Jesus film enrages Orthodox Church

Vladivostok News (Russia), Oct. 16, 2002
By Anna Malpas

A 1970s evangelical film, shown free in nine Vladivostok cinemas, has caused controversy, with the

Posters for the film ‘Jesus’ across the city showed the bearded Messiah holding a child, and advertised the “most authentic” account of his life.

However a press statement from the Orthodox diocese warned that organisers “want to attract you into a new Christian sect”.

The ‘Jesus’ film was made in 1979 by Campus Crusade for Christ, a US evangelical organization.

Shot in Palestine with American actors, the film has since been dubbed into 694 languages and shown in 236 countries.

Local organizers Eduard Ilyin and Leonid Kuksin work for Campus Crusade for Christ, and received funds to show the film from the Russia and Eastern Europe branch, based in Budapest.

The film was shown free twice a day from October 2 -13 at nine city cinemas.

A hammer and sickle hung over the screen in a draughty Soviet-era hall where around 25 people were watching the film last week.

Most were pensioners, for whom a trip to the cinema is rare luxury. An elderly man anxiously checked that the film was free before going in.

An organizer who introduced himself as Alexander, and told a reporter he was from the Evangelical Christian Baptist church on Narodny Prospekt, gave out questionnaires for each viewer.

Afterwards, audience members wrote their opinion of the film and whether they prayed at the end. They could also write their address, to be “invited to a holiday.” From 23 questionnaires returned, 15 gave addresses, said a woman organizer.

Alexander gave out religious literature and invitations to meetings run by the Evangelical Baptist Church, with offers of free children’s Bibles and cassettes.

He said that the film attracted audiences of 20-30 at the twice-daily showings, and that most responded well to the film, but that, “unfortunately few people are converted.”

The end of the film asks the audience to pray aloud, repeating the words of a presenter, but the hall remained silent.

Organiser Leonid Kuksin said on Monday that the Russian copyright of the film is owned by Moscow organization Novaya Zhizn, whose name was printed on the bottom of film posters.

He added that 15 local Christian organisations took part in the showings, introducing the film and handing out literature afterwards.

“They are all registered at the Ministry of Justice,” asserted Kuksin, and, “A letter with the list of churches was sent to the city administration.”

He named Evangelical Christian Baptist Churches on Narodny Prospekt and Churkin (‘Blagaya Vest’); the Church of Living God; Evangelical Christian Church ‘Put k Zhizni’;Evangelical Christian Church ‘Zhivaya Vera’, and Methodist and Presbyterian Churches with Korean pastors.

“My personal opinion is that they (the Orthodox Church) mixed up names and thought the organizers were another organization called Novaya Zhizn,” said Kuksin.

But Father Innokenty, head of the missionary department of the Orthodox diocese, sent a 2001 report on sects to The Vladivostok News, listing Novaya Zhizn as a “destructive cult”, and calling it a ‘neo-Pyatidesyatnik’ organization.

Pyatidesyatniks are a Pentecostal evangelical Christian group, who believe that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Persecuted in Soviet Russia, they now have numerous churches, mainly grouped under the Russian United Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith.

The term “neo-Pyatidesyatnik” is used by a Russian Orthodox sect-investigator Alexander Dvorkin. Such groups use elements of New Age philosophy and occultism, said the 2001 report, adding that, “They have gone so far from the original movement that they cannot even be called Christians.”

“The Orthodox Church considers that Novaya Zhizn is a sect that is bad for people. Maybe there is a sect in Western Russia that is like this,” said Kuksin.

Indeed there is a Church called Novaya Zhizn with many followers in the Urals, part of the Russian United Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith. Orthodox believers this year picketed their Yekaterinburg church, calling them a “destructive sect.”

On Wednesday Father Innokenty acknowledged that the Moscow organisation Novaya Zhizn might have no relation to neo-Pyatidesyatniks.

However, he said that local organizations taking part in the project including the Church of Living God and Dvizheniye Very (‘Movement of Faith’) had the same names as neo-Pyatidesyatnik groups.

“We won’t work with totalitarian neo-Pyatidesyatnik sects,” said Father Innokenty, dubbing the movement “a distortion of Christianity.”

He said the anonymity of the film posters concerned the Orthodox Church, plus the fact that viewers were asked to pray at the end of the film and given leaflets and invitations.

The film itself was “not bad,” said Father Innokenty, adding that he had watched it. The Church didn’t ban Orthodox believers from attending the film, he stated, but only from participating in further activities.

The film posters gave only the name Novaya Zhizn, a Moscow postal address and a website address. No religious denomination was shown, drawing criticism from Anatoly Dmitrenko, head of the department for religious affairs at the Regional Administration at a meeting this month.

“The posters do not show who is organizing it…just the Christian Mission Novaya Zhizn,” complained Dmitrenko.

However, the city administration was more lenient, with chief specialist at the public relations department Yuri Kolesnichenko saying on Wednesday that the law required only the name of the organizers. “It’s desirable to show a local address,” he added.

But chief specialist at the regional department for religious affairs Viktoriya Bondarenko opined on Wednesday that members of the public were “ignorant about religion”, and the organizers should have named themselves clearly on posters.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday October 17, 2002.
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