Reconciliation Between Churches, Peoples and Nations is Possible
K i e v – The Baptists of Russia and Georgia have extinguished a controversy smouldering between their two churches. The heads of both churches, President Yuri Sipko (Moscow) and Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili (Tblisi) met in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on 30 October. The pastor responsible for Russian Baptist external relations, Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), and the Georgian Baptist Bishop Merab Gaprindashvili (Tblisi), also participated in the talks. The meeting was made possible through the mediation of Gregory Komendant (Kiev), a former President of the European Baptist Federaton (EBF). Both sides signed a declaration which describes the purpose of the meeting as offering a “visible symbol of possible reconciliation between our churches, peoples and countries”. Both sides condemn the August war between Russia and Georgia as “pointless and brutal”: “The issues between our countries should not be solved by military means.” The Baptists also call on the authorities in Russia and Georgia “to seek peaceful resolution of the conflict between our countries”. The church heads agreed “to fully recognize each others churches in their integrity and take bold steps to understand each other and respect each others experience”. They also commit themselves to a theological dialogue, “to promote mutual cooperation in the Mission of God”.
Preliminaries in Lisbon
An initial meeting between both sides occurred in the absence of Sipko at EBF Council sessions in Lisbon, Portugal at the end of September. They had assured each other at that time that their joint faith in Jesus Christ was stronger than any political enmity. Songulashivili had presented Vlasenko with an icon for Sipko that had been painted during the war and illustrates Christ as the Prince of Peace.
A remarkable and historic declaration
EBF General Secretary Tony Peck (Prague) holds the declaration to be “remarkable”, for relations between the two churches had “not been good” in recent years. The declaration confrms the desire of Russian and Georgian Baptists to call by name the pain and suffering which the conflict had caused in the relations between both countries. It also intends to instill the intimate unity possible between brothers and sisters in Christ. Baptist World Alliance President David Coffey (Didcot) labels the meeting in Kiev “historic”. Throughout the earth, life is presently endangered. Yet the declaration is “a clear testimony to our Baptist tradition as a church of peace”.