Russian Orthodox in Israel strive to resurrect “Church of Zion”

It’s no secret that myriads of Russian Christians (hundreds of thousands?) were able to “make aliyah” via Law of Return loopholes, forged documents, or simply because they have authentic Jewish credentials but secretly identified with the Russian Orthodox Church or messianic Christian groups. While the trend of messianic Russian congregations is well known, it appears that non-Jewish Jews and “Jewish believers in Jesus” are now filling the pews in what’s reported to be a spiritual revival of the Russian Orthodox Church in Israel.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post quotes the press secretary of Sophia - the association of Russian Orthodox Christians in northern Israel - as claiming that “there are at least 70,000 to 100,000 Russian Orthodox living in Israel today.” He feels “the time has come to revive the Orthodox Church in the Holy Land” and he expresses hope that “the ancient church of Zion might be resurrected again.”

Now, that same representative of the Russian Orthodox church “waves off all accusations of being involved in missionary work”“our faith forbids us to lure people into it.” But not too long ago headlines out of Moscow were proclaiming that Israel was fair game for missionary activity, with Moscow Theological Academy Deacon Andrey Kuraev saying that “the Moscow Patriarchate should begin actively preaching among the Russian-speaking Jews of Israel.”

Two months ago, Jewish Israel reported that Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, had cautioned against proselytizing and raised a red flag when asked about the messianic community in Israel. However, in that same interview he noted the growth of the Russian Orthodox Church:

Literally hundreds of thousands of Soviet people, who were not Jewish, came into Israel and became Israeli citizens. So much so that at one point the Israeli army was printing out the New Testament in Hebrew so that soldiers could use it to swear in because they were practicing Christians serving in the Israeli army… There are also Russian Orthodox Christians and, if you want to celebrate the Russian Orthodox Christmas, which is a little bit after the Western Christmas, their churches are packed and you can’t get anywhere near them in Israel…”

And last August, Jewish Israel reported on the launching of Russian-language Christian missionary television programming in Israel which was targeting the immigrant population – all with the approval and under the auspices of the Israeli government.

At that time the the President of TBN- Russia and "Rodnoy" wrote how, “The time has come…for Jews and gentiles alike, to grow together into one creation through Christ” and that “It’s pleasing to consider the fact that the Israelis are waiting for us impatiently.”

[note: if that TBN report disturbs you, then please consider that DayStar Television is back and broadcasting in Israel]

To understand the magnitude of the problem, it’s essential to recognize that many “Christian Zionist” and messianic Christian groups continue to actively hunt for and evangelize Jewish and Christian aliyah candidates in the former Soviet Union. While in Russia or enroute to Israel, assistance in the aliyah process includes “spiritual guidance”, “intercession” and exposure to Christian scripture. Missionary efforts and Christian indoctrination continue for the immigrants once here in Israel, with a number of Russian Jews embracing Christianity post-aliyah.

A Whale of a story

In order to better understand the complex and troublesome phenomenon of Russian Christian aliyah, Jewish Israel is going to take our readership on a whirlwind “fishing” expedition through some chilling waters “from the land of the North” – and our report is just the tip of the iceberg.

But before we embark, Jewish Israel asked Penina Taylor, a former missionary who is now the Executive Director of Shomrei Emet Institute for Counter-Missionary Studies, to define "fishing” for us from an evangelical perspective:

“Nobody likes being targeted. None of us like to think of ourselves as fish in a pond just waiting to be hooked. But the Jewish people are seen exactly that way by missionaries. In the New Testament (Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17), Jesus, who usually used references that would be easily understood by his somewhat uneducated entourage, tells two fishermen, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew, the two fishermen Jesus was speaking to, knew exactly what he meant because they had been fishers of fish their entire lives.

What does a fisherman do? He identifies a good location where the fish are abundant and he either casts a net or he baits a hook and reels them in. Either way, Jesus was telling Peter and Andrew that as his followers, they would be catching people and reeling them in to his teachings. Christians have understood since then that it is their job to be “Fishers of Men” and to use whatever means necessary to lure people into the net of Christianity Food for thought.”

Evangelicals are also fond of using verse 16:16 from Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) to bolster their “prophetic” and purportedly benevolent fishing ventures:

“Behold I will send for many fishers, says the Lord, and they will fish them, and afterwards I will send to many hunters and they will hunt them from upon every mountain and upon every hill, and from the clefts of the rocks.”

But the most elementary and accepted Jewish understanding of that verse is that fishers and hunters are enemies - so says Rashi:

and they will fish them: Just as the fisher takes - it i.e., - the fish from its habitat, so will these capture them within the city, and just as the manner of a fish, that when he is caught he dies, so will I bring killers upon them, and afterwards I will send hunters for the survivors and for those who flee from the sword to the mountains and the hills, and they will hunt them to exile them in captivity.”

Pastor John Hagee found himself in a bit of pre-election hot water when he toyed with interpreting Jeremiah 16:16, and at the time this writer responded accordingly.

Fishing Frenzy:

There are a glut of evangelical fishermen hooking Jews, non-Jews and everything in between in the former Soviet Union. Non-evangelizing evangelical organizations (oxymoron?) like the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem (ICEJ) refer to their efforts on behalf of Russian aliya as “fishing work” and they use “fishing tools” and go on “fishing trips”.

Other organizations like the Ebenzer Emergency Fund are more open about their fishing work and cooperation with messianic Christian organizations with a missionary agenda, as seen from this dated Zola Levitt video from 2002 and this very recent progress report from the Wilmington Aliyah Project (run by Rafi and Carol Cohen).

One wonders why Arutz 7 radio’s “Aliyah Revolution” saw fit to recently interview a representative from - and praise - the Ebenezer Emergency Fund, without first checking on their missionary connections.

Wilmington’s progress report also cites work with Jim Hutchen’s Cyrus Foundation. Hutchens’ is also President of the Jerusalem Connection International. Jerusalem Connection’s editor Shelly Neese sounds rather excited and pleased about “this new Israeli Christian minority”:

“I wandered over to the beautiful Franciscan St. Peter’s Church where, much to my surprise, three of my Russian-speaking classmates [from Ulpan] were already kneeling in prayer and making the sign of the cross…” (why the surprise, Shelly?)

Then there are the in-your-face-fishermen, who simply cast their hooks and nets in the broadest of daylight:

The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) has a Russian Emergency Aliyah Fund which: “assists the Jewish people (messianic, secular and traditional) who have a desire to immigrate to Israel. We work closely with both Christian and Messianic partner agencies in Eastern Europe and the FSU.”

“Rabbi” Jonathan Bernis and his Jewish Voice Ministries International ("JVMI") “is seizing the opportunity of openness in Russia and Eastern Europe to present the Gospel to the Jewish people there. Their primary activities are street evangelism and messianic outreach festivals, where the love of god is demonstrated creatively. JVMI follows up these activities by planting congregations to nurture and disciple new believers. JVMI established
a messianic bible school in St. Petersburg to develop Russian leadership.”

The Omega Project - Their slogan "A bible for every Jew that wants one!" The site states: "Through this ministry, Russian Jews who might never have picked up a traditional bible are reading god’s word for themselves. And many are coming to faith in Jesus – Yeshua in Hebrew – as their promised savior and redeemer.”

CJF Ministries - "Our workers are organizing evangelistic meetings where the Gospel is presented, with an emphasis on an understanding of the Jewishness of Messiah. They are also busy publishing and distributing Russian-language Gospel tracts, Bibles, New Testaments, and Bible study booklets.”

The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism offers comprehensive reports from their representatives on “what is happening in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in Jewish evangelism today.”

Sid Roth runs massive campaigns which target Russian Jews in America.

Sometimes “rabbi”, sometimes pastor, but always missionary Curt Landry is actively fishing with Ezra International. And the list goes on and on…

Ten years ago, the evangelical Christian publication Charisma Magazine ran reports on evangelical efforts to spread the Gospel as they fished for Jews in the former Soviet Union. This year, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on ICEJ’s coordinated efforts with the Jewish Agency, as together they
go “fishing for Jews in Russia’s muddy waters”.

The JTA report had this to say about the ICEJ and its Russian aliyah director, Howard Flowers:

“his organization recently provided the Jewish Agency for Israel with a list of 1.2 million people in Russia whose names sound Jewish, all of whom were found in online and print telephone directories…Along with halachic and ethnic standards, he said the methodology introduced a new way of counting Jews: ‘phonetically.’”

Meanwhile, the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS has the Magen League listed under their umbrella:

“the only organization working to counteract extensive missionary activity targeted at Jews in the
Former Soviet Union. The League monitors missionary activity, trains professional and lay leaders of the Jewish communities how to counteract it, and publishes material explaining why Messianic Judaism or Jews for Jesus is not authentic Judaism…”

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