The Life of Andrew David Urshan

The Life of Andrew David Urshan
written by J.L. Hall

Andrew David Urshan’s decision to visit his father’s home in Urmia, Persia, led to the first Pentecostal revival in Russia and to the founding of the Jesus Name movement in that nation.

Andrew Urshan’s Early Ministry

Born on May 17, 1884, in the village of Abajaloo, a village thirteen miles from Urmia (Rizayh), Persia (Iran). Andrew grew up in a Presbyterian minister’s home. As a youth he surrendered his life to
God, but his real Christian conversion came after he emigrated to the United States.

In August 1902, he left Persia, arriving in New York in September or October. He was alone in a strange city, but he soon found employment and learned the English language. After living in New York for six
months, he moved to Chicago to be near his cousin, who was a medical student. To his dismay, he discovered that his cousin had lost faith in God.

In New York, Andrew attended church, but in Chicago professingChristians persuaded him to visit dance halls and to go to theaters, telling him that dancing and theaters were not sinful. But he became
miserable dancing and attending theaters. Then a second cousin, a preacher with the Brethren Church,
came from Persia. He persuaded Andrew to attend church with him. It was later at a Methodist church that Andrew repented and changed his ways. His cousin then convinced him to be baptized by immersion. After his cousin baptized him, Andrew visited a Holiness mission where he experienced what he called sanctification.

By 1906 he was attending Moody Church, and in this year he preached his first street service. He also participated in prayer meetings with other young Persian men near Lake Michigan in some lonely lots full of weeds and piles of rubbish. Later he pastored these Persian men, meeting for services in a room on the third floor at Moody Church.

In 1908 many of the Persians in his group received the Holy Ghost. For a while the elders of Moody Church tolerated the Pentecostal services, but eventually they asked Andrew to either stop the practice of speaking in tongues or move. In 1909, Andrew received the Holy Ghost, and in the next year he secured a building at 821 North Clark Street. For the next three years he pastored the church, which was known as the Persian Mission. In 1910, he was ordained into the ministry by William Durham, pastor of North Avenue Mission in Chicago.

The Persian Mission, like many other Pentecostal churches, experienced revival. In one series of meetings, about 150 people received the Holy Ghost in a few weeks. In another revival, 30 more were filled with the
Spirit. During his last year at the mission, 70 people were baptized with the Holy Ghost in a meeting.

REVIVAL AND PERSECUTION IN PERSIA

In the summer of 1913, Andrew felt that God wanted him to visit Persia in order to preach to his relatives and countrymen about the Pentecostal outpouring. He arrived in Abajaloo on March 1, 1914. Although his plans were to stay only a few months, he remained in Persia for more than a year and spent several more months in Russia.

In Persia, he conducted revival services in cities, towns, and villages, and hundreds of people received the Holy Ghost, including many in his immediate family.

World War I brought severe religious persecution to the Christians in Persia. As long as the Russian army was in Persia, it maintained order. However, when the army pulled back to Russian territory in February 1915, marauding Kurds and Turks raided Christian homes, threatened and physically abused Christians, and even murdered many of them, including three men and Elisha, who had received the Holy Ghost in Urshan’s revival services: Jeremiah Eshoo, Andrew, and Elisha.

Andrew, his family, and about thirty thousand other Persian Christians found refuge in the Presbyterian mission compound in Urmia. However, typhus fever swept through the crowded quarters, taking the lives of many people. One of those who died of the fever was Andrew’s mother.

Four months later, the Russian army returned to the area, making it safe again for Christians to return to their homes. Unfortunately, some Christians took revenge against the Moslems, creating more hostility between the two religious groups.

REVIVAL IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA

In the summer of 1915, the Russian army was again recalled to Russian territory, leaving the Christians once more without protection. To escape further tragedy, Andrew Urshan, several members of his family,
and hundreds of other Persians fled to Georgia, a southern territory in the Russian Empire.

Urshan had lost his passport and other citizenship papers in Persia, so the American consul in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), Georgia, issued him a temporary passport. This passport allowed him to travel in Russia while he made arrangements to return to the United States. While he waited for the needed governmental papers, God used his ministry to ignite the first Pentecostal revival in Russia and to establish the message of the oneness of God and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.

In Tiflis, Urshan at first preached to the Persian refugees, but he was then invited to preach in a Russian Baptist church-in spite of Russian laws against foreign preachers. As a result of his ministry, many
members of the congregation received the Holy Ghost. News of the outpouring of the Spirit quickly spread to other churches across Russia. When Urshan left Tiflis to minister in Armavear, he left a “band of Pentecostal saints” in Tiflis.

His ministry in Armavear was to the Persian refugees. He stayed only a month, but his ministry was again fruitful. Later a large Pentecostal church was established there by one of his converts.

When his father and brothers returned to Iran, Urshan went to Petrograd (the name had been changed from St. Petersburg in 1914; Petrograd was then changed to Leningrad in 1924; and the name, as of October 1, 1991, has been changed back to St. Petersburg). He arrived in late 1915 or early 1916.

Times were not good in Petrograd or in other parts of the nation. The Russian army was suffering defeat in the war, stores were short of food and goods, the economy was collapsing, and the government of Tsar Nicholas II was crumbling.

During the next year, in 1917, the monarchy was overthrown when Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate; riots, mutinies, and revolution erupted in the streets; and the provisional government fell as the Bolshevik coup brought Lenin and the Communist Party to power.

THE REVIVAL IN PETROGRAD

In Tiflis and Armavear the first Pentecostal revival on record came to Russian territory. But it was in Petrograd that Urshan established the first Pentecostal movement in the nation. In Petrograd he preached the Oneness message of the absolute deity of Jesus Christ and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it was from this city that the Jesus name message spread throughout the Soviet Union.

The leader of a free mission in St. Petersburg had heard of Urshan’s meetings among the Baptists in Tiflis and therefore invited him to visit the mission and to “say a few words.” The mission, a group that had ties with the Evangelical Chris- tians, were meeting in a hall on the third floor of Building 7 on Soljanoy Lane. At the service Urshan, speaking through an interpreter, related his experience in Persia and may have told of the outpouring of the Spirit in Tiflis. The people so enjoyed his message that he was invited to speak again, and then to hold a series of meetings.

The attendance at first was about 25 people but it quickly grew to 200 in a hall that would seat only 150. During the first few days of the meeting, 35 people received the Holy Ghost, and before he left the city two months later, about 150 people had been baptized with the Spirit.

The leaders of the mission, Alexander Ivanov and @Nikolai P. Snored, along with a few of their followers had been introduced to Pentecostalism in Helsinki, Finland, as early as 1909 through the Pentecostal missionary work of Thomas Barratt of Norway. While they embraced the Pentecostal teaching, it is probable that they had not received the Holy Ghost. Urshan never refers to them as being Pentecostal and does not mention any having received the Spirit prior to the meeting. Moreover, Pentecostals in Russia today say that both Ivanov and Snored were converted to Pentecostalism by Urshan. Regardless of their previous experience, it is clear that a Pentecostal revival did not occur in the city until Urshan’s meeting in 1915-16.

THE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS

The free Protestant mission in which Urshan preached in Petrograd emerged from the Evangelical Christian movement. In 1874 Lord Granville Radstock, an English nobleman, came to St. Petersburg to preach to the aristocracy in their private homes. Among the aristocracy that were converted were V. A. Pashkov, M. M. Korf, A. P. Bobrinskii, and V. F. Gagarina. As a member of the Brethren movement, Radstock pointed his converts toward a spiritual revival rather than the establishment of a church organization.

Lord Radstock soon returned to England, but Count Pashkov, who was a colonel of the guard, resigned his military commission in order to devote his time and talents to bring a revival to the masses in Russia. While he continued to preach and work among the aristocracy, his main thrust was to convert the artisans, merchants, workers, and peasants.

To spread the gospel, Pashkov used literature extensively as well as preaching. His co-worker, Count Korf, founded a publishing company, the Society for the Advancement of Spiritual-Ethical Reading, and they published and distributed enormous quantities of gospel pamphlets, books, and periodicals in St. Petersburg and throughout Russia.

Because of Pashkov’s energetic promotion and leadership of the movement, the followers were at first called Pashkovites, but they came to be known as Evangelical Christians. Their Armenian view separated them from Calvinistic Baptists in Russia, but they often associated and worked with the free Baptist movement.

At first authorities in the Russian Orthodox Church attempted to stop the rapid growth of Evangelical Christians by arresting the workers and peasants when they came to the services at Count Pashkov’s quarters. But Pashkov countered their actions by personally meeting the believers in the street and escorting them into the safety of the building.

Eventually, the Russian Orthodox authorities appealed to Tzar Alexander III to issue an order for Pashkov and Korf to sign a statement that they would cease preaching and terminate their fellowship with the
Evangelical Christians. When they refused to sign the statement, they were permanently exiled by the personal command of Alexander III. In exile, Pashkov maintained communications with the Evangelical Christians until the death in Paris in 1902.

Following Pashkov’s exile, Ivan V. Kargel became the leader in St. Petersburg. The movement continued to grow, but when Ivan Stepanovich Prokhanov, who had spent three and on-half years attending theological colleges in Bristol, London, Paris, and Berlin, became the leader, the movement experienced a rapid increase in members. Prokhanov organized the movement, energetically promoted missionary activity throughout Russia, printed and distributed vast quantities of literature, and raised large sums of money from colleges and churches in the United States to support the movement.

Although most converts came from the worker and peasant classes, many of the novelty and royalty continued as believers of Evangelical Christianity. One report compiled for the Department of Police in 1916 listed “Princess Gagarina, Her Highness Princess Paskevich, Princesses Lieven and Bariatinskaia, Chertkov, and heirs of Pashkov” as patrons of a congregation in Petrograd.

In 1908, Ivan S. Prokhanov, the leader of the Evangelical Christians and pastor of a church in St. Petersburg, started a mission in Helsinki, Finland. A year later, in 1909, he appointed Alexander I, Ivanov to be the preacher in the mission in Helsinki. Ivanov, who had earlier left the Russian Orthodox religion and joined the Evangelical Christian movement, had already been preaching in Vyborg, Finland, and his talents and dedication had caught the attention of Prokhanov.

When Ivanov moved to Helsinki he came in contact with followers of the Pentecostal Methodist missionary, Thomas Ball Barratt. Ivanov accepted Barratt’s teaching in 1910, for in 1914 he wrote: “The preaching of the Gospels was begun even before my arrival in Finland by Methodists in 1909 among Russians. From 1910 and to this day, the preaching of the Gospels has been done by me.”

There is evidence that Barratt visited Finland and Petrograd in 1911. His visit apparently strengthened Ivanov in the Pentecostal faith, but it does not appear that his visit was otherwise significant among the Russians.

In 1913, a division occurred in the Helsinki church, apparently over Pentecostalism, since Ivanov organized his followers into an independent congregation. Moreover, he rejected the nicknames given to his group, “Shakers” and “the sect of Christians of the Pentecost,” claiming only the name of Evangelical Christians. He referred to his followers as “free Russian Evangelists.”

In 1914, Prokhanov printed a warning in his newspaper Utreniaia zvezda against Ivanov’s followers: “In Helsingfors, in Vyborg, and also in St. Petersburg there appeared a sect of people calling themselves Pentecostalists but who in reality are Shakers.” He then identified Ivanov, Maslov, Stepanov, S. I. Prokhanov, and Khakkarainen (an Estonian) as members of the sect.

A warning also came in 1914 from Millerovo, a city in the southern part of the Russian Republic near the border of the Ukrainian Republic. A notice published in the Baptist journal mentioned Nikolai P. Snored, who reportedly told the Baptist congregation in Millerovo that he was not a Baptist or Evangelist but a Pentecostalist. Snored, who had been in Finland with Ivanov, had apparently also accepted the Pentecostal teaching.

In 1914, Ivanov, Snored, and their followers moved their mission to Petrograd, and this was the mission Urshan called a free Protestant mission. Apparently Ivanov and Snored served as co-leaders of the
mission, but others in the mission were also recognized as ministers. The mission soon came under attack by the Russian Orthodox Church. In November of 1915, Ivanov, F. A. Tuchkov, A. K. Chernukhin, and K. I. Vetsgaver were arrested and exiled to the Turgay Oblast in the Kazakhstan Republic. Their exile was short, however, for they were back in Petrograd during Urshan’s revival.

Since Ivanov, Snored, and others had already embraced Barratt’s Pentecostal teaching, they readily supported Urshan’s preaching on the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And the outpouring of the Spirit confirmed what they had learned in Finland. Credit must be given to Barratt for introducing Pentecostalism to Ivanov and his mission in Helsinki, but it is significant that Ivanov and Snored claimed Urshan and not Barratt as the founder of Pentecostalism in Russia. Moreover, Urshan ordained these two leaders into the ministry by the laying on of hands, and he placed them over the church in Petrograd.

The name adopted by the movement was Evangelical Christians in the Spirit of the Apostles, a name that remains today. However, since Snored became the sole leader of the movement after Ivanov’s death in 1934, the movement was often called Smorodintsy (the followers of Snored). In some areas of the Soviet Union, the name has been slightly changed to Evangelical Christians according to the Teachings of the Apostles. The Jesus Name people are also called “the people who believe in one God.”

WATER BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

Urshan, who had left North America before the issue over the baptismal formula emerged, learned about the controversy from his correspondence with people in America. He knew the biblical teaching on water baptism in the name of Jesus, for he had baptized new converts in the name of Jesus as early as 1910. But he himself had not been baptized in the name of Jesus, nor had he advocated rebaptism for those baptized by immersion the traditional Trinitarian formula.

He wanted to wait until he returned to the United States before deciding on the issue. In Petrograd he tried to avoid baptism by not mentioning it in his preaching. Yet he realized that he needed to know what to do if a new convert asked to be baptized. So he prayed that if God wanted him to baptize as the Apostles did in the Book of Acts, then let the first convert who asked to be baptized show him in the Bible the chapter and verse referring to baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.

Urshan did not mention his prayer or the matter of water baptism. But during the testimony service one evening, a man rushed to Urshan with his Bible in his hand. Crying he said, “Oh! Brother Urshan, the Lord Jesus told me last night to ask you to baptize me, just like this text.” The man’s finger was in Acts 8:16.

At the first baptismal service, Urshan baptized twelve converts in the name of Jesus Christ. Although did not explain why he baptized in the name of Jesus, the baptismal service caused many other people to repent and desire baptism. At the next baptismal service, however, he preached a message on Isaiah 9:6 on the deity of Jesus Christ. Then he explained why the apostles always baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus without using the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. When he finished, to his surprise many people who had been baptized in the Trinitarian formula wanted to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Urshan tried to discourage them against rebaptism, saying that it was not necessary. When they insisted, he told them about the controversy in North America and tried to persuade them to change their minds. Then he asked them to pray, thinking this would end the matter. But after praying, the people said,”Now, Brother Urshan, we are ready to be baptized.” Urshan again refused, telling them that they could baptize each other but he would not baptize them.

The people, however, insisted that since he had taught them from the Scriptures about this truth he should be the one to baptize them. The appeal to Scripture broke his resistance. And he became convinced that he too should be baptized in the name of Jesus.

Urshan and the others chose the eldest leader among them who had received the Holy Ghost, F. A. Tuchkov, a retired navy guard, to baptize Urshan. Then Urshan baptized Tuchkov and about 75 others in the name of Jesus. Before he left Russia two months later, he had baptized about two hundred Russian believers in the name of Jesus Christ.

Before Urshan left Petrograd, he appointed Ivanov and Snored to be the leaders of the church and movement. When he wrote his life story a few years later he mentioned that news had reached him that the church in Leningrad had grown to about 1,000 and that Ivanov and Snored “were holding onto the truth in Leningrad.” He also mentioned that many of the saints had emigrated to South America, where they were spreading the Oneness message.

REPRESSION, PERSECUTION AND SURVIVAL

One year after Andrew Urshan preached in Petrograd (Leningrad, St. Petersburg), the Bolshevik coup brought the Communist Party to power in the nation. For the first decade of Communist rule, evangelicals, including Pentecostals, had freedom to preach and promote their message throughout the nation. But the government took severe repressive measures against evangelicals beginning in 1928. The next year, in 1929, the Soviet government passed a set of laws that essentially made the practice of religion a crime. The government had set out to eradicate all religions, including Pentecostalism, in the Soviet Union.

Using the laws passed in 1929, the Communist government imprisoned thousands of evangelical believers, including Oneness Pentecostals. It was a crime to print or distribute religious literature, to meet for religious service, to teach one’s children about God, and to witness about God to others. Christians were relocated to work on collective farms, in factories, and in labor camps. Most if not all the pastors of Jesus Name churches were sent to prisons or to work in labor camps. If and when they were released from prison or labor camps, they were soon arrested and imprisoned again. Many of them disappeared in prison, and the authorities would not tell their families what happened to them.

Still Pentecostals and other evangelicals refused to bow to the godless demands of the government, even if it meant prison and death. They went underground, meeting secretly in homes. They soon lost communication with other Pentecostals, not only those in other cities but also many in their own communities. They took the worst persecution Communism had to give, and they survived by God’s grace to see the collapse of this enemy of the work of God.

RUSSIAN ONENESS PENTECOSTALISM TODAY

During the years of repression, the Jesus Name people in the West lost contact with their brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union. After the changes that began in Russia in 1986, the United Pentecostal Church heard of a Jesus Name church in Leningrad. Our missionaries visited the congregation in 1988. Since that time our missionaries, officials, and other ministers have visited churches in Leningrad, Moscow, Brest, Minsk, Odessa, and Tallinn.

During June 1991, General Superintendent Nathaniel A. Urshan, who is the son of Andrew D. Urshan, Regional Field Supervisor Robert Rodenbush, Missionary Harold Kinney, and Editor in Chief J. L. Hall visited Leningrad and Moscow. They met in session with ministers and leaders from churches across the Soviet Union. Brother Urshan preached to the churches in Leningrad and Moscow and at a crusade service held at a civic auditorium in Leningrad. The information we have received indicates that there are at least eighty Jesus Name churches and groups in the Soviet Union.

Brother and Sister Dmitri Shatrov, pastor of the church in Leningrad, attended the 1990 Pentecostal World Conference in Amsterdam. He and his wife also attended the General Conference of the United Pentecostal Church, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, during October 1991. Pastor Shatrov is working to unite the ministers and churches in the Soviet Union into an organization.

Fellowship with the Oneness Pentecostal believers in the Soviet Union is being restored, but the task of assisting them has only begun. The United Pentecostal Church has sent 19,000 Bibles to the churches in the Soviet Union.

Some small offerings have also been given to churches for specific needs. We are in the process of translating books, pamphlets, and tracts into the Russian language for distribution among the Russian churches. Our missionaries have participated in ministerial seminars and arranged for North American ministers to preach in Russian churches.

Our assistance, however, must be strengthened and expanded quickly if we are to meet the critical needs of people in Oneness Pentecostal churches and assist them in their efforts to reach the tens of thousands of spiritually hungry people in the Soviet Union. They will need finances to purchase church property, printing equipment, and evangelism tools, and to publish an official periodical. But basic to all we must do to help them, we need to pray and encourage them in the Lord as they emerge from the dark, repressive shadows of godless communism to evangelize the cities, towns, and communities in their nation.

References

Urshan, Andrew David. The Life of Andrew Bar David Urshan. Portland, Oregon: Apostolic Book Publishers, 1967.
Hollenweger, Walter T. The Pentecostals. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972.
Klibanov, A. I. History oy Religious Sectarianism in Aussia (1860s-1917). New York: Pergamon Press, 1982.
Fletcher, William C. Soviet Charismatics: The Pentecostals in the USSR. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1985.
Durasoff, Steve. The Aussian Protestants: Euangellca!s irt the Soviet Union: 1944-1964. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1969.
Sawatsky, Walter. Soviet Evangelicals Since World War II. Kitchener, Ont.: Herald Press, 1981.

This article is from the PENTECOSTAL HERALD, November 1991, and December 1991 edition. It was written by J.L. Hall editor in chief. This material is copyrighted and may be used for study purposes only.

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