Eastern Europe is inhabited mostly with a large ethnic group of Slavic nations. There are 12 nations in the Slavic world. Three are in the Soviet Union: Russians, Byelorussians and Ukrainians. Two are in Czechoslovakia: Czech and Slovaks. Five of them are in Yugoslavia: Slovenians, Croatians, Serbians, Macedonians and Montenegrians. The remaining are the Poles in Poland and the Bulgarians in Bulgaria. Inhabitants of Hungary, Rumania and Albania are not of Slavic origin, as well as other nations of Soviet Union, beside Russians, Byelorussians and Ukrainians. There are three dominant religious influences in the Slavic world: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam.
Why should the world of Eastern Europe be a challenge to Christians? Jesus said the words which should be repeated many times, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation." When we look at the Eastern European nations, we are reminded of the words of Jesus, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the Harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
The world without the works of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgski, Chopin and Dvorak in music, without Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Sienkiewicz, Andric and Krleza in literature would be a poorer world today. Art, people say, is a reflection of the human soul, and the soul of the Slavic people in Eastern Europe is heavy. People of Eastern Europe need God. They need His love. They need His Living Word.
In Acts 17 Paul uses his own knowledge of the Greek history to agitate the people: "for in Him we live and move and have our being. As even some of your own poets have said, we also are His offspring." Paul was the kind of man I would like to see visiting the Slavic world, neglecting totally the good that exists there. They mention the poverty and fail to see the many valuable elements in this part of the world that could become precious tools in the hands of those who spread the Gospel.
A famous Russian writer, F. Dostoyevsky, in his well-known book THE KARAMAZOV BROTHERS, describes the spirituality of the Russian people:
Fathers and teachers, forgive me and don't be angry that, like a little child, I have been bubbling over what you know long ago and can teach me a hundred times more skillfully. I only speak from rapture, and forgive my tears, for I love the Bible.These words of Dostoyevsky reflect the status of people that live in Eastern Europe today. If we would approach them as Paul did the Athenians and read to them from this book, many things could be changed. Dostoyevsky is a Russian speaking to Russians about the need of God's Word.
Only a little tiny seed is needed. Drop it into the heart of the peasant and it won't die. It will live in his soul all his life. It will be hidden in the midst of his darkness and shine like a bright spot, like a great reminder. And there is no need of much teaching and explanation. He will understand it all simply. Do you suppose that the peasants don't understand? Try reading them the touching story of the Fair Esther, or the miraculous story of Jonah and the Whale. Don't forget either the parables of Our Lord. Choose especially from the Gospel of St. Luke and you will penetrate their hearts with these simple tales. Give one hour a week to it in spite of your hurry, only one little hour, and you will see for yourselves that our people are gracious and grateful and will repay you a hundred fold. The thing is so simple that sometimes one is even afraid to put it into words for fear of being laughed at, and yet how true it is that one who does not believe in God's people will not believe in God. He who believes in God's people will see His holiness too, even though he did not believe in it until then.
There is an urgent need for the restoration of the Lord's church among the people of Eastern Europe. There we can find numerous religious monuments. Many of them today are not used as places of worship but museums of various kinds. Maybe we could learn from mistakes of those that brought religion to these areas in the past and try not to repeat them. Let's go back to history. History has taught us many good lessons. A famous Latin proverb says: "Historia mater vitae est" (History is the mater of life). The Roman Catholic Church seemed to be more concerned with physical dominion over Poland, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia and Croatia than the spiritual welfare of these people. The Eastern Orthodox Church at the same time was occupied with the rest of the Slavic people. The principle of "divide and conquer" was all these two religious entities were concerned about. The seed of intolerance had been planted. The main goal was more power, more territory.
So there is always an explanation why things happen the way they do, and I do not think that it is just incidental that Russia became what it is today. At the time when Lenin came to Russia there was nothing better there than what he had to offer. The ideology presented by those who were supposed to care about human souls was less than minimal, and Lenin had all the aces in his hand. Lenin came with some good ideas. He was able to set fire in people's hearts. He talked about freedom for peasants, about giving land to the people, jobs to everyone and providing bread for every table and electricity for every home. People were ready to follow because nobody else had anything to offer. Russia was left in the grips of an evil empire. That fire after 1945 caught on in other countries of Eastern Europe because of the same situations.
Communists began fearfully to attack religion. In some cases it would be hard not to agree with them because what they were attacking was not Christianity, but rather a master-slave relationship, corruption, greed and theft, all performed by so-called religious leaders. The hypocritical lives of the people who were supposed to represent God and speak in His Name took a devastating toll on the people who had looked to them for spiritual guidance.
Today, more than seven decades after the totalitarian revolution in Russia, we are witnessing some very dramatic changes. People in these countries are struggling. They're struggling with many aspects of their lives. They are fed up with Communistic ideas, with empty words. They do not want to listen anymore. The same ones who several decades ago were ready to give their lives for the ideals of Marxism, today are frankly saying, "We're sorry we did it," because they can see the corruption that is penetrating all areas of their society. Instead of equality, they now see that their economy is in bad shape, that they have no personal freedom. People see that nothing has changed. Corrupt Communist leaders took the place of the corrupt landlords of the past.
What does this all say to us? Let's share the Good News with the people of Eastern Europe, but not empty words. The Word must be incarnated in us. Let's be Christ-like. Let's become Russians to the Russians, Poles to the Poles and Yugoslavs to the Yugoslavs. Let's do it completely. Let us restore trust in the Bible. Most Slavic people today are educated and they know how to read and write. They read a lot. Books are government subsidized in most Eastern European countries. People read more in that part of the world than in any other.
Let us restore trust in people. I'm sure that if you have ever traveled through the countries of Eastern Europe you have seen that this is a great need. People do not trust each other. Many of them know, from their own experience, that it is too dangerous to trust. Let people trust us. Let us approach them with love. It is important to build on people's trust, the trust that only Jesus can give. Let us give whatever we give as Jesus suggested we give. People of Eastern Europe have suffered too much. They have deserved our unconditional help, the kind of help God has given all of us. Let us learn from many good examples that we have in God's Word. I really believe that the world of Eastern Europe is a challenge for all of us today, Slavic and non-Slavic. So let's turn our faces, our minds and our hearts to the people who have long deserved our attention.