Christianity, not communism, now offering people hope in Moscow


MOSCOW — The sun shone bright and warm Aug. 19 as a martial anthem glorifying communism and the old Soviet Union echoed across Moscow's Red Square.

The music, blaring from a dented, Soviet-era loudspeaker set up just outside the square, commemorated the 15th anniversary of a failed hardline coup attempt against reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Tanks rolled through Moscow that August day in 1991, but hundreds of thousands of ordinary Russians flooded the streets to protest the coup. Key military units joined the people, the hardliners were arrested and the once-mighty Soviet Union, already crumbling, soon was history.

This year, a tiny group of aging communists gathered in front of the red-brick edifice of the Lenin Museum to mark the anniversary — and to bemoan the end of the Soviet empire. A few elderly true-believers held red flags bearing the communist hammer and sickle, while speakers called for the return of communism.

"Leninism! Stalinism! Death to capitalism!" they chanted at one point. Then they marched around the outside of Red Square, angrily complaining when the police refused to allow others to follow.

The event drew a few Russian TV crews and some curious onlookers, but most seemed more interested in the retro communist-era buttons and T-shirts for sale than any message the speakers shared. Mostly, onlookers ignored the small band of demonstrators.

On this warm, summer Saturday in Red Square, thousands of Muscovites — young hipsters, families, tourists, wedding parties and stylishly dressed women with cell phones and shopping bags — had come to enjoy themselves.

The elderly communists seemed sadly out of place here, a location once the center of world communism.

"We are dying off," one retiree told a Moscow Times reporter. "Every year there are fewer of us. The youth (don't) care about anything. They only live in the present."

Democracy may have a long way to go in Russia, but judging from the rally, Soviet-style communism seems as dead as Lenin, whose body still lies in a squat, black mausoleum on the square.

Meanwhile, Christianity is seeing new life in the Russian capital, where it once was persecuted and nearly crushed. A day after the communist rally commemorating the 15th anniversary, two women were baptized openly in the Moscow Canal — the first baptisms of a Baptist house church begun a year ago in the northern part of the city.

Worshippers gathered on the banks of the canal to watch and celebrate as the two were immersed in the chilly water. Afterward, the small congregation sang and took part in the Lord's Supper.

One new believer, Anastasia, is 80 years old.

"I have dreamed of this day for 50 years," she said.

She first heard the Gospel in Germany when her family lived there, and she quietly sought Christ through Soviet times. Now she has found Him and is free to worship Him outwardly.

Another new believer, a woman in her 30s named Marina, emerged from the water with a luminous smile as her mother and daughter watched. She will never return to her old, hopeless way of life, she vowed.

"Two new believers in a city of more than 11 million people may seem insignificant," commented the pastor who baptized the pair. "But Jesus Christ gave His life for these two."

He envisions the single house church where they worship multiplying into many congregations in the days and years to come.

Moscow remains hard ground for the Christian Gospel. Many Russians seek material things and regard evangelicals as a cult — not unlike the rest of Europe. But they also seek hope, which only Jesus Christ can give.

Russian Christians are offering that hope to seekers in Moscow — and making new history, not reliving events long past.