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NEWS FROM ST PETERSBURG - NOV 2008
New Way Team members, John and Felicity Summers, left home a month ago to serve the Anglican church in St Petersburg. This is the most recent latest news from them.
"Having been here earlier in the year for nearly 3 months it feels as though we have never left. The welcome back’ home’ by the church has been marvelous Living in the city no longer seems alien, as it did when we came in April.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a Naval ‘Trafalgar Night’ dinner at the consulate and said the customary grace. It was a strange experience. Most of the guests were senior Russian Naval officers. I sat between two Rear-Admirals and opposite me sat a full Admiral (i/c the Baltic Fleet). They were friendly and very interesting to be with. My neighbour had been under the ice and had surfaced at the north pole four times in his nuclear submarine!! Another had been seen the United States a much closer range that the US Navy had realized!
The next day a Russian friend, Ludmilla, with wide contacts with British Naval Christians in the UK and a retired Naval Captain from the submarine fleet went to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, the H.Q. of the St Petersburg Diocese and its Bishop, for an appointment with an Orthodox priest who has official responsibility, on behalf of the Ortodox Church, for the Navy based in the city. By ‘chance’ I had met Fr Alexei in June (as did Felicity and Jeanne Hinton) at another event at the consulate and afterwards I had visited his parish.
I had been impressed just how much was actually happening in his parish. He seemed to be really engaged in the work of the kingdom in a way I had not seen or expected in the Orthodox church here. Through his initiative, there is a work among street children; an aids clinic; work with young people; young adults older folk etc.. He is really committed to the Jesus agenda. We met him casually dressed with an open neck shirt and welcomed us through the Monastery buildings to his office. I should say that Ludmilla and a friend from Plymouth have been involved in practical help and care for the families of men lost in the Russian submarine fleet and knows many of the officers an families from the Northern fleet .
Fr Alexei also has a project which is still at a very early stage for young people to use a piece of land which has been acquired or given on the banks of the Neva , where a young peoples centre is being or is to be constructed. His idea is that they should have a practical boat building project, learn some skills, to experience Christian living in fellowship and be open to learn about the Christian faith. The idea we are pursuing together is the possibility of young sailors (and perhaps other volunteers) coming out from UK and working alongside Russian youngsters for a couple of weeks. Of course there would the opportunity for sharing of faith, mutual sharing of stories together, of praying and studying the bible together. Fr Alexi has offered the use of his office ( well decorated with pictures of Naval people, ships etc) as a place for meeting.
Captain Nikolai would arrange the practical arrangements at this the Russian end and one huge advantage from the Russian perspective would be that this help ‘from the west’ would not be us coming to tell Russians what to do, rather that UK folk would come and offer to serve and help. Moreover prior to obtaining a visa, an ‘invitation- priglashenniye’ has to be issued by the Interior Ministry. Such invitations would come in this case from the Orthodox church. This is so important bearing in mind the Russian psyche, culture and sensitivity regarding ‘outside influences’.
If God’s work is to go ahead, then we believe that the medium for whatever happens has to be expressed through the culture of Russia, which means through the Orthodox church. . ..We will not get anywhere if we try to transplant a form of western evangelicalism. Many groups, especially American ones, have discovered this to their cost since 1991. Christianity must always be expressed in the local culture as in South America in the Base Communities This is so fundamentally ‘New Way’!!
Please pray for us as we follow up these exciting developments . Thank God for Fr Alexei, and for Captain Nikolai. There is another extraordinary ‘chance’ A very old icon belonging to this same Fr Alexei’ s family came into her possession 15 years ago after the founder of a Military Christian fellowship in Moscow died. He had been given an icon by a ‘Fr Alexei’ . When his possessions were packed up and returned to the USA the icon was not allowed to leave Russia and was returned to Ludmilla by the customs . She had no idea who he was or where in Russia he lived. When she came to Plymouth in July this year I told her about Fr Alexei and I showed her his address card. She thought she recognised the name -and last Friday this precious and very old family icon was returned to him ! The probability of all thse coincidences happning ‘by chance” and coming together
‘ Is there a God?’ For all these coincidences to happen surely is pushing chance beyond reasonable possibility!!?
John Summers St Petersburg Russia 10.11.08