Students of an Underground Theological Seminary at lunch time in the forest.

Photo courtesy of D.O. Yunak.

Underground Adventist Seminary in Moldova in Soviet Times

By Dmitry O. Yunak

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Dmitry O. Yunak graduated in Finance and Economics from a Soviet secular educational institution and completed a six-year course of Theology at an underground SDA Theological Institute (Moldova, USSR). In the Soviet times, he served as a pastor, administrator, and bible/history professor in the underground Theological Institute. In 1990, he was appointed as Treasurer and Publishing Ministries Director for the USSR Division. After the Euro-Asia Division was organized in 1991, Dmitry O. Yunak served as ESD auditor and under treasurer. He was the author of a dozen of SDA history books and scores of other publications. He owns a major SDA history archive.

First Published: February 15, 2024

The leaders of the All-Union Council of Seventh-day Adventists repeatedly brought the issue of education of Seventh-day Adventist ministers in the Soviet Union to the notice of the authorities as far back as in the 1920s.1 Their petitions were, however, ignored and, as a result, unofficial educational centers arose under the guidance of preachers who had completed their studies in Friedensau, Germany. Such centers were in Rostov-on-Don, under the leadership of J. J. Wilson, in Kyiv, under the leadership of I.A. Lvov, and elsewhere.

After the dissolution of the All-Union Council of Seventh-day Adventists (ACSDA) in December 1960, local churches remained autonomous. It was a hard time for the Adventist Church in the USSR. The Soviet Government and the Communist Party were headed then by Nikita Khrushchev. The freedom of conscience was nominally acknowledged, while in practice, all the activities of the Church were suppressed. Having lost their registration certificates issued by the USSR Council for Religious Affairs, the ministers had to find official employment elsewhere and, at the same time, to continue secretly performing their pastoral duties. The “Law on Social Parasitism” was issued in 1961. It affected, in the first place, the Seventh-day Adventist believers. They were discharged from employment and brought to trial for not having full-time jobs. The Sabbath-keeping made it very difficult for them to find employment in the state sector, so they had to undertake unskilled work as yard keepers, menial workers, or at consumer services enterprises. Nevertheless, the gospel workers did not abandon church ministry.

The authorities began to cancel the registration of unwanted communities and to close prayer houses, turning them into storage facilities, children's institutions and so on. The Church went underground and continued its activities.

In Moldova, the Adventist Church established an unofficial administration that continued working underground. But young ministers needed instruction and training. Against this background that an idea of organizing the systematic training of new pastors came up.

In 1966, the unofficial administration of the Moldavian Union of the SDA Church decided to start regular training for pastors. By that time, necessary training materials had been prepared in Russian and Moldavian languages. Those materials comprised Adventist textbooks translated from English, Latvian, and Romanian.

Pastor Fyodor V. Melnik moved to Moldova in 1958 to give individual lessons in Homiletics, Dogmatics, and Theology to active Adventist ministers. Previously, he had served in Moldova in the 1940s, at the All-Union Council of Seventh-day Adventists in 1946-1952, and chaired the Adventist Church in Ukraine in 1952-1957. In 1966, Melnik became the head of an unofficial, so-called Biblical Institute (Seminary) and organized training of ministers according to the complete curriculum of the Romanian Adventist Theological Institute, located in the city of Braşov, which he had graduated from in the 1930s.

The first group of students consisted of pastors, who already received some training, the members of the board of the Moldavian Union, and pastors’ wives, who wanted to study. Soon afterward, that group grew up to 23 people, not counting the pastors, who came to F.V. Melnik from other regions of the Soviet Union, such as P.G. Panchenko from Odesa, I.M. Babich, T.A. Gorbatyuk, and I.F. Parashchuk from Caucasus, and many others. The classes were held regularly every month. The students gathered in the home of one of the ministers. During a day or two, they had classes, and then received assignments and left. Regularly, they handed over texts of their sermons to F.V. Melnik for review. He also listened to his students during worship time. The students were taught the history of the Old and the New Testaments, the history of Christianity, Adventist history, the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, and the Spirit of Prophecy writings. And, of course, much attention was paid to studying the SDA fundamental beliefs and the Church Manual. During six years the students learned hermeneutics, apologetics, ethics, and music. The music lessons were given by P.V. Osadchuk.

At the end of each session, everyone had to take tests, and at the end of the lecture course, an examination. Ministers were given encrypted data with their grades, where, instead of students' names, the congregations in which they were ministering were mentioned. The program managers kept more detailed information.

The six-year training exceeded 2,000 hours of academic instruction. The first group of students was successfully certified, although no graduate received an official diploma because the training was illegal, and no diploma existed. However, the students could keep a written record of their achievements. The authorities suspected the existence of the training program and sometimes tracked down the place where the classes were held. In such an event, everyone had to leave the house hastily or change the meeting place.

The ministers, who completed their studies, were tasked with finding capable young men and organizing a new training course. Several new groups were created in the northern, central, and southern Moldova.

In 1971 Brother F.V. Melnik, after serving in Kotovsk (Hânceşti), continued his pastoral ministry in Bălți until his retirement, and after that, he left for Russia with his children. Pastor Peter V. Osadchuk took over as his successor and managed the educational program from 1972 through 1979.

Most of the graduates of the first cohort were teaching as well. Each of them was given an academic subject area for teaching new students. Here is the extract from the minutes of the Moldova Conference Board as of June 6, 1979, on the distribution of subjects between the appointed teachers: “I. A. Gumenyuk, M.P. Balan – Church Organization and Church Manual; P.V. Osadchuk, S.S. Bayraktar – Daniel’s and Revelation’s Prophecies; G.V. Kochmar, D.O. Yunak - History of the Old and New Testament and the Spirit of Prophecy; I.S. Melnichuk, I.I. Zgerea – Adventist Doctrines; V.I. Andrusyak, G.V. Pirozhok - Homiletics; I.N. Osadchuk, F.I. Zamostyan – Adventist History.”2

Each teacher had to take care of secrecy and choose a proper meeting place. As the underground seminary grew, the information about its existence leaked to the outside more often. Brother P. V. Osadchuk started organizing trips with students to the forests of Bukovina, which he knew well since childhood, and to the Carpathian Mountains. He remembers:

The circumstances made us seek a way out of the situation that had arisen. It was offered to study outside of Moldova, especially because we had some experience traveling with young people to Bukovina and the Carpathians in Ukraine.... Such travels played a significant role in the life of the “forest seminary.” We learned how to prepare more carefully what was necessary to bring from Moldova and what could be bought upon the spot. After the first illegal congress held in Moldova in 1976, a group of young students was organized. For secrecy purposes, they decided to leave Moldova sporadically. Two students had personal vehicles and I drove my very old but favorite Zaporozhets...

After completing their studies, the young men had to pass an examination in each subject but nobody received any documents. You can hardly find any diplomas from the “forest seminary.”... I remember that once we received a lecture course on studying the Testimonies for the Church, the conference board decided that all the ministers had to consistently take a course and pass an exam in this subject. And we used to go to the woods or mountains to study that material with all the members of the conference board.3

The studies at the underground Moldavian Theological Seminary continued until 1988, when, with the opening of Zaoksky Theological Seminary, students could be enrolled officially for learning on or off the campus.

More than 100 people successfully completed the training program at the underground Moldavian Theological Seminary. Until today, some of them continue their service in Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, Transcaucasia, and elsewhere.

Sources

Osadchuk, P.V. Dla slova Bozhiya net uz. Evangelskoye sluzhenie v usloviyakh totalitarizma. 2005. Personal archives of D.O. Yunak.

Yunak, D.O. I pomni ves’ putIstoriya Tserkvi ASD v Moldove. Chisinau-Moscow, 2000.

Yunak, D.O., and Yunak, L.V. Vospominaniya. O letakh minuvshikh. Tula, 2009. Personal archives of D.O. Yunak.

Yunak, D.O. Samizdat: kulturno-nravstvennoye naslediye Tserkvi ASD vremyon totalitarnogo ateizma. 2014. Personal archives of D.O. Yunak.

Notes

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

  2. P.V. Osadchuk, Dla slova Bozhiya net uz. Evangelskoye sluzhenie v usloviyakh totalitarizma (Unpublished manuscript from personal archives of D.O. Yunak, 2005), 48-49, 54, 56.

  3. Ibid., 59-60.

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Yunak, Dmitry O. "Underground Adventist Seminary in Moldova in Soviet Times ." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2024. Accessed May 23, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BI7R.

Yunak, Dmitry O. "Underground Adventist Seminary in Moldova in Soviet Times ." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2024. Date of access May 23, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BI7R.

Yunak, Dmitry O. (2024, February 15). Underground Adventist Seminary in Moldova in Soviet Times . Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 23, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BI7R.