saturday worship session I attended in July, goes entirely untouched. ItÂ’s there so that if police arrive, they can claim that theyÂ’re simply gathering for a party. And, Yuri tells me, they always keep a few bottles of vodka on hand. If the police come, he says, they can down it quickly. The police will smell their breath, notice their inebriation, and believe that theyÂ’re been carousing, not worshipping.

Image_uploaded_from_iOS__1_.jpg

Because the JehovahÂ’s Witness translation of the Bible is banned in Russia, many access their sacred texts via smartphone.

 

Today, about 20 Witnesses gather in this Moscow suburb. They are roughly split evenly by gender, and a mix of ages. Nearly all follow the lesson on their tablets or phones, using specialized apps. (Importing physical copies of the JehovahÂ’s Witness Bible is also forbidden.)

Yuri’s wife, Alla, helpfully translates the verses from Russian to English for me on her phone. They pray for the wisdom of their rulers, reading verses from the Book of Daniel about faith in times of turmoil. They affirm Jehovah — their rendering of the term for the Judeo-Christian God — as lord of the universe. From time to time Yuri and his friend Eugeny, a wide-eyed bald man fond of speaking with his hands, ask questions of the flock, calling on members of the community to help interpret the Bible.

The worship service, which runs about 90 minutes, is a muted affair. After all, they can no longer sing during services in peopleÂ’s homes, lest the sound attract the suspicion of neighbors.

But it is, Yuri says, the best they can do.

The plight of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses reflects the powerful alliance between nationalism and Russian Orthodoxy

To be a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia, after all, is to fall afoul of the extremely complex interplay between nationality, faith, and nationalism in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which — as I have previously written — bolsters its authoritarian regime by appealing to the fundamental “Russianness” of the state Orthodox Church. For Putin and his supporters, Jehovah’s Witnesses seem like a dangerous foreign influence. Yuri jokes that other Russians think Jehovah’s Witnesses are foreign spies, or that their frequent doorstop evangelism is actually a ploy to gather data to send back to the CIA; after all, in Russia, their religious expression inherently codes them as dangerously “Western” and “other.”

The history of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in Russia, and the former USSR more widely, has always been tied up with politics. They were the subject of suspicion under the hyper-secularist Soviet regime. Lyudmilla, EugenyÂ’s wife, tells me that both her grandfather and father were sent to Siberian gulags by Stalin for decades for being JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. The religion spread during the chaotic 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, when religion was finally no longer taboo, and people started asking questions about God.

"A lot of people started when the Soviet Union was destroyed, to say what is written in the Bible,” Alla recalls. “[Talking about religion] became open. After the Soviet Union fell, you could talk about God openly — no problem! That was very interesting [to me] — [I wondered] what was inside [the Bible]?”

Image_uploaded_from_iOS__2_.jpg

Kingdom Halls like this one in a northern suburb of Moscow lie empty after the latest Supreme Court decisions.

 

For others, faith allowed them to find meaning in the chaos of the fall of the Soviet Union. Eugeny proudly tells me his religion under the USSR was “communism!” He served in the army, all the way up until what he called “civil war — Russians firing on Russians” — marking the fall of the Soviet Union.

When communism started to fall, Eugeny felt himself at sea. "I was communist, but at the same time, geopolitics was interesting for me,” he says. "And in the army I realized that the most great geopolitician was Jehovah. But I didn’t know him [yet]” — he had felt the stirrings of religious longing but had not yet become a true believer.

Only when his now-wife Lyudmilla started to preach did the world start to make sense to him. “[I realized that I] have to serve God. I realized that God is Almighty and I wanted to serve him,” he said. Geopolitics at last makes sense, he says. Now, he says, he sees the world as a chess board, God as the ultimate player.

For all four of the Jehovah’s Witnesses I interviewed, religion in the Soviet years had been primarily a function of national and ethnic identity, not faith. Yuri, who was raised in Uzbekistan, considered himself Muslim because of his ethnicity, nothing more. “I was born in a Muslim family?” He shrugs to demonstrate emphasis. "Okay, I’m Muslim."

He remembers being shocked the first time he saw an Uzbek Witness try to convert him. "I said, what? Look at you? Look in the mirror, you are Muslim. And you became … Christian?Why?”

His wife, Alla, was a “Christian” in the same way Yuri was raised as a “Muslim.” She grew up in Siberia before moving to the warmer climate of Uzbekistan for her health. That’s where she met Yuri.

At first, Alla was more receptive than her husband to the Jehovah’s Witness evangelists who knocked on their door. But Yuri was worried at first about the mysterious strangers who studied the Bible with his wife — and their foreign ways.

“I was worried, a little bit, that it wasn’t the traditional way … I worried that it was a cult,” he said. But he started to warm to the idea of a faith that was led by discussion and asking questions — not tradition. And the idea of being religious in name only did not appeal to him. "[Russian] Orthodox people, they drink a lot. They can lie, they can steal, they can do many things. But at the same time, they wear the cross. I said, ‘Hey, you are not afraid of God. If you are Christian, your behavior should be according to the Bible.’ But I didn’t find [that] with Orthodox people.” Jehovah’s Witnesses were different, Yuri says. He stopped drinking, smoking, hanging out with a “bad crowd.” His family was shocked — and suspicious. What he was doing wasn’t “traditional” after all. But they couldn’t deny the change in his behavior.

For as long as Yuri can remember, JehovahÂ’s Witnesses in his native Uzbekistan dealt with similar harassment under the recently deceased nationalist dictator Islam Karimov as they face now in Russia, where he moved for work some decades ago. TheyÂ’d have to pay the odd bribe or fine at a police station, or theyÂ’d get into trouble with local toughs. But the situation in Russia under Putin, all agree, has gotten worse, reminding them of the worst days of Stalinism, except with a different ethos. In the old days, JehovahÂ’s Witnesses were a threat to the secularist state. Today, they are a threat to the Russian Orthodox establishment. But the methods remain the same.

“My father, my grandfather, were prisoners for reading the Bible,” sighs Lyudmilla, "Then they were rehabilitated [after the fall of the USSR and considered] the victims of political repression. The government said sorry to that generation. But now they’ve started to put us under stress again."

Persecution has only strengthened the communityÂ’s resolve

They all agree, however, that this does not let them stop practicing their faith — or even proselytizing. Although they do not stand on street corners any longer, they go a few times a week to knock on doors and try to preach what they believe is God’s word, even if they’re more likely than not to be shouted at or attacked as suspected foreign spies or agents of treason. “The [state-run] TV and newspapers, they demonize Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Yuri says. “But we aren’t stopping preaching — and we won’t stop preaching.”

Yuri makes sure to say that he is not political. Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to be neutral bystanders in political affairs (worldwide, for example, they request exemptions from mandatory military service, something that they are denied in Russia). “It doesn’t matter who is the president. Just don’t touch us. We don’t want to change the president. We have to pray for the [leaders] — that they can manage the country with wisdom.”

Still, he is more than a little caustic when reminding me of the story of the biblical prophet Daniel, once the prisoner of a disbelieving king.

“Daniel, he had good days, he had bad days,” Yuri says. “But he held to his faith. Every day, he served God.” He points out that the biblical word he uses in Russian, spastayanstvom, has the connotation of a donkey: day by day, turning in circles to mill the grain. In other words: Daniel was stubborn.

"Now we have bad day in Russia,” he says. “But we will continue to worship God as Daniel did. Thanks to God, Daniel was saved. And he will save us. But who has to worry? The people who put Daniel in the lion’s den. They had to worry. Because when Daniel was released from the lion’s place, the bad people were killed by the king — you see what I mean?”

Yuri winks at me. “So, the people who do the same things in Russia have to worry. Not us. Jehovah’s Witnesses survived in Hitler’s time. In Stalin’s time. We survived gulags. Siberia. We have a God. The people who persecute us — they’re the ones who have to worry."

source Vox

Link to comment
Share on other sites


  • Views 1.3k
  • Replies 3
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

It is to prevent this that the current persecution is all about.  this is a fine report, Kurt.

Thank  you  so  much  for  that  current,  nice  report  @Kurt  Wonderful  to  hear  about  our  dear  Russian  Brothers  and  Sisters ! 

 Share





  • Recently Browsing

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Popular Contributors

  • Topics

  • Posts

    • The world’s #1 wheat harvester has invaded the world’s #4 wheat harvester. What do you think will happen to the price of food soon? World's 1st producer of fertilizer? Russia World's 1st producer of Potash? Russia  
    • The UN SecGen warned about global grain shortages a few days ago. Source
    • El Salvador could be the catalyst for the most audacious economic experiment since Bretton Woods. On September 7th 2021, they became the first country in the world to make the nascent digital currency, Bitcoin, legal tender. If other countries follow, it could lead to a new international monetary system. How did this come to pass? And what does it mean for Salvadorians? A beach and a palace bookend Bitcoin's story in El Salvador, and my film starts in the coastal resort of El Zonte, aka Bitcoin Beach, where I visit Michael Peterson, a US charity worker who developed this unique Bitcoin community. Most Salvadorians in El Zonte are unbanked, yet, with Bitcoin Beach, they were introduced to this new financial system. I also sit with the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, who, inspired by El Zonte, saw a chance to reset his country's fortunes. He took the unprecedented step to align his country's future with Bitcoin, taking on powerful interests at home and abroad. The El Salvadorian people lie between these two men, ravaged by civil war, gang violence, and political corruption. Bukele has a bold vision for a new future, but his changes have bred distrust in some and hope in others. I travel to meet those protesting against Bitcoin and those who believe it can be a force for good. On the day I published this video, El Salvador hosted 44 other emerging nations at a financial inclusion conference. What started as a small project in El Zonte may lead to Bitcoin becoming the standard for other countries worldwide.
    • Former lead of Facebook's shitcoin project launches lightning project
  • Members

  • Recent Status Updates

    • Mic Drop

      This Bitcoin and Crypto stuff is really starting to take off like wildfire
      · 0 replies
    • Arauna  »  Thinking

      Hi, it seems we are the only two left talking about it as the rest have lost interest.  PITY, because they will soon see what is coming. I have always had a good imagination for understanding injustice. ..I watched the video about the injustice you put up.... very sad. We understand those things.....the other video is just a parody, of snippets of a very nasty person.... I do not know who she is but she was standing  next to the health minister.....
      I am not well, so I may not make it thru this system..... and I am happy to say maybe it is a  good thing.... I want to praise jehovah until I die ...but the opportunities are getting less.... and who wants to see people suffer?  If I were still around I would be severely stressed by it.  
      My father always said " know all, blow all" when people think they know it all.  And I have seen some pretty opinionated people on here. Mostly people who have had very little suffering and had authority in congregations.   
      I encourage you to stay strong dear sister and please devote more time to worship Jehovah in love. I also want to cut my time on internet ........ I spend time trying to find hidden  news about new developments in UN etc.  Soon all news about what is really  going on will not be available..... just mandates from governments and propaganda from the governments. People will be liquidated and we will not be able to get news about it. 
      Just stay strong. I am glad you spoke out about Australia.... I have a friend there who is too afraid to talk on internet.  They have already built  Covid "camps" in USA and Australia.... the  ĺorcing all "faith in god" out of everyone..  only worship of the state will be allowed. .... to compromise as many as he can.
      Strengthen yourself. No one can do it for you. 
      · 0 replies
    • Toni  »  T.B. (Twyla)

      Thank you so much for the spiritual food!!!
      Agape
      Toni
      · 0 replies
    • Arauna  »  TrueTomHarley

      Hi Tom, where are u?  I miss ya! 
      · 2 replies
    • Eric Ouellet

      ג Guimel
      Ô. Jéhovah trace le chemin de ma vie;
      car en vous je met ma confiance entière.
      Vos paroles se révèlent à mon oreille.
      Je voudrais être prêt à vous servir toute au long de ma vie.
      La source de mes secrets, vous est révelé devant vous;
      votre justice est comme la lumière du soleil en plein midi.
      Seul mon Dieu peut discerner les actions de mon Âme;
      les secrets de mes pensées et de celles de mes actions.
      Ô mon Dieu Jéhovah , je voudrais recevoir l'honneur 
      de la protection du Dieu de mon Salut. 
      J'aimerais recevoir l'eau de ta source pour m'abreuver 
      comme un chameau avant le grand pèlerinage de ma foi.
      Devant vos yeux se dessine la quête de ma victoire;
      Car Jéhovah est grand et infiniment digne de louanges.
      La grandeur de votre sagesse et de votre intelligence est inscrutable.
      Je voudrais rendre grâce à Jéhovah et m'unir à tous les justes et humbles de la terre.
      Tous ensemble exaltons le Nom glorieux de notre Dieu d'amour.
      Les œuvres de notre Dieu Jéhovah sont grandioses, à tout jamais.
      Hallélouyah
      Ô. Jéhovah voulez-vous protèger votre serviteur;
      afin que je vive et que j’obéisse à vos paroles?
      Ouvre mes yeux pour que je vois clairement
      les choses merveilleuses de votre loi qui sont inscrites
      à l'intérieur des paroles de votre livre merveilleux.
       
      Je ne suis qu’un étranger dans le pays de la terre.
      Ô mon Dieu ne me cache d'aucune manière la beauté 
      de vos préceptes qui gardent vos serviteurs en vie.
      Bénis soit celui qui me révèle le chemin que je dois parcourir;
      le désir que manifeste mon âme qui est attaché à ma poussière.
       
      Je voudrais connaître le secret de préserver mon âme;
      ce cadeau inestimable du seul vrai Dieu; ce lien d'appartenance que je dois préserver au gré de ma vie comme à la prunelle de mes yeux.
      Je voudrais brûler constamment de désir pour tes jugements;
      car les jugements de mon Dieu révèle sa grandeur.
       
      Ô. Jéhovah réprimandes les présomptueux,
      les hypocrites qui dévient de la beauté de tes commandements.
      Éloigne de moi la dérision et le mépris de ce monde,
      car je veux obéir à tes rappels et je veux être soucieux de garder 
      mon âme de toutes violences et de toutes souillures de ce monde.
      Même si les princes de ce monde se réunissent 
      pour parler contre tes serviteurs;
      Tes serviteurs méditent sur vos prescriptions;
      unie à votre amour comme un seul, nous sommes attachés à vos rappels ;
      Tous ceux qui sont avec toi au mon Dieu sont mes conseillers.
      L'humilité et ma douceur garde mes yeux éveillés à lire votre parole, jour et nuit; car votre parole est la source de la lumière qui fera briller mon âme au jour de votre salut.
      Ô. Jéhovah fait briller ta justice et ton droit comme l’aurore du soleil en plein midi.
      Les descendants de ton salut seront puissant sur la terre.
      Gloire et honneur soit rendu à notre Dieu Jéhovah. 
      Bénis soit le Dieu unique de notre Salut
      Hallélouyah.
       

      · 1 reply
  • Forum Statistics

    • Total Topics
      64.3k
    • Total Posts
      141.3k
  • Member Statistics

    • Total Members
      17,264
    • Most Online
      1,592

    Newest Member
    Jonathan Knowles
    Joined
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms of Service Confirmation Terms of Use Privacy Policy Guidelines We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.