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Russian is among the top ten most-spoken languages in the world and, due to the dominant influence of Russia in the former USSR, it is still spoken in many of the countries that were part of the former Soviet Union. This makes it possible to distribute Russian Scriptures widely, including in Ukraine, Latvia, Armenia and Kazakhstan.
History of Russian Protestantism
In the early 1800s as many as one million Bibles in thirty different languages were distributed in Russia through the 289 auxiliaries of the Russian Bible Society. This work was continued openly until 1826, after which it was carried out semi-secretly. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, literate Russians became disillusioned with the Orthodox Church and became more inclined to read the Scriptures for themselves. At that time the Englishman, Lord Radstock, went to Russia and was to the Russians what Philip was to the eunuch (Acts 8). His quiet simplicity of teaching and walk in life (which contrasted favourably to the elaborate religion of the Russian Orthodox Church) were well received by this prepared people.
The resulting dissenting, ‘unpatriotic’ church was frowned upon, and thus came years of persecution. By 1917 the Protestant church was already ‘underground’.
In the ninth century students of the Preslav School in Bulgaria created the Cyrillic script, based on the Greek alphabet, for use in Old Church Slavonic. The whole Russian Bible was first published in 1581 in the Old Church Slavonic, but by the nineteenth century this was no longer commonly used in Russia. (This language is still used liturgically in some Orthodox Churches, much as Latin is used in some Roman Catholic churches.) In 1819 the four Gospels were published in modern Cyrillic script, and in 1822 the New Testament appeared as a diglot with the Old Church Slavonic translation. In 1876 the whole Bible, known as the Synodal version, was published.
The Trinitarian Bible Society continues to publish the Russian Synodal Bible in significant quantities and to distribute it to a diverse range of recipients. An example is the Nenets people who are indigenous to the Russian northern arctic. Amongst this group there were no known Christians twenty years ago; they were steeped in the darkness of alcoholism and idolatry, but by God’s grace they now have the light of the Word of God spread amongst them. The Russian Synodal Bible is widely accepted across denominational lines and is much loved by ordinary Russian Christians.