Preacher Popular In Ukraine Despite Racism, Russian Orthodox Tradition

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pastor Sunday Adelaja, a Nigerian preacher, understands why some in Ukraine are suspicious of him.

Pastor Sunday Adelaja

He’s black in a country where racism is blatant, Pentecostal in a country considered the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy, and a foreigner whose lively, conversational preaching style — punctuated by pompom girls and electric keyboards — stands out from the subdued, centuries-old practices of Ukraine’s traditional faiths.

But the 39-year-old preacher laughs at critics who suspect black magic, hypnotism, brainwashing and even hallucinogenic drugs explain the hundreds of bopping, clapping white worshippers who fill his converted sports hall every Sunday.

By delivering a you-can-do-it message of hope and redemption — along with such direct help as free meals and addiction counselling — The Embassy of The Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations church has ballooned from a ministry for society’s troubled into the ex-Soviet republic’s first true megachurch, claiming a membership of 25,000 people.

The church, informally called God’s Embassy, boasts a TV ministry and plans for a $15 million US church stadium, and aims to reach five million people — 10 per cent of Ukraine’s population — with its message of salvation.

Adelja’s church has dispatched missionaries to western Europe and the United States, and is eying China. Kyiv’s new mayor, Leonid Chernovetsky, is a member. Many analysts credit the church’s get-out-the-vote efforts with his surprise win in March over a two-term incumbent and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.

"I knew it would grow, I just never knew it would grow to this extent. . . . In a way it is unexplainable," said Adelaja, who came to the then-Soviet Union to study journalism but was inspired by a dream to establish a church.

Adelaja’s church is part of a Pentecostal movement that has flourished in Ukraine, which has been more politically and culturally open to new faiths than some of its other ex-Soviet neighbours, even as the dominant Orthodox faith has looked on warily.

Ukraine has long been an important religious centre. Legend says the Apostle Andrew travelled the Kyiv hills overlooking the Dnieper River, planting a cross and prophesying that someday, churches would be sprinkled over the landscape. Some 900 years later, a Slavic prince marched the population into the water to baptize them into the Christian faith.

While the Russian Orthodox Church made its base in Moscow, more than half of its registered churches were in Ukraine, including its most sacred monastery. But after the Soviet Union’s breakup, the Orthodox church in Ukraine splintered, weakening its influence.

"I don’t think there is the assumption that because you live in Ukraine, you must go to a particular Orthodox church . . . that makes it very different from Russia," said Felix Corley, editor of Forum 18, a group that promotes religious freedom. "Orthodoxy is very pluralistic in Ukraine. There is not one dominant church overshadowing everybody else."

The non-governmental Religious Information Service of Ukraine estimated that 60 per cent of Ukrainians still identify with one of the Orthodox churches, and Protestant churches account for less than one million believers.

But the Pentecostals’ increased visibility has the traditional faiths nervous. Patriarch Filaret, who heads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate, said he had written a letter to the new mayor "expressing fear that this sect will only become stronger with his election."

Despite his popularity, skeptics continue to question Adelaja. He’s been accused of using the church as a moneymaking venture and investigated by a medical commission to ensure that he wasn’t claiming to be performing medical miracles on stage.

So when Chernovetsky recently invited the Orthodox patriarch to bless the city government buildings, the Nigerian pastor shrugged off the snub.

"Kyiv is the motherland of the Orthodox church, it is a cultural thing to be Orthodox and people feel it is a disgrace and insult to have a Protestant mayor who goes to a black man’s church," he said. "If you are a white politician, you have to cool that down.""

Source: AP


blackcypriot said…
I am African-American, was raised Protestant and am now an Orthodox. While worrying, it is not suprising that Mr. Adaja's church is growing. People are ignorant of the Truth of Orthodoxy (that we can be perfected through the Church) and the true gold contained within the Church. People like this man exploit hopelessness by offering "self-help" and charismatic ways of feeling okay. Ukraine and Russia have lost, for many, the idea of podvig and the idea that we do not belong in this world but must do everything to glorify God so as to be perfected in the next. We can only pray that many souls will begin to recognize the devil's hand at work in this pentecostalism as well as pray for the soul of this unfortunate man.