Far Eastern Union of Churches (FEUC) Headquarters

Photo courtesy of Far Eastern Union of Churches.

Far Eastern Union of Churches Mission

By Aleksander A. Yevgrafov, and Vladimir P. Romanov

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Aleksander A. Yevgrafov

Vladimir P. Romanov

First Published: December 8, 2022

The Far Eastern Union of Churches Mission is part of the Euro-Asia Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Far Eastern Union of Churches was organized in 2008. Its headquarters is in Khabarovsk, Russia.1

Territory: The far eastern portion of the Russian Federation includes Kamchatka, Khabarovsk, Primorsky and Transbaikal Regions; Amur, Magadan, and Sakhalin Areas; the Republic of Buryatia; the Republic of Sakha (Yakutya); and the Jewish and Chukotka Autonomous Region.

Statistics (June 30, 2021): Churches, 51; membership, 1,995; population, 6,289,645.2

Prerequisites for Acceptance and Spread of Adventism

Russia’s Far East is the extreme northeast of Asia that includes territories located to the east of Siberia and Transbaikalia, in the valleys of the rivers flowing into the seas of the Pacific Ocean or directly into the Pacific Ocean. The Far East also comprises the Kuril Islands, Commander Islands, Shantarskie Islands, as well as Sakhalin Island and Wrangel Island. This region makes up about 20 percent of Russia’s total area, with the population amounting to 5.5 percent of the country’s population.

The mainland of the Far East became a part of Russia in the eighteenth century, and its present-day borders were negotiated and finalized in the 1860s. Russian researchers began exploring and developing the region in the nineteenth century. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the total area of Russia’s Far East, with a population of 401,500, was 3,894,500 square kilometers. The population grew during the second half of the nineteenth century, reaching 1 million in 1897. However, the population density remained the lowest in the country (less than one person per square kilometer). The number of city dwellers remained small.3 In the second half of the nineteenth century, the population of the region grew primarily due to resettlers from European Russia. In Amur Region, they accounted for 54.3 percent, and in Primorsky Region, 61.4 percent of the population. The purposeful resettlement policy was conditioned by both internal needs and the urge to strengthen the defensibility of the Russian borders on the Pacific seaboard.4 The resettlement was both compulsory and voluntary. The compulsory resettlement included relocation of military units, dispatch of Cossacks in order determined by lot, resettlement of peasants as recruits, administrative placement of state peasants, and exile of convicts.5

The religious situation that developed in the Far East in the 1850s–1880s reflected the multi-confessional population of the Russian Empire. Residents of the Far East were mostly Orthodox Christians. In a relatively short time the Russian Orthodox Church organized its activities in many new settlements. For instance, in 1881 there were already 46 Orthodox parishes, apart from numerous family and other chapels, in Amur Region. The communities of Old Believers and Spiritual Christians (Molokans and Dukhobors) emerged in the late 1850s to early 1860s. They initially consisted of religious exiles and subsequently increased their membership from other settlers. By the early 1880s Amur Region became the second largest center of Spiritual Christianity in Russia, next to Transcaucasia. According to different estimates, Molokans and Dukhobors accounted for 33-50 percent of the region's population. It is specified that Spiritual Christians founded 60 villages in Amur Region.6

By the early twentieth century Baptist and Stundist communities emerged, and their members began active missionary work.7

The settlement of the Far East between 1901 and 1917 went hand in hand with the increase in the Protestant population. This was largely due to the Highest Decree “On the Strengthening the Principles of Religious Tolerance,” issued by Emperor Nicholas II on April 17, 1905. The decree granted more rights and opportunities to non-Orthodox (including Adventist) believers and, albeit indirectly, expanded the opportunities for the development of missionary activity in the central part of Russia and Siberia, from which the settlers were coming. Interest in Adventism grew due to fascination with eschatological ideas, which were widely spread and fashionable among Russian intellectuals and representatives of decadence after the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the outbreak of the First World War.

Organizational History

Towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had already developed a well-orchestrated structure in Russia. Evangelistic work in the central parts of the Russian Empire had been carried out for over 30 years. The Adventist Church became so well known that the leaders of Russian Adventists, who sent a letter of gratitude to Emperor Nicholas II in 1905 expressing their loyal position, received an answer from the emperor.

At the beginning of the 1910s, the Far Eastern region was included in the Siberian Missionary Field, which was part of the Russian Union. At the same time, missionary work began in the Far East. Harbin became the center of Adventism in this region, where the first Adventist community was organized and a prayer house was opened.8 Epifan Gnedin was the first Adventist minister sent to serve in the Far East.9 After a short time, Gnedin moved with his family to Irkutsk.

In 1912 the authorities discovered several Adventist families among the new settlers in the village of Surazhevka, about 70 kilometers away from Vladivostok. This fact motivated Gnedin to visit that village and other places in Primorsky Region. During his trips he provided spiritual guidance to his fellow believers and conducted missionary work.10 That year Elder Heinrich Goebel, who had previously lived in the village of Lisanderford in Saratov Governorate, was invited for the mission in Primorsky Region.11

In January 1911, the Siberian Union Field was organized out of the Russian Union, comprising five local fields (including East Siberian Field). Despite the fact that since 1911 governmental policy had shifted towards crackdown and prohibitions on religious groups, the number of Adventists continued to grow. In 1913, Siberian Union Field united 69 churches and companies, with 1,226 members.12

In 1913, the growth of the Adventist Church led to the decision to organize East Russian Union with Siberian and Amur Missionary Fields. East Russian Union was headed by Otto Reinke, former president of German-Swiss Conference.

In Primorsky Region, Adventist congregations emerged side by side with the city of Vladivostok and some villages, at railway stations, where their members were railway workers and employees.13 The Adventist presence in Amur Region was registered since 1912. Adventist preachers, both Russians and Germans, came to Blagoveshchensk for a few months from Central Russia.14

Religious life in the Far East was characterized by religious tolerance, but since the beginning of World War I the situation began to change. All Protestant denominations suffered persecution. Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists were accused of spying for Germany and raising funds for the German army. Gradually, the fight against “German spies” and “German dominance” spread throughout the country.15 Adventists, many of whom were German, fell under suspicion. Heinrich Goebel was accused of spying for Germany, declaring the inevitable defeat of Russia in the war and supporting the policy of capitulation. The authorities launched an investigation, but the charges were not convincingly proven. The Governor-General ordered the exile of Heinrich Goebel to Yakutia,16 but the preacher escaped deportation and managed to leave with his family for Harbin. An Adventist preacher Johannes Gaidishar was exiled from Vladivostok to Irkutsk Governorate, where he stayed for more than a year.17 But neither war nor persecution prevented the progress of the gospel work.

The war was followed by the February Revolution, then the October Revolution of 1917, the latter leading to cardinal changes in the country.

The Impact of Political Processes on the Development of the Adventist Church in the Far East

The first decade after the October Revolution was marked by the rapid growth and wide expansion of Adventist congregations. The absence of any serious obstruction from the authorities, growing interest in prophecies due to tragic events in the country, and the spiritual crisis as an effect of the nationwide crisis all contributed to Adventism’s growth. In this regard the Far East was no exception.

In August-September 1917, the leaders of Russian Adventism, Otto Reinke and Johann Ginter, visited the Siberian and Far Eastern regions and held congresses in Omsk, Irkutsk, and Vladivostok.18

During the Russian Civil War, Adventist evangelistic work in the Far East was performed by Heinrich Goebel, head of Amur Missionary Field, M. Demidov, head of Amur-Transbaikalian Missionary Field, and Johannes Gaidishar, a preacher from Vladivostok who returned from exile. G. Gadyukin, a preacher from Taganrog, served in Primorsky Region. The vast territory, long journeys, and the deadly danger of being accused of spying for the Reds, the Whites, the Chinese, or the Germans (depending on who would stop them on the way), were inevitable elements of the preachers’ work and ministry.

By the end of the civil war there were 11 Adventist congregations, with 350 members and 4 Bible workers, in the Far East.19 In 1919, the Adventist congregations of the Far East were incorporated in the Chinese Mission based in Harbin,20 which was part of the Far East Division, headed at that time by I.G. Evans.21 The Sungari (later Sungari-Mongol) Russian Mission was organized in Harbin in 1920 separate from the Far Eastern Missionary Field. The missionary service, including publication of missionary magazines, was performed in Harbin from 1918 to 1928 by the Russian preacher Theophil T. Babienco.

In 1922, Adventists from the village Tsvetkovka, following the example of the Bratskiy Trud Adventist agricultural commune (located not far from Krasnograd, Ukraine), organized a cooperative association. However, after the final restoration of the Soviet regime and the beginning of mass collectivization, the Adventist congregation was dissolved.22

As of January 1, 1924, there were already 19 Adventist congregations, with 369 members, in Primorsky Region.23 With the restoration of the Soviet regime, believers realized how dangerous it would be to continue being subordinated to the East Asian Union, based outside the USSR. In June 1925, delegates of the first constituency meeting of Far Eastern Regional Union adopted its constitution.

Two years later the union’s second congress was held. By this time, eighty percent of all Adventists in the Far East lived in Primorsky Region. Georgy Raus was re-elected as president, Alexander Khrulkov became associate president, and Alexander Kisel was elected secretary-cashier. In June 1926 Georgy Raus observed, “We are glad, the more especially as there are now several members in Sakhalin and Kamchatka, and from there we hear the Macedonian Call…”24

In 1931, the All-Union Council of Seventh-day Adventists decided to appoint regional commissioners. In the Far East this position was taken up by Georgy Raus. Despite the hardening of governmental policy and intensification of restrictive measures toward religion by the end of the 1920s, subsequent years saw increase in the number of Adventists and construction of new chapels in the Far East.

By 1934, virtually all active members of the Adventist Church in central Russia were arrested, while the second wave of arrests from 1937 to 1939 swept off those who appeared to replace their punished brethren. While those tragic events resulted in the growth of Far Eastern congregations due to newly arrived deportees, the arrests of Adventist ministers and laypersons continued in the Far East as well.

Some of the arrested believers were sent to Kolyma concentration camps by ship, while the rest, due to the sea frozen over in winter, stayed in prison in Primorsky Region. Doomed to speedy death, they were divided into two groups. The first group was sent to Ussuriysk, where the prisoners were interrogated, “judged,” and shot dead. The members of the second group were transported to suburbs of Khabarovsk and thrown alive into a lime pit.25

The situation changed at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). Due to liberalization of governmental policy, formerly imprisoned church members began to return home. Some of them chose to remain in the Far East. Despite the persecution and repressions, the activities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its missionary work did not stop, as evidenced by numerous testimonies of local residents. Even so, Adventist congregations remained organizationally fragmented and officially unregistered.

A period of relatively tolerant attitudes toward religion in Soviet society lasted until the early 1960s and was followed by a much tougher position. According to statistical survey, there were 16 Adventist churches and companies, with 291 members, in the territory of the Soviet Far East at that time.26 In those years, the Adventist Church endured a period of sharp internal dissent and increasing pressure from outside and, therefore, could not coordinate its work to the full extent. This state of affairs had an adverse effect on church members. In 1958, Pastors G. Vorokhov, P. Matsanov, M. Zozulin, N. Ignatov and V. Kucheryavenko came from the North Caucasus to serve the church in the Far East. Their activity met with strong opposition from the authorities.

Until 1960, Pastor Ivan Babkin served as the ACSDA commissioner for the Far East. Then he was superseded by Veniamin Kucheryavenko.

The 1970s marked the beginning of overcoming dissent among believers and creating a single organization structure throughout the Soviet Union. During this decade, Adventist churches in the Far East began registering with government agencies despite unceasing pressure and persecution. New churches were planted in previously unreached areas. For example, in 1974 the first Adventist congregation was organized on the island of Sakhalin,27 and new ones appeared in the Kamchatka and Magadan Regions.

In 1981, the Far Eastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which comprised the territory of Siberia and the Far East, was organized. The denominational work in the conference was headed by Leonard Reband, the assistant to the senior elder. The beginning of Perestroika in 1985 opened up new opportunities for preaching the gospel. In June 1985, General Conference Vice President Alf Lohne visited Khabarovsk. Liberalization of attitudes towards believers allowed them to expand their activities, including social ministry.

In 1988, church members in Khabarovsk registered the Trud cooperative society to produce environmentally friendly agricultural products and perform building and construction work.

According to Far Eastern Conference archive documents, “the Adventists begin to actively engage in charitable activities, help the elderly and the medical institutions, provide assistance to patients in hospitals, deliver lectures to students of universities and technical schools, visit penitentiary institutions, establish contacts with public organizations, participate in public rallies and processions, and make efforts to open a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addicts”.28

As of January 1, 1989, there were 20 registered churches with 578 members in the Far East. The Far Eastern region was included in the Trans-Siberian Conference that was part of the Russian Union Conference.

History of the Adventist Church in the Far East in the Post-Soviet Period

The 1990s saw a rapid growth in the number of congregations and church membership, as well as reforms in the Church’s organizational structure. In the 1990s-2000s, about 30 Adventist pastors served in the Far East.

In 1992 the Far Eastern Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized. The first president of this new denominational entity was I.F. Tomaily. By mid-1994 church membership in the Far Eastern Mission reached 2,153.29

In 1994 the East Russian Union Mission was organized, and two years later the Far Eastern Mission was reorganized into the Far Eastern Conference. In 1998 there were already 46 churches with 3,646 members in the Far Eastern Conference. At that time, Sam Yuk Institute began training Adventist ministers in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

At different times the church organization in the Far East was headed by I. F. Tomaily (1992-1995), Viktor S. Kapustin (1995-2000), and Kirill A. Movilian (2000-2003).

In 2002 the Far Eastern Conference was again reorganized into the Far Eastern Mission, with the churches of Kamchatka, Chukotka, and Magadan Regions attached to a new Pacific Mission. Vladimir N. Sokurenko was elected president, Roman P. Geiker secretary, and Igor V. Dvornik treasurer.

In 2003 the Far Eastern Mission had 59 churches with 4,226 members, and the Pacific Mission held eight churches with 565 members. In order to optimize denominational work, the Pacific Mission was divided, in 2004, into the Kamchatka Field and the Magadan Field.

In 2005, one more reorganization took place, with all previously organized church entities united into the Far Eastern Conference. Finally, in 2008 the Far Eastern Union of Churches, comprising 60 churches with 3,433 members throughout its vast territory, was organized.30

Despite all the above reorganizations, the church in the Far East is mindful of its mission, steadfastly performs its ministry, and is involved in socially significant projects. For instance, in the city of Vladivostok, health exhibitions are regularly held, weekly newsletters and other editions (such as Umeniye, Stil, and Tekhnika (Skill, Style, and Technique) magazine) are published, and a healthy diet school has been organized in the urban home for seniors. In 2009-2010, twenty classes were held for elderly people on the topic “How to be active and viable in older age.” In the city of Nakhodka, the program “Hotel of My Heart” was successfully conducted; in the form of a pantomime, the presenters tried to find out what kind of “residents” live in a person’s soul. In the city of Kavalerovo, a program called “The Other Side of Life” was conducted for the first to fourth year students of the mining secondary school. The city of Magadan became the center from which The Hidden Treasure newspaper is sent to the villages in Kolyma and Chukotka, and to detention facilities.31

At the beginning of 2011, a total of 36 pastors, 42 elders, and two missionaries served in the Far East. There were 58 registered churches and 25 companies, with 3,544 members.

As of June 30, 2019, there were 51 churches with 2,162 members.32 All these years, the evangelization ministry has continued to proclaim the soon coming of Christ.

Presidents

Vladimir N. Eliseev (2003-2010); Boris G. Protasevich (2010-2012); Vladimir P. Romanov (2012-2021); Lev I. Bondarchuk (2021-present).

Sources

Balalayeva, N.M. “Adventizm sed’mogo dnia v Priamuriye v period imperializma.” Proceedings of Khabarovsk State Pedagogical Institute 21 (1969), 34.

Dudarenok, S.M., and Fedirko, O.P. Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990). Moscow, 2021.

Fedirko, O.P. “Evangelskiye khristiane-baptisty v Amurskoy oblasti (XIX-XXI centuries).” In Svoboda sovesti v Rossii: istoricheskiy i sovremennyy aspekty (St. Petersburg, 2005), 75-83.

Katsis, L.F. Russkaya eskhatologiya i russkaya literatura. Moscow, 2000.

Plokhikh, S.V., and Kovaleva, Z.A. Istoriya Dalnego Vostoka Rossii. Vladivostok, 2002.

Serdiuk, M.B. “Adventisty sed’mogo dnia na rossiyskom Dalnem Vostoke: konets XIX-nachalo XX veka.” In Freedom of Religion in Russia: Historical and Modern Perspectives 3 (Moscow: Russian Association of Religion Scholars, 2006), 348.

Yunak, D.O. Istoriya Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia v Rossii (1886-2000) (v dvukh tomakh). Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2002.

Zaitsev, E. V. Istoriya Tserkvi ASD. Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008.

Notes

  1. Translated from Russian by Elvira Sulaimankulova.

  2. “Far Eastern Union of Churches Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (2020), https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=10048.

  3. S.V. Plokhikh, and Z.A. Kovaleva, Istoriya Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (Vladivostok, 2002), 93.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid., 95.

  6. S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 65.

  7. O.P. Fedirko, “Evangelskiye khristiane-baptisty v Amurskoy oblasti (XIX-XXI centuries),” in Svoboda sovesti v Rossii: istoricheskiy i sovremennyy aspekty (St. Petersburg, 2005), 75-83.

  8. S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 188.

  9. N.M. Balalayeva, “Adventizm sed’mogo dnia v Priamuriye v period imperializma,” Proceedings of Khabarovsk State Pedagogical Institute 21, 1969: 33.

  10. Ibid.

  11. N.M. Balalayeva, “Adventizm sed’mogo dnia v Priamuriye v period imperializma,” Proceedings of Khabarovsk State Pedagogical Institute 21, 1969: 34.

  12. E. V. Zaitsev, Istoriya Tserkvi ASD (Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008), 234-235.

  13. Russian State Historical Archive, Fund 796, Inventory List 442, Case Number 2440, 30.

  14. M.B. Serdiuk, “Adventisty sed’mogo dnia na rossiyskom Dalnem Vostoke: konets XIX-nachalo XX veka,” in Freedom of Religion in Russia: Historical and Modern Perspectives 3 (Moscow: Russian Association of Religion Scholars, 2006), 348.

  15. S.M. Dudarenok, “Religiya, tserkov’, veruyushchiye na Dalnem Vostoke v kontse XIX-XX veka,” in Dialogue With Time, 2015, 368-397.

  16. Russian State Historical Archive, Fund 821, Inventory List 133, Case Number 195, 275.

    See also: S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 234.

  17. D.O. Yunak, Istoriya Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia v Rossii (1886-2000) (v dvukh tomakh) (Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2002), 140.

  18. Ibid., 154-155.

  19. D.O. Yunak, Istoriya Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia v Rossii (1886-2000) (v dvukh tomakh) (Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2002), vol. 1, 122.

  20. Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East, Fund P-2413, Inventory List 4, Case Number 1651, 16.

    See also: S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 238.

  21. Alf Lohne, Adventists in Russia (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1987), 17.

  22. State Historical Archive of the Primorsky Territory, Fund 1588, Inventory List 2, Case Number П-32854.

    See also: S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 241.

  23. State Historical Archive of the Primorsky Territory, Fund П-61, Inventory List 1, Case Number 685, 15.

    See also: S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 244.

  24. D. O. Yunak, Istoriya Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia v Rossii (1886-2000) (v dvukh tomakh) (Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2002), vol. 2, 296.

  25. V.L. Kultenkov, Istoriya Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia na Dalnem Vostoke v nachale ХХ v. (Vladivostok, 2001), 80.

    See also: S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 275.

  26. State Archive of the Russian Federation, Fund P-6991, Inventory List 4, Case Number 324, 44-53; Fund Р-6991, Inventory List 4, Case Number 327, 27; Fund Р-6991, Inventory List 4, Case Number 328, 23-25; Fund Р-6991, Inventory List 4, Case Number 343, 6.

    See also: S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 284.

  27. D. O. Yunak, Istoriya Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia v Rossii (1886-2000) (v dvukh tomakh) (Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2002), vol. 2, 292.

  28. State Historical Archive of the Khabarovsk Territory, Fund Р-1359, Inventory List 4, Case Number 177, 18.

    See also: S.M. Dudarenok, and O.P. Fedirko, Tserkov Khristian-Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia Dalnego Vostoka Rossii (1910—1990) (Moscow, 2021), 320.

  29. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1994), 101.

  30. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2009), 94.

  31. Adventistsky Vestnik, 3, 2009.

  32. Seventh-day Adventist Online Yearbook, https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=10048

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Yevgrafov, Aleksander A., Vladimir P. Romanov. "Far Eastern Union of Churches Mission." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 08, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CD92.

Yevgrafov, Aleksander A., Vladimir P. Romanov. "Far Eastern Union of Churches Mission." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 08, 2022. Date of access May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CD92.

Yevgrafov, Aleksander A., Vladimir P. Romanov (2022, December 08). Far Eastern Union of Churches Mission. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CD92.