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Heinrich Johann Loebsack

Photo courtesy of Vladimir Ievenko.

Lӧbsack, Heinrich Johann (1870–1938)

By Pavel V. Gonchar

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Pavel V. Gonchar

First Published: June 26, 2023

Heinrich Johann Lӧbsack was Russia’s first ordained Adventist pastor and church leader in Tsarist Russia and the USSR.1

Early Life, Marriage, and Ministry Firsts

Heinrich Johann Lӧbsack was born on January 4, 1870, in Saratov Governorate, in the German settlement of Frank (renamed in 1945 as the village of Medveditskoye), located on the bank of the Volga River, where some 320 people belonging to the Lutheran Сhurch lived. Heinrich Lebsack’s ancestors migrated from the German town of Steinheim, state of Hessen, to Russia in 1766. His parents were Johannes Friedrich Lӧbsack (1846-1918) and Anna Margareta Lesser (1844-1919).

Johannes and Anna Lӧbsack had six children, of whom Heinrich Johann was the eldest. From an early age he worked on his parents’ farm and learned the trade of a bookbinder. In 1888 Heinrich Lӧbsack married Maria-Katarina Lӧbsack. There were two families living in the settlement of Frank who had the Lӧbsack surname, but they were not direct relatives.2

Heinrich Lӧbsack lived the first twenty years of his life in the settlement of Frank. From the age of sixteen he served as a local elder and held Bible studies and prayer meetings in his Lutheran congregation and in the congregations of the neighboring settlements. At this time he was already familiar with the Adventist doctrines and distributed Adventist literature among his friends and relatives.

In 1890 an ordained Adventist minister, Jacob Klein, arrived in the settlement of Frank from the United States, and after meeting him, Heinrich and his mother, Anna Lӧbsack, decided to leave the Lutheran community and prepare for baptism in the Adventist church. By that time, they were already familiar with the doctrine of full immersion baptism, which they had picked up from the Mennonites living in neighboring German settlements on the Volga. The news of Heinrich and Anna Lӧbsack’s departure from the Lutheran community spread quickly among the German settlers, and Heinrich Johann’s father even disinherited him.3

The same year Heinrich Lӧbsack went to Hamburg, which at that time was the center of Adventism in Germany. There he took a missionary course as the first Russian attendee. On April 4, 1890, Lӧbsack was baptized in the Alster River by the leader of the Adventist Mission in Europe, L. R. Conradi.4

Upon completion of the course, Heinrich Lӧbsack returned to Russia to preach, as a colporteur, the Adventist message among the German Volga colonists. At the end of 1892, Heinrich Johann Lӧbsack and his wife’s brother Heinrich Konrad Lӧbsack traveled to the Crimea to distribute Adventist literature among the Germans living on the peninsula. In Crimea, the Lӧbsacks were arrested and spent some time in prison. During his missionary ministry, Heinrich Lӧbsack was arrested several times. Looking back on that period of his life, he wrote: “As a minister of the Adventist Church, I was persecuted like a deer by the tsarist authorities... But God was always with me in my Gethsemanes and on my Mountains of Transfiguration. He never left me alone.”

In October 1894, a session of the German Mission and the Russian Mission Field, attended by ministers and lay members from the German and Russian congregations, was held in the German village of Alexandrodar (also called Alexanderfeld), Kuban Province. At that session a twenty-four-year-old Heinrich Lӧbsack was ordained to the gospel ministry, thus becoming the first ordained Adventist pastor in Russia.5

Administrative Work

In April 1896, at the fourth session of the East European Mission Field in Alexandrodar, Heinrich Lӧbsack was appointed responsible for missionary work in the Baltics, Poland, and Volynia.6

In July 1901, the German Union Conference, which included Russia, with its Asian part, was organized in Friedensau, Germany.7 In Russia, this union conference was called the German-Russian Union. In September of the same year, at the ninth session of the East European Mission Field, held in Forstenort (Terek Province) and chaired by L. R. Conradi, the delegates decided to divide this field into the East Russian Mission Field and the South Russian Union Conference. The center of the latter was in the city of Rostov-on-Don, and the union conference was chaired by Heinrich Lӧbsack. Thus September 1901 marked the beginning of Heinrich Lӧbsack’s ministry as the leader of the Adventist Church in Russia. Since, for health reasons, Lӧbsack could not live in Rostov-on-Don at that time, he settled in Alexandrodar, where he remained until 1909.8

Heinrich Lӧbsack was one of the authors and signers of the “Address of Gratitude,” which was handed to Russia’s Emperor Nicholas II in 1906 through the Committee of Ministers Chair Sergei Witte. This document was sent in response to a request from the Russian government, which wanted to know about the doctrines and activities of the Adventist Church in connection with the ongoing reform of the religious law. At the same time, a circular letter legalizing the religious life of the Adventist Church was signed by the Internal Affairs Minister Pyotr Stolypin and sent to Russia’s Governorates, thus opening new opportunities for preaching the gospel in Russia.9

In 1907 Heinrich Lӧbsack was a delegate representing the Russian Adventists at the seventh session of the German Union in Friedensau, where a recommendation was made to organize an independent Russian Union Conference. This question was finally resolved at the congress in Riga in October 1907. The chair of the newly organized union became Julius Theodor Boettcher, an American national, and Heinrich Lӧbsack was elected a member of the union committee.10

In 1907 Heinrich Lӧbsack became a member of the editorial board of the Maslina (“Olive”) Magazine, which began to appear in Russian in 1905. Despite his demanding administrative and preaching activities, he wrote dozens of articles for Der Adventbote (“The Adventist Herald” in German), Maslina, and Golos Istiny (“The Voice of Truth”). Many articles reported on his missionary journeys and travels as a church leader and the sessions of the church organizations.

In the summer of 1909, Heinrich Lӧbsack was among the first five Russian delegates who attended the 37th session of the General Conference and were received by E. G. White.11

In 1914 the Utrennyaya Zvezda (“The Morning Star”) newspaper (No. 45), which was issued by S. P. Prokhanov, published Heinrich Lӧbsack’s article “The Kiev Adventists and the War.” The article outlined the position of Russian Adventists on the First World War. In particular, it stated that the Kiev Adventist church members “with all their strength are joining with other faithful sons of our dear homeland to help their neighbors in this difficult time and for the glory of God Almighty.”12 At that time Heinrich Lӧbsack was the president of the Little Russian Conference, which included the Adventist churches in the Kiev, Poltava, Chernigov, and Kursk Governorates.13

After the head of the Adventist Church in Russia, Julius Boettcher, was forced to leave the country in mid-1916, Otto Reinke, the General Conference representative remaining in Russia, also an American citizen, took over his duties. Since the new church leader did not speak Russian, Heinrich Lӧbsack accompanied him as an assistant.

At the All-Russian session of Seventh-day Adventists, held in Saratov in April 1917, Heinrich Lӧbsack was elected the president of the West Russian Union Conference (organized in 1913)14.

Church Leadership, Literary, and Publishing Work

In October 1920, on the initiative of Heinrich Lӧbsack, who was living in Kiev at that time, the All-Russian conference of the SDA Church was convened in Moscow. The main purpose of the conference was the Church reorganization in the new historical circumstances. Due to the departure of the General Conference representative Daniel Isaac, who had been serving as the Russian Union chair since 1905, the delegates elected Heinrich Lӧbsack as chair of the newly established All-Russian Council of Seventh-day Adventists (ACSDA). That same year he moved to Moscow.

In his new position, Heinrich Lӧbsack worked actively to revive the Adventist Church that had experienced all the hardships of World War I and the Civil War. The ensuing years of the New Economic Policy turned out to be rather favorable for preaching the Adventist message. Heinrich Lӧbsack was pleased to report a doubling of church membership between 1920 and 1927.15 Apparently, he had certain hopes for the beneficial effect of the Russian revolution when he wrote on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Soviet power in 1927: “The tears shed and the innocent blood of the martyrs led directly to the February Revolution and then to the more significant, October Revolution, with the result that all chains fell, prison doors were opened, and a people oppressed for centuries became free.”16

In 1918, Heinrich Lӧbsack founded the Patmos Publishing House in Kiev, which began printing the Golos Istiny Magazine. From 1925, this publishing house operated in Moscow and, in addition to the Golos Istiny, published Der Adventbote and quarterly issues of Sabbath School Bible Study Guides. In 1927 Patmos published The Psalms of Zion (a collection of spiritual hymns with sheet music).

In 1918, Heinrich Lӧbsack completed his book “The Great Adventist Movement and Seventh-day Adventists in Russia.” The book was written in German, translated into Russian in 1920, and appeared in typewritten form. It represented a valuable source of information on the development of the Adventist Church in Russia from its inception up to 1917.

In August 1924, after a long break, the 5th All-Union session of Seventh-day Adventists was held in Moscow. Heinrich Lӧbsack was again elected chair of the All-Union Council of Seventh-day Adventists (ACSDA).

In May 1928, the 6th ACSDA session, chaired by Heinrich Lӧbsack, was held in Moscow. The Church adopted a resolution on the attitude to military service, which, in essence, obliged Adventists “to perform public and military service in all its forms on a legal basis common to all citizens.” The resolution subsequently caused serious internal contradictions and gave rise to increased subversion by the Reformed Adventists.

Later Life, Arrest, and Tragic Death

In December 1931, under the chairmanship of Heinrich Lӧbsack, an ACSDA plenary meeting was held in Moscow. The Adventist Church leaders gathered to reorganize the All-Union Council of Seventh-day Adventists into a “Union of Seventh-day Adventists in the USSR,” in accordance with the requirements of the Soviet Government outlined in the All-Union Central Executive Committee resolution as of April 1929.

By the late 1930s, almost all the participants of the plenary meeting were arrested and convicted. In 1934, only Heinrich Lӧbsack still remained free.

On March 21, 1934, Heinrich Lӧbsack was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. He was held in the Butyr prison in Moscow for a while and then was sent to Yaroslavl and placed in solitary confinement. Heinrich Lӧbsack’s fate is unknown. Presumably, he was shot in 1938, the same year his daughter Amalia was shot. The millions of court cases awaiting review in the post-Stalin period and the appalling judicial red tape were the reason that Lӧbsack's good name was not restored until four decades later. He was exonerated in the late 1970s.17

Sources

Heinz, “Heinrich Lӧbsack (1870-1938): Pioneer, Leader, and Poet of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia,” Alpha and Omega 1(10) (1999).

Lӧbsack, H. J. Velikoye adventistskoe dvizheniye i adventisty sed’mogo dnia v Rossii. Rostov-on-Don: Altair, 2006.

Odintsov, M. I. Zhivushchiye nadezhdoi. Tserkov’ khristian-adventistov sed’mogo dnia v Rossii (1886-1991): istoriya i ludi, fakty i sobytiya, uroki i novyye vozmozhnosti. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2020.

Zaitsev, E. V. Istoriya Tserkvi adventistov sed’mogo dnia v Rossii. Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008.

Notes

  1. This article was translated from Russian by Vladimir Ievenko.

  2. Daniel Heinz, “Heinrich Lӧbsack (1870-1938): Pioneer, Leader, and Poet of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia,” Alpha and Omega 1(10) (1999): 5.

  3. Ibid., 5-6.

  4. H. J. Lӧbsack, Velikoye adventistskoe dvizheniye i adventisty sed’mogo dnia v Rossii (Rostov-on-Don: Altair, 2006), 164.

  5. E. V. Zaitsev, Istoriya Tserkvi adventistov sed’mogo dnia v Rossii (Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008), 158.

  6. Lӧbsack, 188.

  7. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1906), 71.

  8. Lӧbsack, 193-194.

  9. M. I. Odintsov, Zhivushchiye nadezhdoi. Tserkov’ khristian-adventistov sed’mogo dnia v Rossii (1886-1991): istoriya i ludi, fakty i sobytiya, uroki i novyye vozmozhnosti (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2020), 89, 90.

  10. Ibid., 94.

  11. Lӧbsack, 268.

  12. Odintsov, 112.

  13. Lӧbsack, 311.

  14. Zaitsev, 241-242.

  15. Ibid., 322, 323.

  16. Ibid., 364.

  17. Ibid., 437, 438.

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Gonchar, Pavel V. "Lӧbsack, Heinrich Johann (1870–1938)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 26, 2023. Accessed May 23, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9DAF.

Gonchar, Pavel V. "Lӧbsack, Heinrich Johann (1870–1938)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 26, 2023. Date of access May 23, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9DAF.

Gonchar, Pavel V. (2023, June 26). Lӧbsack, Heinrich Johann (1870–1938). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 23, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9DAF.