Caption: LWF General Secretary Comments on Establishment of Belarusian
Church: "Separation in ELCROS will have Negative Consequences in Central Eastern Europe"
GENEVA, 19 March 2001 (LWI) - Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), has described as "very unfortunate," the circumstances surrounding the recent establishment of the Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church. [Ed: Belarus (or Belarusia) is one of the now independent states of the former Soviet Union. Its borders touch Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, and Ukraine. Minsk is the capital.]
In a statement on March 17, Noko said the formation of an independent Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church would have a negative effect on the search for Lutheran unity in the Central Eastern Europe region of the LWF.
On 2 December 2000, representatives of Belarusian Lutheran congregations founded an independent, "confessional" Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Prior to this move, the Belarusian congregations belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS). The ELCROS strongly criticized the creation of the independent church.
Rev. Leonid Zwicki was on 11 March 2001 installed as bishop of the newly created Belarusian church. Bishop Jonas Kalvanas Jr. of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania presided over the inauguration ceremony in Viciebsk, Belarus. Archbishop Janis Vanags (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia), Bishop Aarre Kougappi (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia) and Bishop Dr. Diethard Roth from the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany, participated in the installation as assisting bishops.
Zwicki started bringing Evangelical Lutheran congregations in Belarus together five years ago. In summer 1999, the ELCROS appointed him as visiting bishop to Belarus, and consequently a member of the ELCROS Bishop's Council.
At its meeting last December, the Constituent Synod of the Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church adopted a declaration on its main beliefs, which in addition to the scriptures and a list of the Lutheran Confessions includes a rejection of women's ordination, homosexuality, and compromises concerning the Doctrine of Justification. The newly founded church also rejects fellowship with all churches that do not share these principles.
The text of the statement by Dr. Ishmael Noko follows:
A Statement by Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), about the newly founded Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church
The separation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS) can be described as very unfortunate because of the way it was done and the reasons given. There was no mutual consultation between Archbishop D. Georg Kretschmar and Rev. Leonid Zwicki, now the leader of the newly founded Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
I have no doubt that the impact of this split will be felt in the Lutheran communion, particularly in the European region. It will certainly have negative effects on the search for Lutheran unity in the Central Eastern Europe region of the LWF.
I hope, nevertheless, that a way can be found to overcome this split so that Lutherans can be united in proclamation and ecumenical engagement.
Geneva, 17 March 2001
(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now has 131 member churches in 72 countries representing over 60.2 million of the nearly 64 million Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)
Statement by the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS) on the Installation of Bishop Leonid Zwicki, Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church
On Reminiscere Sunday, 11 March 2001, the Rev. Leonid Zwicki was installed as bishop of the newly established Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church during a worship service in Vitebsk [or Viciebsk], Belarus. He was elected on 2 December 2000 at a synod meeting in Vitebsk. The older Lutheran congregations in Belarus originally joined ELCROS under Archbishop D. Georg Kretschmar. Some of these, including a number of newly founded congregations, founded on December 2 a " confessional" Lutheran church, signifying that they had consciously left the community of ELCROS and instead joined the community of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Bishop Leonid Zwicki's introduction into office is a further step in the establishment of this separate church. The consecration was led by Bishop Jonas Kalvanas Jr. from Lithuania, who had already ordained a number of deacons in this church. He was assisted by Bishop Dr. Diethard Roth from the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, Germany, and Bishop Aarre Kougappi from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia.
Other Lutheran churches that are close to the Missouri Synod were also represented at the worship service, among them Archbishop Janis Vanags from Riga, Latvia. Most of the older congregations in Belarus have not joined the new church. They requested that they continue to be served by ELCROS. Preparations are being made to create a structure that could be registered and legally recognized. A first step to support these congregations was taken from March 12 to 16, when Rev. Godeke von Bremen (Novosaratovka) organized a seminar in Minsk. There are plans to regularly hold similar seminars.
The split of the Lutheran congregations in Belarus that occurred at the December 2 synod meeting will weaken the work of the Lutheran church in the republic. ELCROS will strive not to disappoint the congregations who have placed much hope in it.
This development impedes the creation of a joint Protestant church in Belarus, which had been prepared for years and which would have included the only Reformed congregation in the country. Archbishop Kretschmar had entrusted Rev. Leonid Zwicki with the preparation of this synod. For ELCROS, the decisive problem is not that there are congregations in Belarus that do not want to organize as a Lutheran church within the overall framework of ELCROS, but that the synod clearly condemned ELCROS and declared that it rejected fellowship with churches that ordain women, that do not adhere to "real presence"-meaning, most likely, membership in the Leuenberg Agreement-and who make compromises on the Doctrine of Justification--referring, probably, to the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
All these are issues that were never discussed among the Belarusian congregations, and probably no representative of any congregation really understood at the December 2 synod what this formula of exclusion actually means. For this reason, ELCROS cannot welcome the establishment of this separate church.
St. Petersburg, 17 March 2001