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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Evangelist To Address Moscow Rally

American evangelist Jerry Falwell will address an anticipated audience of several thousand Friday night at Moscow's Olympic Stadium, culminating a project that took 18 months and several hundred thousand dollars to plan.

The American minister and founder of the politically ultra-conservative Moral Majority touched down at Sheremetyevo 11 airport Wednesday in time to address a training seminar for Russian preachers and offer a few tips on how they might reach their flock.

The visit was met with little enthusiasm by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has criticized foreign missionaries arriving with hefty bank rolls.

"This isn't an honest game they're playing," said Yelena Speranskaya, a spokeswoman for the Russian Orthodox Church. "We don't have the money to rent out the Olympic Stadium -- he does."

But renting the stadium is only a part of the expense involved in Falwell's visit. The organizers -- among them 163 Americans who have flown over for the event -- have printed and distributed 3 million books for Moscow residents, and given 80,000 Russian-language materials to the ministers participating in the training seminar. In addition, a Russian-language New Testament and a copy of "The Son of Man," written by Alexander Men, the Russian Orthodox priest who was killed four years ago, will be given to everyone attending the rally.

While two Russian organizations -- Protestant Publishers and the Alexander Men Foundation -- are joint sponsors of the event, all the funding has been provided by World Health, an American evangelical charity.

But the financial issue is only one factor in a history of bitter relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the foreign evangelicals. A year ago, the Supreme Soviet, with much prodding from church leaders, passed a measure that would have outlawed foreign missionaries on Russian soil.

The bill was never signed by President Boris Yeltsin, but many political hardliners still side with the Russian Orthodox Church, which looks upon evangelicals as unwanted foreign imports.

"The Russian population is by background and culture Orthodox," said Speranskaya. "They want to replace us."

But Vernon Brewer, president of World Health and one of the organizers of Falwell's visit, denied they are trying to import American traditions.

"We want the Russian people to know that faith is not from America," Brewer said. "Many don't believe in God at all. We're trying to reach all the Russians, but not at the expense of other churches."

Brewer said the Russian Orthodox Church had been invited to participate in the rally, but Speranskaya said she knew nothing of the visit yesterday.

"There are over 1,000 American preachers in Russia today," said Speranskaya. "I don't have the chance to learn all their names."