In the late 19th century, Russia experienced an evangelical revival under the preaching of Basil Malof. Pastor Malof, often referred to as “Russia’s Luther and Wesley” rolled into one man, was a Latvian who trained in London at Charles Spurgeon’s school for pastors. While in school he was able to read stories of the great missionaries and their achievements in places like China and India. The mission societies were praying for a way to enter Russia and Malof was an answer to their prayer. He was able to gain entrance at just the right time–after the religious freedom act passed by Nicholas II and before the Bolshevik Revolution.
Malof was supported by Reverend E.A. Carter’s Pioneer Mission in England and the congregation of Oswald J. Smith of the Toronto’s People Church. Carter and Smith gave financial support to Malof for large meetings in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Thousands of Russians who were spiritually destitute came to these meetings to hear the Word and receive Jesus as their Savior. Malof also led meetings to reach university students. He described the situation that encountered the young people of Russia:
Materialism, agnosticism and atheism were sadly prevalent among the students. The deadness and formalism of ancient churches, and the indifference of most of the priests as to conditions, vice and misery in which people lived, had reacted unfavorably on the minds of these young men and women, and for the most part they were rather revolutionary than religious . . . many of the students were full of revolutionary dreams of a sudden millennium through approaching violent political changes, dreams that filled their hearts with rosy hopes. To others such dreams had already been shattered by the slow process of events, and they were falling a ready prey to a coarse, atheistic quasi-philosophy such as that which St. Paul alluded to in the expression, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1)
The young students found no hope in the Orthodox Church, and their communist dreams were slow to materialize, leaving them in despair. Malof offered them another way, a Narrow Way, and the students responded with joy!
“Sometimes as many as three hundred of these students would attend and, with visible tokens of strong emotion, many would surrender themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. Among the young students kneeling and praying you could sometimes see a fine looking military officer or an army doctor, or a member of the Russian nobility.” (2)
These new converts to Christ would give all for their Savior, because their King had given all for them. Pastor Malof records their thankful attitude:
“Many heroic disciples of Christ in the subsequent post-revolution persecution of Christians have been enlisted from among these converted students. The young Russian convert flings himself unreservedly upon the altar of faith. He asks, “Lord, what will you have me to do? What may I sacrifice for the Master’s cause? I am ready to do or to suffer for that which fills my heart–the joy of my salvation?” (3)
Those who came to Christ as a result of this short burst of evangelical activity at the turn of the twentieth century would provide a strong, pure internal opposition to communism, while much of the Orthodox Church compromised and became a part of the communist system.
The Orthodox Church also opposed Malof, running a front-page warning in one of the newspapers that “the city of Moscow was being attacked by the arch-heretic, chief of demons, Basil Malof”(4) and forbade any member of the Orthodox Church to go to his meetings. The whole Russian clergy had declared him to be a dangerous heretic. (The declaration that Malof was a “devil” actually had the opposite effect on the superstitious Russian people, who turned out in droves to gaze upon the hoofed and horned demon! They brought their icons and avoided getting too close to Malof lest the “fiery breath of the devil” might breathe on them.) Instead, they heard the Gospel for the first time, and many began weeping and crying out to God. Malof pointed them to the Lamb as he closed the service with William Cowper’s beautiful words:
“There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath the flood
Lose all their guilty stains.”
As more and more people began to flock to the 2,000-seat Dom Evangelia (Gospel House), the Orthodox leaders became more and more hostile toward Malof. Here are some actual quotes from a Moscow newspaper:
“Orthodox Christians, what is being done in our holy Russia? What is happening to our mother Moscow, the whitestone city? From far-off lands, from seas of the enemy, an unseen army has come upon us–to make war against our holy faith.”
” Ah! It is not faith that Malof is after. He wants to break in pieces, in the Orthodox people, their faith in Christ in order that after that he may destroy the Russian land itself . . . wake up, then O ye Orthodox, from your perilous dream. Quench these diabolical arrows of these Malofs and Perks [Malof’s assistant]. Think well into what an abyss you are being drawn by these servants of the antichrist.” (5)
The meetings continued, so the Orthodox Church tried another tactic. They called Malof to their office and offered to make him a bishop in the state church, providing him a large income. Pastor Malof rejected the offer, and consequently, “The Most Holy Synod” accused him of being “an international agent in the service of Great Britain, working in order to help England make of Russia an English colony.” They accused him of this because he was being supported by the English Pioneer Mission Society. In response, Malof decided to cut himself off from English support. But this wasn’t enough, and he was still brought to the Kremlin and sentenced to Siberia.
Malof’s ministry would also extend into the Eastern Block countries, where he would start churches, a Bible college, Christian magazines, and author books. When he was released from Siberia, he was exiled from Russia. This wasn’t the end of Malof’s ministry, though. He found himself in Germany, where two million Russian soldiers were being held as prisoners of war (from World War I), and he led a campaign into the prison camps, where spiritually hungry soldiers consumed gospel tracts provided as a “gift from American friends.”
Spurgeon, Moody, Torrey, Haldeman, F.B. Meyer, and others wrote tracts that Malof translated for the cause. The effort to reach the Russian soldiers with the Good News of Jesus was also supported by Dr. R.S. McArthur, Reverence C.I. Scofield, Reverend J. Ross Stevenson, Dr. J.H. Jowett, Dr. W.I. Haven, Dr. James Gray, Dr. Sandison, Reverend John MacNeill, Dr. Jesse W. Brooks, and many, many more believers.
The outreach to the WWI Russian prisoners of war was a huge interdenominational effort in which Pastor Malof would see the hand of God, saying that “it was worthwhile for one preacher of the Gospel to have been banished from Russia, so as to make it possible for much larger results to take place.” (6) The converted Russian soldiers now returned to thousands of little towns and villages, equipped with New Testaments and tracts, ready to share the Gospel with their family and friends.
Malof, who kept a plaque of his motto, “OTHERS” on his desk as a constant reminder, also helped care for the poor and sick, at one time turning the Dom Evangelia into a hospital for wounded soldiers. Pastor Malof was on the Narrow Way. He was despised by both religious and secular authorities. The new Christian converts would enter into the same battle as communist revolutionists gained more and more power. I hope to write about this in a future post.
For an interesting biography, see: http://livelifetothefull.org/page100.html
(1) Oswald A. Blumit and Oswald J. Smith. Sentenced to Siberia: The Story of the Ministry, Persecution, Imprisonment and God’s Wonderful Deliverance of Pastor Basil A. Malof, Russian Missionary, 6th ed. (Wheaton, IL: Mayflower Publishers, 1943), 54.
(2) Ibid., 54-55.
(3) Ibid., 55.
(4) Ibid., 61.
(5) Ibid., 65-66.
(6) Ibid., 129.