August 27, 2018
The following is a short speech I shared with the members of my church on Sunday:
Recently, I was in Northern Europe, and as always I visited churches and came back with some thoughts I would like to share about people who are in need of our prayers.
Two of the places I visited were Tallinn, Estonia, and St. Petersburg, Russia. The people of Estonia gained their independence once in 1918 and again in 1991 at the end of the Soviet Union. They celebrate freedom strongly. Their churches are increasing in attendance, and among those I talked to, their faith is strong. I am reminded of John 8: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
The other place was St. Petersburg, with quite a different situation but one with hope, nevertheless. In 1861 the beloved Tsar Alexander I ended serfdom in Russia. The common people rejoiced at being able to own their own land and end their poverty. The Tsar was killed by hired assassins on the street in the middle of St. Petersburg. The people who loved him, including many who were wealthy, built a church called The Church on the Spilled Blood in the Tsar’s honor on the spot where he was killed. It is one of the most beautiful churches you could ever hope to see, fashioned in multicolored stone and tile both inside and out.
Unfortunately, since the time of the Soviets, both The Church on the Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, he largest cathedral in the world, are museums. I was appalled at the idea of a church built by the people to honor a leader of great faith being a museum.
I ask your prayers for these people. For the faithful of Estonia, that their faith and freedom will continue to be a source of strength throughout their country. And for the faithful in St Petersburg and all of Russia, that their faith and numbers will grow and that someday The Church on the Spilled Blood will be a true church again.
August 20, 2018
This week school starts for many schools in our part of Montana, and of course for schools all over the country now or in the near future. Any time that students return to school, our prayers should go with them. As we all know, school includes struggles, both academic and social. Kids need help to find both their individual skills and strengths and also their places in the world.
The subject of prayers in school continues to be a political issue in our country. It seems ironic to me that the decision to end compulsory prayers became a matter of ending all prayer. People of all ages should have the right to voluntary prayer at any appropriate time.
I think the issue runs deeper, however. As a former teacher, I have always been concerned about how much schools are expected to offer. I often felt that I needed to be counselor and even substitute parent when my actual obligation was to teach English.
The question shouldn’t be whether children are praying in school. The question should be whether they are praying at all. Are they attending church school of some kind and learning the basics of their faith? Are they being encouraged to pray at home, to turn to God with their needs and concerns, to look to Jesus for direction in their lives?
Children and teens who are grounded in their faith will pray, whether it is silently or with others, and they will know that their faith is not suspended when they walk through the doors of a school. If they confront issues or instruction in school which is contrary to their beliefs, they will discuss it with parents if those parents are available and open-minded. They also can discuss it with ministers or other faith mentors, as long as they are fortunate enough to have those people in their lives.
Society, including schools, can become more God centered only if individuals are God centered. Let’s spend some time in prayer for all students, that they may practice their faith and know God’s blessings throughout the years of their education.
August 14, 2018
My apologies to readers. As I said on July 30, my granddaughter and I are on a cruise, and I managed to miss one blog entry, and this week I am a day late because yesterday was incredibly demanding because from 7:00am to 10pm, we were either on tour, at supper, or involved in other activities.
It is the tour on Sunday which has inspired this blog entry. In St. Petersburg, we took a tour of important sites in the city, and that included two magnificent churches. The largest cathedral in Europe, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood are both amazing buildings, both inside and outside.
Beloved Czar Alexander II was murdered in a St. Petersburg street by assassins after he had freed the common people from serfdom, offering them their first opportunity at freedom, private business, and prosperity. The people who admired him were devastated and decided to contribute funds to erect the most dazzling church in Europe on the site where he died. The church is breathtakingly beautiful, colorful and architecturally amazing.
Since our first impression of St. Petersburg was of dismal grey Soviet-style apartment buildings and dismal grey skies and weather, the colors and magnificence of the church are a welcome sight. However, what broke my heart is that the church is only a museum. Then we learned that St. Isaac’s Cathedral is also only a museum.
Wait a minute! The Church of the Savior on Spilled Bood was built with donated funds as a house of God to honor a czar who was a devoted believer! How can it be a museum rather than a church? The answer, of course, lies in the years of the Soviet Union, when the State became God and religion was condemned. Of course the Soviets preserved both the castles of the czars and the churches because of the value of their contents. But the meaning is gone.
During my undergraduate college years as an English major, I studied Russian literature extensively. As expressed by great writers like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Russians were a deeply spiritual people. They were troubled, of course, with angst and obsessiveness affected by depressing weather and history. But underneath was strong belief and dedication to God.
Considering the land of Tolstoy as atheistic is so difficult for me. But as I viewed the beautiful church, I realized that at least some of Russia’s difficulties are due to that atheism. God is not dead – He still holds history in the palm of His hand and waits for people to realize that any “way” other than belief in Jesus is not the way to Heaven nor to true joy.
So I said a prayer as I always do at churches – a prayer for the people of St. Petersburg, that they might return to faith and the freedom it offers. And for those who attend the few open churches, that their faith and devotion might be strengthened. Amen.