Russian Baptists and the Orthodox Church have had a difficult and – at times – dramatic relationship over the past century and a half. However, the purpose of this thesis is to examine certain internal connections between these two Christian bodies. Despite the evident dissimilarity – in theology, church practice and traditions – there is common ground which has been largely unexplored. A number of features inevitably brought them together, such as living in the same country over a long period of time, sharing a history and national roots, responding to the same civic concerns, and finally – until recently – using the same Russian (“Synodal”) translation of the Bible.
This thesis explores, first of all, the roots of the issue of Orthodox-Baptist similarities and dissimilarities in the nineteenth century. The remainder of the thesis focuses on 1960 to 1990. There is a chapter analyzing the way in which, in significant areas, Russian Baptist theology resembled Orthodox thinking. This is followed by a study of church and sacraments, which again shows that Russian Baptist approaches had echoes of Orthodoxy. The thesis then explores Baptist liturgy, showing the Orthodox elements that were present. The same connections are then explored in the area of Russian Baptist communal spiritual traditions. The examination of the Bible, beliefs and behaviour also indicates the extent to which Russian Baptists mirrored Orthodoxy. Finally there is an analysis of the popular piety of the Russian Baptists and the way in which they constructed an alternative culture.
The basic views of Russian Baptists between the 1960s and 1990 have been drawn from periodicals of the Russian Baptist communities and from interviews with pastors (presbyters) and church members who were part of these communities. This often yields insights into “primary theology”, which in relation to many issues differs from official Baptist declarations that tend to stress the more Protestant aspects of Russian Baptist life.
The aim of the thesis is to show that in a period in the history of the USSR when the division between the Western world and the Soviet bloc was marked, there was a strong Eastern orientation among Russian Baptists. This changed when the USSR came to an end. Over a number of years there was mass emigration of Russian Baptists and, in addition, pro-Western thinking gained considerable ground within the Russian Baptist community. During the period examined here, however, it is possible to uncover a great deal of evidence of Russian Baptists participating in Orthodox theology, spiritual mentality and culture.