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A letter from Gary Payton in the United States (regional liaison for Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia and Poland)

November 2012

Dear Friends in Christ,

There is an ongoing crisis in Russia.  The crisis is domestic violence.

In 2007, when the last statistics were made public, at least 14,000 women were killed by their husbands or partners–that’s almost two women per hour, every hour of the year, beaten, stabbed, or shot to death.  In 2011 the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported at least 34,000 women were victims of domestic violence annually.  These statistics are but the “tip of the iceberg” according to church leaders and knowledgeable NGOs.

When I share with Presbyterians my ministry “to come alongside” historic churches in Russia, I’m regularly asked, “How do you relate to the Russian Orthodox Church?”  Behind the question there is skepticism about how our Protestant, American, Reformed tradition can possibly relate to an Eastern Orthodox church with 1,000 years of history that helped shape Russia.

My answer is simple.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, we in the PC(USA) sometimes have resources to share that are of value to our Russian Orthodox friends.

In March I met in Moscow with Margarita Nelyubova, head of the Russian Round Table and staff member in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)’s Department for External Church Relations.  Margarita shared with me the shocking statistics of domestic violence, the challenge to priests in how to address the crisis within their parishes, and the cultural history often used as an excuse by men to beat their wives.

In the 16th century a set of household rules, instructions, and advice was published with the title of Domostroi or Domestic Order.  It covered all manner of religious, social, domestic, and family matters.  Today we read in it 500-year-old phrases that shock us:  “But if your wife does not live according to this teaching and instruction, does not do all that is recommended here…then the husband should punish his wife.  Beat her when you are alone together…”

One scholar commenting on the Domostroi noted: “Husbands were admonished not to use wooden or iron rods on their wives, or to beat them around the face, ears or abdomen, lest they cause blindness, deafness, paralysis, toothache, or miscarriage.” 

Vestiges of historic culture, combined with economic distress, alcoholism, and an inadequate police and legal response all contribute to the crisis of domestic violence in Russia today.

For several years the Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network (PADVN) has published resources for pastors, congregations, and individuals, giving us tools to address the violence.  After meeting with Ms. Nelyubova, I shared the full range of these online Presbyterian resources with her.  A key piece of one resource for religious leaders is “Do’s and Don’ts with a Battered Woman.”

Just weeks ago I met with Ms. Nelyubova again.  I was eager to hear how the Russian Orthodox Church was addressing the crisis.  She shared encouraging news with me:

-          Domestic Violence training programs for priests are currently under way in the regions of Moscow and Rostov.

-          “Do’s and Don’ts” has been adapted for use in the training.

-          There are ongoing conversations within a Moscow diocese to establish a crisis center and a shelter for abused women and their children.

-          By newsletter and website, response information is now being shared.

Whether in Russia or in America, the words of Trina Zelle, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association, ring true: “Whenever the trauma of domestic violence occurs within a faith community, it is a gross violation of not only the victim of the violence and the immediate family; it also violates the spiritual integrity of the whole community of faith and each of its members.”

The steps now undertaken by our Orthodox friends are a beginning.  I pray the training within the Russian Orthodox Church can expand to equip more priests to address domestic violence in their midst.  And, for me, I have one more concrete example of how our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can “come alongside” a thousand-year-old church on the opposite side of the globe.  Together we seek “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Yours in Christ,

Gary

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 285
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 290


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