A three-story church in Moscow’s eastern suburbs was demolished late last week without warning, making it the latest victim in what persecution watchdogs consider to be a government-led campaign.
Early Thursday morning, a demolition crew accompanied by police officers went to Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church and began tearing down the building.
“[T]hey (officials) came at night to avoid conflict with people,” reported one church member to the National Religious Broadcasters.
“All church property is there … some were stolen, other[s] destroyed. We can do nothing,” she added. “[J]ust pray and cry.”
Dr. Frank Wright, President & CEO of NRB, had met the pastor of the Moscow-area church when he attended the Association of Christian Broadcasters Russia conference two years ago. While shocked, Dr. Wright noted that the destruction of the church seemed to follow a familiar pattern:
The Orwellian result, as Dr. Wright pointed out, is that the government takes away the land for failure to develop it, but steadfastly refused to give any permits for the required development. This "Catch-22" scenario, Dr. Wright added, is an outrageous example of selective persecution.
“It is hard to imagine the government doing this to a Russian Orthodox church," he stated.
Dr. Ron Harris, NRB’s Senior Vice President for Strategic Partnerships, had also met with the pastor of the church and even preached there. He noted how the church’s dedicated congregation believers stood two and a half hours in the rain last Sunday next to the rubble of their church.
“They were worshiping their Lord, praying for the Russian authorities, for their city, and for the impact of the Gospel. I trust all of us who hear of this tragedy will pray for the congregation in these days,” he added.
According to reports, Holy Trinity Church was established in 1979 and was registered with Soviet authorities as an autonomous Pentecostal community in the late 1970s. City authorities, however, had forced the congregation out of its first building in 1995. The replacement "temporary" church was the one that was demolished last week.
As some media outlets have reported, Holy Trinity is among a number of evangelical churches that have been kicked out of Moscow in recent months.
“Evangelical churches, ministries, and Christian broadcasters are all feeling the pressure from the Russian authorities,” noted Dr. Harris.
Some Christian leaders fear the recent incidents are evidence that religious freedom is fading in Russia.
PHOTO ABOVE: Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church in Moscow after the government began demolishing the church building. Photograph courtesy of Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church.
Published: September 12, 2012