NEWS OF GNADENTHAU - JANUARY 2002
Betty Ashley received an email from Horst W. Gutsche of Canada titled "Our people
in Gnadentau (Verchniy Jeruslan) on January 12, 2002. Mr. Gutsche enclosed the following
reports which he said was printed under the title "Our Congregations" in
the "Bote" (Messenger)l the official publication of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS). There are seven photos in the article
of how the church looked originally and how it appears today. There is also a copy
of the original church seal. It appeared in Issue Nr. 3, 2001.
in which all the reports are printed in both languages, in German and Russian, can
be ordered by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org. 5,000 copies are printed. Gnadentau (the
word mean: Dew of Grace) was written by Andrei Pautov, Moscow and translated by Horst
W. Gutsche, January 12, 2002. In a later email, Mr. Gutsche said that he is in
regular contact with Bishop Siegfried Springer of this church. The story of the Gnadentau
church is really a miracle. It is only one of two former Lutheran church buildings
being used in the Volga region; at least by a Lutheran congregation. the other one
is in Marx (Katharinenstadt).
- Written by Andrei Pautov
I once dug through a pile of old publications Among them, I discovered a calendar
with photos of Lutheran Churches on the Volga. Today, these churches are still standing
on the steppes and in the settlements as silent witnesses of the era. In the pages
of the calendar I saw the magnificent buildings (of churches) from Messer and Walter,
Baers and Zuerich and many others as well which had been partially destroyed or desecrated,
but were still standing proud and high; true feats of architecture. I paged on and
I found a magnificent structure built in the new gothic style, a church built of
red bricks, a steeple which reached to the sky with rows of windows, a high pointed
steeple crowned with a cross in the midst of a beautiful blue sky. Under the photo,
I read the: "Evangelical Lutheran Church in the village of Verchniy Jeruslan
(Gnadentau)." I looked at this photo for a long time. It was as if an inner
voice was calling to me to go and see it. I could not silence this voice. I decided
very definitely, that at all cost, I would look for this village which had the name
of Gnadentau. At that time, I did not know that my entire life would change radically
and that at this moment in time, while I looked at the yellowed pages of the calendar,
the future had dawned upon me.
At the beginning of August, 1998, I boarded a
train with a ticket for the railroad station at Gemelinskay. The village of Gnadentau
and "my church" is situated 30 kilometers from there.I traveled 1,000 kilometers
from Moscow to a place where I knew no one and where no one was expecting me. But
a certain sense of certainty took ahold of me - God was with me and He would take
care of me during this trip.
Our small bus rattled across the dusty roads through
the endless steppes of the Volga region. Here is where our ancestors lived, our brothers
and sisters in the faith, worked, were born and died, built churches, invited pastors
and it seemed back then as if nothing would overshadow their peaceful and tempered
existence.... And... the high point of the steeple soon appeared around a corner
and it was covered with a canopy of green leaves. It seemed to appear very dark and
only the narrow, small windows of the steeple reflected the rays of the setting sun.
This was the church of the calendar and a grand incomparable feeling of fortune filled
my heart. Despite everything, I have found you...
I got out of the bus, ran down
the little hill and came upon the former village square. The church stood before
me and I stood before the church eye to eye, bedazzled by her supernatural magnificence.
When I regained consciousness, I hurried to enter in. I saw a sad sight. The inside
of the church was a ruin which could not be recognized (by the photo). There were
no traces of the altar, the carved balconies and the high-backed pews. There were
piles of rubbish everywhere. There wasn't glass in one single window. There were
no more doors. The wooden, carved, ceiling was half collapsed. All the walls were
covered with graffitti and the names of those who wanted to leave their names in
remembrance in this way. A feeling of pain and bitterness pierced my soul. I took
several photos with my camera and traveled back to Moscow in the morning with the
decision to come back here again. Unfortunately, it was not possible to get to know
the small congregation this time around. But the first step had been taken in order
to do so.
The dew of grace had not stopped. It dampened the valleys and hills
of this old German village anew.
Since this first visit, three years have passed
by. What has changed? There have been changes and one can rightly be proud of them.
Not I deserve the praise, for I have been called to serve; this means that we give
praise and glory to Him, by Whom I was called and through Whose Hand I was led. The
previously abandoned church covered with dirt has been, more or less, cleaned up
in a humane way. The congregation has significantly grown, because I held the sermon
and the worship services in Russian. Besides this, all the inhabitants of the village,
Russians as well as Germans, have the unanimous desire that the church should be
active again. When, on October 15, 2000, the dean of Saratov, Pastor Alexander Scheiermann,
paid us a visit, the whole village of about 200 people came to church. There are
just as many villages in the area where such people live, both Russians and Russian
Germans, who have not seen a pastor for decades, have not heard the preaching of
the Word of God and have not received the sacraments.
Thanks to Anatoliy Syakin,
who lives in the village, the congregation was successfully registered. He became
the chairman of the church council and thanks to him, a part of the church renovation
project was begun. Windows and doors were installed, new steps and cement were poured
around the church, the roof was repaired and other things were done as well. All
of this is the personal work of Anatoliy Syakin. Without his help it would have been
impossible to remove the rubbish, without even mentioning the other improvements.
But we live in trying times, and without the help of the fellowship of our brothers
and sisters in Christ, we cannot let this magnificent but damaged building be resurrected
from its ruined condition.
The people wait and hope. Whenever I visit Gnadentau,
they ask me the same question: What will happen with our church? How am I to respond
to their question? I convince them to hope in God and to wait. And they wait, for
they have been used to living their whole lives in anticipation - in the stalinist
camps, under the whip of the overseer; anitcipatio is all that has remained with
them and added to that faith in the Grace of God, who carried them through all their
bitterness and all their suffering which was their portion in life.
We do not
have the right to disappoint this holy anticipation. We do not have the right to
take away the hope of people who were pursued and persecuted throughout their entire
lives; people from whom everything was taken, even their own names. We are called
to serve them with the deeds of faith and to preach the mercy of God to them and
to teach them about the sacraments, serving them with love and with the peace of
God. For this reason, we need this wonderful church in all its grandeur and beauty,
so that, young and old, Russians and Germans, happy and sad, can gather under its
arches as they used to do previously. We want to hear the Word of God so that God's
Grace will be with us all the time. God bless us all.
Andrei Paultov, Moscow