On 24 June, Rev. James Krikava, the director for the Eurasia region of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Office of International Mission, gave an interview for the KFUO radio, sharing about his ministry. Among other things he mentioned Odessa as a location for running educational projects. From 21:50 Rev. Krikava told his listeners about “pressure” on the “standing Bishop” Maschevskiy for rejecting women’s ordination and not complying with the LGBT agenda in the Church. According to Rev. Krikava, this attack comes from Ukrainian government and “the German State Church”, probably talking about Bavarian Evangelical-Lutheran Church. Such coverage of the events around German Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ukraine is truly perplexing. It repeats the exact wording of manipulative narrative of Sergey Maschevskiy and his followers, which has no real basis behind it.

James Krikava in Odessa Church Complex

First of all, Sergey Masсhevskiy was removed from his position as a Bishop by the votes of representatives from the majority of GELCU congregations in 2018. After installation to his position in 2014, Masсhevskiy established authoritarian control over the Church, repeatedly violated the Church Statute, fired his opponents without any grounds and deprived representatives of congregations of their voting rights in Church Synod. As the result, congregations of Petrodolynske, Kryvyi Rih, Poltava, Zaporizhzhia and Bila Tserkva were put out of their church buildings. A church building in Zaporizhzhia, Church-owned apartments and cars were sold. After being a flourishing and missionally active Church, it turned into a marginal structure that serves interests of Sergey Maschevskiy and his confidants.

All the above-mentioned activities became sufficient ground to express no confidence in Sergey Maschevskiy.

Participants of the 2018 GELCU Synod

At the same Synod Pavlo Schvarts was elected to become an Episcopal visitor (temporarily assuming the responsibilities of a Bishop) of the Church and a chairperson of GELCU Episcopate. In 2019 he was elected and installed for the ministry of a Bishop according to the Statute of GELCU. Unfortunately, due to legal procedures and reform of the State registration system of religious organizations, as well as quarantine measures, the State recognized Pavlo Schvarts as a head of GELCU Episcopate only in May 2021.

Pavlo Schvarts installation on Episcopal visitor (2018)

This allowed to start an audit of Sergey Maschevskii’s activity. The audit showed that in 2020 Sergey Maschevskiy and his wife Olena Hetman purchased three expensive apartments in Odesa Downtown. Around 2 000 000 UAH (an equivalent of more than 73 000 USD) were illegally withdrawn from GELCU accounts.

Secondly, it is bewildering to hear a statement, that Sergey Maschevskiy is under pressure for his opposition to women’s ordination and LGBT agenda. From the time it was founded and up till this day GELCU has been a moderate conservative Church. The Church’s statement on women’s ordination was clearly spelled out by the decision of the Synod of 2000, and its view on marriage is stipulated in the Family Values Declaration in 2020. GECLU indeed is connected by special partnership with the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Bavaria, but this relationship is built on respect for the right of both churches to keep their traditions of ordination, ministry, and order of congregational life. Apart from that, GELCU is actively cooperating with conservative organizations as Nordisk Ostmission (Sweden) and Spiritual Orphans Network (former EEMN, USA), as well as with North American Lutheran Church. Any allegations of promoting women’s ordination and LGBT agenda are groundless and absurd.

On the contrary, Sergey Maschevskiy’s alleged adherence to conservative Lutheranism is very much doubtful. In that case it would be natural for him to actively cooperate with another confessional denomination – the Synod of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches of Ukraine. But instead, the SELCU congregation of Odesa was put out from the Church complex in Odessa, where they had celebrated worship for many years. Before Sergey Maschevskiy came to power, GELCU and SELCU had good-neighbourly relations and cooperated in various projects. But the “confessional” Bishop had broken them off.

Apart from that, ecclesiology of GELCU under Maschevskiy has lost its Lutheran characteristics and started to bear more resemblance to Eastern Orthodox tradition, where a bishop is not merely a pastor, who carries special ministry, but possesses a “holy order” that gives him almost unrestricted authority in spiritual sphere and the church administration. GELCU administration turned into a rigid vertical power structure, where the bishop has a sole authority to decide the fate of pastors and congregations, totally ignoring the teaching of Universal priesthood of believes. Glory to God, the attempts to change the Church Statute to formalize these changes were not successful.

In congregations that still follow Sergey Maschevski, deaconesses continued to minister with the right to public preaching, and people with no theological education were performing duties of pastors, which happened in Kherson and Dnipro. This does not go in line with the course on building a conservative Lutheran Church.

Larysa Kostenko, deaconess in Vinnitsa, Sergey Maschevskiy’s confident

Thirdly, the role of the Embassy of Germany in the processes around GELCU was to protect legal rights of Lutheran congregations. Support of the Embassy helped draw the attention of Ukrainian authorities to destruction of GELCU by Sergey Maschevskiy and solve the issue within the legal framework. That was finally accomplished in 2021, which allowed GELCU regain control over Church Administration Office and property purchased for the ministry of Lutheran congregations.

All of the foregoing gives a clear insight to the fact that the information Sergey Maschevskiy and his adherers share with their partners is far from reality. From the very beginning his self-presentation as a “fighter against liberalism” served to build an authoritarian power structure of one person and provided a religious front for using church property for personal gain.

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. You do not gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles, do you?” (Mt 7:15-16 EHV)

The fight against “liberalism” is an idea, which conservative Christians are gladly buying. And Rev. James Krikava, with or without his knowledge, helps Sergey Maschevskiy sell it.

We are disappointed that instead of investigating the situation and listening to the victims of Sergey Maschevskiy’s persecution, Eurasia region of the LCMS Office of International Mission have been actively cooperating with him this whole time. Sergey Maschevskiy and his supporters are spreading lies about their opponents, lies that were repeated by Rev. James Krikava to the listeners of KFUO. We hope that Rev. James Krikava was merely misled and had no intention to spread this slander. We also hope that Rev. James Krikava will publicly admit that he was misleading the listeners of KFUO.

 Under coverage of their lies, Sergey Maschevskiy and his confidants – Liubov Halimova and Natalia Yanina appropriated dozens of thousands of US dollars from GELCU funds. A number of congregations suffered serious loss, many believers were traumatized and disappointed with the Church as the result of their actions.

We would like to ask those, who support the ministry of Eurasia region of the LCMS Office of International Mission: is this the fruit you want to see, donating your finances for the ministry cooperating with outright swindlers?

We very much hope that after more thorough investigation of the facts of Maschevskiy’s misconduct LCMS will stop a cooperation with his group, and it will no longer be tainting the reputation of such large and respectable Church body.