Proselytization, Missions, and Conversion


12346595_1030921446965889_5411566401667820130_nNikolai Ivanovich Il’minskii was a very successful academic linguist who devoted himself to being a missionary for the Russian Orthodox Church. He believed that having masses in the native or mother language would ensure that people could relate to and commit to the messages expresses by their religion. Il’minskii developed a system that pushed for the use of native tongues. This system helped to strengthen new followers belief in Orthodoxy and development of a national identity. He promoted a self awareness and appreciation for Russia and the Orthodox religion.

Source: George Robinson, “The Mission of Nikolai Il’minskii: Lay Missionary of the Russian Orthodox Church (1821-1891),” International Journal of Frontier Missions, 7/3 (1990): 75-83.



12345608_1133743549988782_4740576164345695327_nSiberia became home to an eclectic group of settlers in the early 1900s. As the population grew in Eastern Europe, many were migrating to Siberia to settle rural areas across the region, all made possible by the Trans-Siberian Railway. As a result, an influx of religious groups began to come into the region dominated by Russian Orthodox believers. Sectarian groups, like Baptists, Adventists and other groups, added religious diversity to Siberia, which was also home to Old Believers. As a result, Orthodox missionaries began to move into Siberia to convert these many religious groups. Missionaries reported on the lack of Orthodox representation in Siberia and how it was affecting those that were of Orthodox faith, leading to a “Siberian religion.” Missionaries were keen to reporting the lack of religious representation and the need to convert the people, especially the youth.
Source: Aileen Friesen, “Missionary Priests’ Reports from Siberia,” in Heather J. Coleman, ed. Orthodox Christianity in Imperial Russia. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2014. 249-60.


12311129_10153838971138291_2329558275403583948_nIosif Trifa was an Orthodox priest in the Transylvanian mountain village of Vidra de Sus in the early twentieth century. When a neo-Protestant missionary arrived in the village and started speaking to the public trying to convert the them to Christianity. Trifa wanted none of this so he took measures into his own hands until an old parishioner told him that the intruder “doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, and doesn’t fight with anyone.” Trifa then realized that, while working with a group of Orthodox clergy, Romanians and the Orthodox Church were in need for moral and spiritual improvement. He founded the Lord’s Army (Oastea Domnului) in 1923 which promoted temperance and spiritual renewal throughout Romania.

Source: Edwin Woodruff Tait, “Marching in the Lord’s Army,” Christian History Institute. Accessed December 3, 2015.


125463_oastea-domnuluiEstablished by Iosif Trifa in 1923, the mandate of the grassroots organization known as The Lord’s Army (Oastea Domnului) was a simple one: to fight sin. The fight was carried out by the laymen of the church, not the priest, monks and bishops. Trifa was defrocked in 1935, and  the movement was not officially recognized by the Orthodox Church until after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. The movement is divided about its relationship with the Romanian Orthodox Church. Some feel their strength lies in remaining aloof from the churches hierarchy, others think the greater visibility that the Church offers allows the group’s missionary work to expand and reach more people as well as have a more robust influence on the Church itself.

Source: Tom Keppeler, “Oastea Domnului: The Army of the Lord in Romania,” Religion, State, and Society, 21/2 (1993): 221-227.


12341494_1055389667812928_7990010346108551118_nThe Organization for Jewish Colonization in Russia (Idishe Kolonizatsie Organizatsie in Rusland) was founded in the U.S. and Canada in 1924. It was a Communist group that supported settlement in the Jewish Birobidzhan in the Soviet Union. The organization intended to raise money for Jewish collective farms in order to provide an alternative living space for Jewish people dealing with Anti-Semitism in Europe. However, the organization was dwindling by the end of World War II and it was terminated in 1951 by the anti-Communist era when McCarthy became president.

Source: “Organization for Jewish Colonization in Russia,” Wikipedia. Accessed December 3, 2015.


11202603_2517730217621_2028022878129444193_n.jpgAndrew van der Bijl, or Brother Andrew, was a Dutch Evangelical missionary. When the communist Soviet Union was declaring there was no God, Brother Andrew traveled to the country in 1955 using a Volkswagen Beetle, to disperse Bibles from his suitcase to those in need of them, including priests behind bars. His autobiography, “God’s Smuggler” tells of dangerous border crossings and pursuits by the KGB. He founded “Open Doors” which is a current missionary group aiming to raise the awareness of religious persecution.

Source: “Brother Andrew’s Story,” Open Doors. Accessed December 3, 2015.

J. Lee Grady, “Secret Agent Man,” Charisma Magazine. Accessed December 3, 2015.


UntitledThe National Organization of Russian Muslims (NORM) was founded in 2004 to unite Russian Muslim communities of Moscow. This Organization created the Cultural-educational center “Proponents of Tradition and Unity”, which aimed to increase Da`wah among ethnic Russians and interactions with other ethnic-national Muslim communities. Abu Talib (Anatoliy Stepchenko) from Omsk, who converted to Islam in 1990, was elected as a chairman. There was a shift from acute controversy to cooperation with the conversion of a former priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Ali Polosin, who is now a well-known Islamic scholar and an expert on interfaith dialogue and Muslim-Christian relations.
Sources: “National Organization of Russian Muslims,” Wikipedia. Accessed December 4, 2015.

“Vyacheslav Polosin,” Wikipedia. Accessed December 4, 2015.

“Putin congratulates Russian Muslims with Eid al-Fitr,” TASS. Accessed December 4, 2015.


12347704_1242076005818923_6806063536056536385_nMissionary work is integral to the Mormon faith. Mormons believe that it is their duty to bestow the gift of their faith to as many as they can. This cause, while admirable, is difficult to accomplish in Russia as many Russian officials, Putin included, oppose the missionaries. Similarly, there are many Russian citizens who have acted out violently against missionaries.

Sources: “Missionary Work,” Accessed December 4, 2015.

Anna Nemtsova, “Russia’s Anti-Mormon Campaign,” The Daily Beast. Accessed December 4, 2015.

Ninevah Dinha, “2 LDS missionaries robbed at knifepoint in Russia,” Fox 13 Salt Lake City. Accessed December 4, 2015.