By William Yoder
Special to ASSIST News Service
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (ANS) -- On the evening of September 4, 2012, a group of independent Lutherans headed by Dmitry Lotov shoved their way into Moscow's St. Peter-and-Paul-Cathedral. A cohort of Lotov shinnied up into the balcony. After removing the foot pedals (foot keyboard) from the organ, videos show the person jumping back down and returning to the entrance of the church. The group scuffled with Peter-and-Paul staff as they escaped with their prize. The organ was otherwise undamaged.
Garri Eprikyan (pipe organ) rehearsing before concert in St. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Pavlova)
The closing paragraph sounds threatening: "Our congregation will continue to take the steps necessary to preserve the organ as a historical and cultural monument." Germany's "Gustav-Adolf-Werk" (GAW) reported on September 10, 2012, of "vandalism." "crime" and the organ's "destruction". GAW added that it hopes along with others to fund the organ's return to operation within the upcoming two to three months.
Usage and access rights to the instrument are unclear: According to a ruling from March 1996, both the Peter-and-Paul-congregation as well as the overarching "Evangelical-Lutheran Church 'European Russia'" (ELCER) possess access to the state-owned organ.
Lotov took the majority of the congregation with him when he was forced to pull out of Peter-and-Paul in Fall 2010. Consequently, his group still claims to be the legitimate and lawful Peter-and-Paul congregation. Lotov attributes police reluctance to act now to the city's belief that his congregation is the organ's rightful owner: "Items (the keyboard) cannot be stolen by their rightful owners." he claims on his website. Peter-and-Paul-staff add that financial interests are also involved: Lotov no longer has access to the funds collected from organ concerts.
St. Peter and Paul Cathedral
Lotov, who became pastor of the Russian-speaking section of Peter-and-Paul's congregation in 1997, was not popular in non-Lutheran circles because of his very conservative, High-Church convictions. Accused of improper behavior with the opposite sex, Lotov was sacked by ELCR-Bishop Dietrich Brauer. Lotov was then defrocked by the ELCER synod in March 2011. Despite these developments, Arri Kugappi (St. Petersburg), the bishop of Russia's 2nd-largest Lutheran confession, the strongly-Finnish "Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia" (ELCIR), has refused to break with Lotov. On 17 October he stated in an interview: "We have known Dmitry Lotov for a long time and we cannot believe the charges brought against him. These charges were never brought up in court and nothing at all has been proven."
Lotov's congregation, now meeting on factory grounds in Moscow, would like nothing more than to become a member of Ingria and describes Kugappi on its website as "our bishop." Kugappi assured: "We have accepted the congregation in which Lotov has worked into our spiritual care. But nothing has been decided conclusively. One of the reasons for this is that Bishop Brauer has absolutely no desire to consult with us regarding the matter. But we hope it will yet become possible to negotiate seriously with the Bishop. We would like to find a common position on the matter. We are cooperating warmly with Lotov's congregation."
Orthodox Priests inside the Cathedral
"World Lutheranism" in the form of Germany's "United Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany" (VELKD) and the US" "Evangelical Lutheran Church in America" (ELCA) remains very much in Brauer's camp. Twenty-nine-year-old Dietrich Brauer's election in September as acting archbishop of ELCR " the St. Petersburg based "Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Russia" - for the next two years is an indication of his strong backing within Russia. Superintendent Manfred Brockmann from Vladivostok remarked: "I am amazed by Brauer's bravery. He is very young and already he has endured so much."
Since Brauer's election as bishop in 2010, ELCER has moved much more clearly into the camp of Germany's "Evangelical Church in Germany" (EKD) and the "Lutheran World Federation" (LWF). That furrows brows among those within ELCER who have reservations regarding Germany's frequently very liberal EKD. Yet Brauer also has sympathies for the pietistic movement and is held in high regards by the "Russian Evangelical Alliance."
A note on the destruction of a church:
On September, 7, 2012, Germany's "IDEA" reported in a single article on "serious damage" to the organ and the bulldozing of a Pentecostal church in Novokosino in eastern Moscow. Three days later, Vsevolod Chaplin, a press spokesman for Patriarch Kirill, demanded that the city government get the highly-questionable behavior of Novokosino's municipal and business groups under control. "We Orthodox face many of the same dangers from business circles at other locations," a leading priest claimed in mid-October.
IDEA's article was entitled "Attacks on Evangelical Churches." Dmitry Lotov was irritated because it placed the church bulldozing and his own actions in the same light. He responded with a protest on his website: "We are deeply revolted and disturbed by the destruction of the evangelical Sacred Trinity church in Novokosino." But Lotov has never been known as a friend of Pentecostals.
A well-informed observer writes: "Jurisprudence remains a highly cumbersome endeavor in Russia. When a party feels itself sufficiently strong, it simply resorts to vigilantism. Lotov too uses the space he still has to get physical. That clearly places him outside the codes of civil behavior which supposedly are upheld by churches across the globe. He apparently believes he is acting in self-defense against ELCER's leadership, which he views as acting illegally. Both sides are playing hardball - one should therefore be reticent about making moral judgments."