Russian Christians integrating into Israeli society

The large number of Russian Christian immigrants in Israel are increasingly taking on an Israeli identity and embracing Hebrew language services, particularly Messianic Jews, writes Lisa Loden in East-West Church & Ministry Report (Summer). The Law of Return allowed waves of immigrants into Israel from the former Soviet Union if they could prove some Jewish lineage, although as many as 250,000 Russians are considered “other” (because their mothers were not Jewish or had not converted to Orthodox Judaism), with up to half of that number counting themselves as Christian. There are approximately 70,000 to 100,000 Russian Orthodox believers in Israel, with many Jewish-Russians turning to the church after immigration. “Today, these Russian Orthodox Jewish Christians see their identity as being fully Israeli,” Loden writes. Other Russians embraced churches such as Anglican, Greek Orthodox, and Catholic, although Messianic Jews have drawn the most, with about 15,000 adherents. Messianic congregations are gradually shifting from Russian-speaking to using Hebrew in their worship.

The Messianic community is also increasingly involved in social outreach, starting rehabilitation centers ministering particularly to drug- and alcohol-abusers prevalent in the Russian-speaking population, even recently planting 12 churches targeted to this constituency. Loden adds that the strong evangelism efforts of the Messianic Jews and the way they have integrated their faith into Israeli society has led to a new generation of Russian-background Messianic believers who are growing in numbers and are beginning to take leadership roles. In contrast, Loden concludes that the Russian Orthodox lack of evangelistic activity and less contextualized approach to living in Israeli society may mean that they will follow the path of other immigrants whose “children will not continue in the tradition of their fathers.”

(East-West Church & Ministry Report, Asbury University, 1 Macklem Dr., Wilmore, KY 40390)