By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- Russian authorities briefly detained an evangelical pastor and "bulldozed" what was left of his Moscow church complex as part of a wider crackdown on non-Orthodox congregations, a mission group confirmed to BosNewsLife Friday, October 19.
"According to our sources, the Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church complex" in the capital Moscow "was finally completely demolished on September 27," said Jean Zatulovsky, communications director of the Russian Ministries group which supports Russian churches. .
Bulldozers earlier arrived on September 6, destroying most of the complex, according to photo's obtained by BosNewsLife. About 50 people, some wearing police uniforms, also detained a security guard and stole over $3,000 worth of sound equipment, Christians said.
Yet since that incident, "one room remained where the church continued to conduct youth ministry activities," prompting authorities to return and destroy that part as well, Zatulovsky told BosNewsLife.
Additionally, Russian police detained and interrogated Pastor Vasili Romanyuk after church members gathered to pray on the ruins of the church, Russian Ministries said.
Pastor Romanyuk stressed in published remarks that he is appealing to authorities to end the crackdown and asks everyone to pray.
"I want to ask the mayor of Moscow, where are you? After all of our letters, after all of our pleas for justice, where are you?," he said in a statement distributed by Russian Ministries.
"Not one answer to this day has been given to us. Not one reaction to our situation."
As he rifled through the ruins of the church, Pastor Romanyuk said he found Christian books about the love of God. "This is what the bulldozers were crushing into the dirt," the pastor added.
He said he asked Russians to wonder whether they live in a Christian nation. "Good people, it doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, evangelical or Orthodox," he said.
"If you don’t ring the bell on this matter to God, if you don’t defend us before the Russian government and allow them to do what they are doing to us, think about what kind of future lies ahead."
The pastor also urged believers internationally to keep "praying for Christians" in Russia.
Moscow's Eastern Administrative District has denied wrongdoing saying "There was a court decision" to demolish the church building.
The destruction is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church, which was established in 1979 by Serafim Marin, a Pentecostal Christian who reportedly spent 18 years in Soviet labor camps for his Christian faith.
The church gained registration with Soviet authorities as an autonomous Pentecostal congregation in the late 1970s. However city authorities apparently forced it out of its first building in 1995 and into the now destroyed "temporary" building.
Russian Ministries told BosNewsLife it was raising funds to create awareness of these and other religious freedom violations in the former Soviet Union "in order to mobilize support through prayers and petitions".
However Zatulovsky admitted to BosNewsLife that Russian Ministries "are not currently raising funds specifically" for rebuilding the destroyed church building.
The group said the church destruction is "the latest in a growing trend of persecution of Christians in different communities of the former Soviet Union."
Under Russian leader Vladimir Putin several non-Russian Orthodox churches have been forced to leave city center areas, according to Christians and activists.
As 'compensation' authorities provide church groups with undeveloped lands in remote suburbs under strict conditions, including the requirement for a church to develop the property within a specified time period.
Yet when non-Orthodox churches submit permit requests to develop or improve that area, they are reportedly denied or delayed.
As the country's largest denomination, the influential Russian Orthodox Church has close ties with the Kremlin.