At trial’s end, in a Russian court, Konstantin Bazhenov’s turn at last came to make his closing statement.
He “hardly talked about the legal aspects of the persecution and emphasized his spiritual side. ‘It is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil ones,’ he quoted the words of Jesus Christ. Then he briefly talked about what Jehovah's Witnesses believe in and how they live, and in the end he read a poem of his own composition.”
Yes. This is exactly what you do. The law is so convoluted that nobody can get their heads around it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not banned, but only their organization is? People cannot get their heads around it. President Putin says words of support, yet it makes no difference? People cannot get their heads around it. Forget those things and just give a witness to all present, a witness that embodies Christian qualities of joy even under persecution, and a determination to serve God under any circumstances.
Konstantin starts with wanting “to recall one interesting aphorism, which is quite well-known: ‘While the truth was on my shoes, the lie managed to get around half the world.’ This aphorism emphasizes that sometimes some inaccurate data, false information spread very quickly, and the truth remains somewhere in the backyards,” and he applies it to the misinformation spread about Jehovah's Witnesses. Mark Twain’s version of this saying (or is this a version of his?) is: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”
Be that as it may, he is very glad that during court hearings “the truth nevertheless sounded,” albeit with “delay,” but it did. He thanks his God Jehovah “that he trusts [him] to represent His interests in court, that He helped, gave strength, wisdom to understand the legal nuances.”
Represent His interests he does, fully getting the sense of Jesus’ words: People “will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony.” (Luke 21:12-13)
He has Revelation 2:10 down pat: “Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” He is a fanatic to those who have discarded God, and even to some of those who have not. But he is the very embodiment of Jesus’ words to endure (with joy) under persecution, and he goes on to explain how that can be.
“Everyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12) he cites. “This is like the law of physics, so I am not personally surprised that this is happening. Maybe a little upset. But the fact is that persecution is inevitable. They were in the 1st century, and they are now. It convinces me even more that I am on the right track and gives me confidence.”
He uses that confidence to thank participants. He thanks his wife, first of all, but also the judge for “carefully listening to us and trying to understand the essence of the issue.” He thanks the investigator “for permitting visits with his wife, as well as a request for our release from custody. It was a gift for my wife and I.” He thanks his lawyers, co-defendants, friends who came for support, and even the prosecutor “for listening carefully and outlining the main thoughts.” Why throw stones? Be like the early Christians.
“If according to the verdict of the court, I have to go through the punishment of imprisonment, [he does, said the court] then I am sure that this will strengthen my faith.” He has already been there almost a year in pre-trial detention, and has found that “neither high walls, nor bars, nor barbed wire can prevent the Holy Spirit from penetrating and giving support. There are such words in the Bible: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ It may seem at first glance: well, how, in prison is freedom? What kind of freedom is there? But in fact, for example, freedom from fear, freedom from sinful deeds, freedom from bad habits, freedom from foul language, from envy, greed, freedom from remorse, this freedom can be regardless of where we are.”
“For, if you please the will of God, it is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil,” he cites at 1 Peter 3:14-17. “Indeed, I am happy that I do not suffer for crimes, that is, I did not steal, I was not a mortgagee, I did not rape anyone, I did not blackmail, I did not cheat, but they accuse me. I suffer for worshiping God.”
“And it does not surprise me that such events occur, but sometimes it surprises others. For example, when I was in a pre-trial detention center, many prisoners said: ‘We are here for crimes.’ That is, scammers, hijackers, mortgages, counterfeiters - there are many articles with whom I sat. And they said: ‘We really did something. But what are you doing here?’ And they were surprised. Moreover, in my case there are no victims. Indeed, I have a clear conscience before God and before people.”
“If I find myself in a colony, there also live people who need to learn the truth from the Bible about God, about his plan for the earth and people. This is a huge field for activity. If this happens, I will consider that Jehovah found there sincere people whom I should help to learn the biblical message. I see no other reasons. Psalm 50, verse 15 says: ‘I will teach the wicked in your ways, and the wicked will turn to you.’ The psalmist David wanted to help others so that they would not take the slippery slope. So, I also have a desire to help others turn from their lawless deeds, their criminal way of life, so that they turn to God. The fact is that the Word of God, the Bible, has tremendous power to influence people for the better. Thanks to the Bible, people get rid of bad habits and criminal lifestyle. And it benefits both themselves and the state, because, in fact, they become useful members of society. Of course, I do not want to lose my freedom, but if at least one criminal cleansed of the criminal past, it means that I was not in vain hurt.”
He then launches into what can only be described as his “Adam to Armageddon sermon”—his talk touching on basic Witness beliefs regarding the:
- theme of God
- authority of the Bible
- role of Jesus Christ
- Kingdom of God
- Christ’s ransom
- reason for God’s permission of evil and suffering
- what happens at death
- how to find happiness as a family
- our worship of God
- Christian unity
- our behavior as Christians
- our relationships to others
Well, why not? He does have a captive audience, after all, and they made themselves captive—specifically convening to pass judgment upon him. Trust me on this: nobody said on their drive home, “That fellow doesn’t know his Bible very well.” We live by the Bible —JWs do. We make no apology for it. If we experience adversity, make it clear that it is due to a dislike of what the Bible says.
Commendably, the Russian court participants did not stone him to death, as the Sanhedrin did with Stephen when he pulled such a stunt. They just put him on the prison bus and off to a new assignment. I love his flexibility. I pray that I can match it should my turn come. We can’t necessarily choose what our new assignment will be or what hardships it may entail.
(No Bible citations in this post are taken from the New World Translation. This is because in Russia that book has been declared not a Bible at all—as that country discredits itself before educated persons the world over who know very well that it is. No, that translation is actually an extremist work, the High Court maintains, so it cannot be quoted. Where I, and not Konstantin, have inserted verses, they are from the New American Bible - Revised Edition, the “house” Bible for “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.” That book itself comes in “safe” and “unsafe” versions—identical except the unsafe version quotes occasionally from Watchtower publications, and the safe version does not. The version linked to above is the “safe” version—you can read it without going to the hoosegow, at least, until the entire work is declared extremist, if that hasn’t happened already.