Does Vladimir Putin think he’s Santa Claus? He’s just petitioned the United Nations for exclusive economic control over 463,000 square miles of the Arctic, an area nearly twice as large as the state of Texas. The area includes the North Pole, and may hold valuable deposits of oil and gas. It is becoming more accessible as Arctic ice melts at unprecedented rates.
The U.N. rejected a similar claim in 2002. This time, Putin is doing all he can, including sending a submarine to collect scientific evidence. The sub has planted a Russian flag on the sea floor beneath the North Pole.
The home of Santa Claus is not the only victim of Russian expansionism. Putin forcibly annexed Crimea last year. His armies threaten Ukraine and other eastern European nations. And his regime is persecuting Christians.
Between 12 and 20 million believers were martyred by the U.S.S.R. When the Soviet Union ended, religious freedom was supposed to be expanded. However, in recent years a number of churches have been expelled from their property by government order. A Christian pastor was recently jailed for preaching in public. Christians have been fined for holding Bible studies. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, believers there have faced raids, fines, seizure of literature, and confiscation of worship sites.
When the Chinese Communist Party took over in 1949, Christianity was in severe decline. Today, Christians in China total more than 100 million, outnumbering the Communists. At current rates, China will become the most populous Christian nation in 15 years.
The number of Russians who do not identify with any church has fallen in recent decades from 61 percent to 18 percent. This figure is lower than in America, where 22 percent are unaffiliated with a church.
When I was in Oxford recently, our group visited the Martyr’s Monument. The spire commemorates Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer, church leaders who were executed by Queen Mary for their Protestant convictions.
On October 16, 1555, Ridley and Latimer were burned alive; Cranmer was martyred the next year. As they were being lashed to the stake, Latimer said to Ridley, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out.” He was right. When Elizabeth came to the throne, she returned the Church of England to the convictions for which Ridley and Latimer gave their lives. And so it is still today.
Later that week, our group visited the Church of St. Edward in Cambridge, where the first Protestant sermon was preached in England. There we found Ridley’s pulpit, used by the famous martyr. And we noticed a single candle burning before the altar. A church official explained that it stays lit constantly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They call it “Ridley’s candle.” And they keep it lit to show that Hugh Latimer was right: they did light a candle that day that, by God’s grace, has never gone out.
What price will you pay to serve Jesus today?