Photo: "Skellig Michael" Copyright Irish Tourist Board.

 

 "Aida of Leningrad"

Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."

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By Dan Wooding
Founder: ASSIST News Service

This Russian heroine is still serving God after two spells in prison for her faith and an extraordinary life of Christian service.

Hero of the Persecuted Church

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (ANS) -- Aida Skripnikova is one of the great heroes of the persecuted church in Russia, yes she has almost been forgotten by the church around the world.

She was known as "Aida of Leningrad” for her exploits on behalf of the suffering believers of the USSR. 

Now aged 66, this charming Baptist believer is still serving the Lord in St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, and some time back she agreed to talk to me about her dramatic life and her battles with the KGB and so I thought it was time for you to become acquainted with her.

Aida was born in 1940 in a small town in western Siberia and she said that she did not know her father as he was arrested when she was just one year old. 

“My mother, who was a Christian, brought up all of us in a Christian spirit, and since our childhood, we knew about God,” she said. “I remember my uncle, a preacher, being arrested together with two other brothers from our secret church. 

When we would meet, we always had someone on guard outside of the place where we met for worship for warn about any danger.”

Aida said that her mother died when she was just 11 years old and she eventually moved with her other brothers and sisters to another town where she received an atheistic schooling.

“My eldest brother moved to Leningrad and, in 1960, I moved here, too and began to work. I lived in a worker's hostel and I wasn't interested in religious questions.

The beginning of her spiritual search...

One day, she said she was walking along the Nevsky Prospect, the main street of the city, with her brother and they came across a “House of Prayer,” and went into the service. 

She also found a bookstore that she hoped would find a Bible, but they didn't have one in stock. “A man who was standing nearby told me that I had the Gospel and he sold it to be for 15 rubles. I told my brother that I had been able to purchase it. 

Shortly afterwards, we found out that my brother had terminal cancer. My brother asked me to go to the ‘House of Prayer’ and find a particular man there as he wanted to see him. 

We found the man, who was older than my brother, and informed him that my brother was in the hospital and he came and visited my brother and I remember he wrote out some verses from the Bible and recited some Bible verses as well.

“We took him home and all of a sudden he started feeling better and so he began going to the services held in a flat. I went with him for four months, but by autumn my brother felt much worse. 

He said, ‘I have prayed that God would give me some time so I could prepare myself for death. He told me one day that he had had a dream in which he saw his mother and she told me tell me the story of the chapter 15 second epistle to the Corinthians and the resurrection of the dead. 

She explained to me what it meant. I then asked her if I would die and she smiled and left me.’ He died shortly afterwards. His name was Viktor and he was 25.”

This event caused Aida to become a regular attendee at this Baptist church and she came to know Christ in the fall of 1961 as a nineteen-year-old girl and immediately knew that she had to share her newfound faith with others. 

So she purchased some postcards with a beautiful picture by Claude Lorain representing a harbor at sunrise, chosen possibly as a symbol of the spiritual sunrise she had discovered, and then wrote a New Year's poem on the reverse side. 

The poem expressed her insight of life and the need to find God. The poem was entitled: “Happy New Year! 1962.”

It read:

Our years fly past
One after another, unnoticed.
Grief and sadness disappear,
They are carried away by life.
This world, the earth, is so transient
Everything in it comes to an end.
Life is important.
Don't be happy-go-lucky!
What answer will you give
your creator?
What awaits you, my friend, beyond the grave?
Answer this question while light remains.
Perhaps tomorrow, before God,
You will appear to give an answer for everything.

Think deeply about this,
For you are not on this earth forever.
Perhaps tomorrow, you will break
Forever your links with this world!
SEEK GOD WHILE HE IS TO BE FOUND.

Aida then took her postcards and stood on the Nevsky Prospect (which is the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York City) and, standing close to the Museum of Atheism, handed out her cards to passersby. 

She was arrested and was tried by a Communist court in April 1962, was sent to prison and exiled from Leningrad and lost her job as a lab assistant.

Aida, who by now had her own Bible, was inspired by reading the fifth chapter of the book of Acts and been struck by what the angel told the apostles after he delivered them from prison, “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.”

“She was arrested again in 1965 and was sent to a labor camp for a year. In 1968 she was arrested again and was sent to a labor camp for three more years,” wrote R. Kent Hughes in his book, Acts: The Church Afire, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996], 86-87).

Aida took note of how the apostles were arrested, tried, and flogged, but on their release they went right back to the temple courts and “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

Postage stamp messages and chocolate cake

Once she was free following her first imprisonment, Aida began a life that was similar to James Bond. She would pass out information on the trials of believers and also receive Scriptures from contacts in the West. 

“We would send short messages back and forth written on the back of a large postage stamp,” she said. “When my contact received the postcard, he would steam off the stamp and read the message, which was usually about the next delivery.

Brother Andrew 

When he came, I would give him information on various trials and he would bring Scriptures. We often met in the square outside the Winter Palace and then would go somewhere quiet for the Bibles to be passed to me.” One message was even brought in for her in a chocolate cake.

I first heard about Aida from Brother Andrew, the author of “God’s Smuggler” and founder of Open Doors, who would carry two pictures of Aida Skripnikova -- before and after her arrest.   ______________________

Image: The Prayer Foundation logo (with white Celtic cross on a green shield).

Photo: of "Aida of Leningrad".       Aida before her two imprisonments.

Arrested On Easter

The first picture showed her as a beautiful and vivacious young lady in 1968, the second showed her looking much older and haggard after serving three years for the “crime” of distributing, on a Leningrad street, invitations to attend a church meeting.

She told of her arrest at Easter. “I wanted to go to the service on the Thursday,” she said. “It was to be held in a private flat and I did not know that they would be watching the house. I went to the service and when I was coming back from the service, I was standing at the tram stop and some people seemed to me to be suspicious, but I didn't pay much attention to them.

“I knew that some people were coming from Sweden and I had a bag with me to get their Bibles. I was very peaceful and calm and went home. The next morning, I went shopping to buy some milk and in the street a man came to me, an investigator, and there were police, and I was told, ‘You are arrested.’ 

Opposite that place was a police station and so I acted very calmly, at least on the surface. On the face of this officer, there was some triumph written. We entered the room and he showed me the file of the whole case and he showed me all the papers, which had my file. 

He said, ‘Aida, we know what you were doing and we were not sitting doing nothing, so this is the case on you.’ He also showed me the order for my arrest.’ They said they would search my home and there was a bag with Christian magazines and I was able to hide it before he could find it. 

I was arrested on 12th April 1968 and some people were due to come on the 15th from Sweden.

A message on the cell wall

I was locked in the cell of the police station. I was confused and I wondered if God didn't want me to continue my work. I tried to pray, but I couldn't. 

All of a sudden, I looked at the wall and saw written there in black ink, ‘The ways of the Lord are not understood.’ I discovered that it had been written previously there by one of our sisters had been in that cell for teaching the Bible to children. To me it was like the answer from God.

“When the team from Sweden came, one of my girlfriends and one of the brothers went to meet them and they informed them that I had been arrested and had already been sent to the jail. 

This officer visited me practically every day. I felt they were in a great hurry with my case. All of a sudden, my officer disappeared and nobody came. 

The people from Sweden sent a message by telegram to the jurisdiction in Moscow and the people at the jail were embarrassed at this and they decided that our contacts were so well organized and they thought that because the foreigners would watch, they decided to drop some of the items from my case. 

Usually my kind of case are ideological ones and the authorities give all kinds of false information, and then in a month another officer came. There was no evil triumph on his face. He said he was investigating the case of my pastor. ‘I like him very much,’ he said.”

She said that when he trial came about and because the foreigners were monitoring it, they allowed Aida to speak as long as she wanted to in her defense. I was able to tell the court that it was true that there was persecution in the USSR and they didn't interrupt me.

After her sentence, Aida was thrilled to discover that the contacts with the Bible couriers from the West did not stop, but more people from the church became involved.

She then spoke about her life in prison and then a labor camp, the second time around. “I was in the prison for six months and then I was sent to a labor camp in Moldavia,” she said. 

“The conditions there were very hard, the food was very bad. We had to work there doing sewing. I was not depressed or afraid. Spiritually, I was uplifted. Later I was given a gospel to read and I spoke about Jesus with the other prisoners. 

Everybody there knew that I was Christian and the prisoners treated me very well. They knew that I wouldn't inform on them. They trusted me. When I was set free, it was in 1971, and later in two years the conditions in the camp were worse. In my last year, the conditions got worse concerning the feeding and the camps became more crowded.

“When I returned to St. Petersburg, I rejoiced that the borders seemed to be open wide and the spiritual literature was coming to Russia. I was 30 already and I did not marry. 

Then I found out that an underground printing house has been opened and so the Christian literature and books were being printed in large numbers. Also Bibles and New Testaments were still being brought in from the West.

Transcript of her trial was smuggled out to the West wrapped around the body of a Westerner

Still, her Swedish contacts were faithful and a transcript of the court proceedings against Aida written painstakingly on dozens of strips of linen sheet, and wrapped around the body of a Swedish Christian to be taken undetected out of the Soviet Union, translated and published by Keston College in England. Soon the world knew of her situation.

She said that in 1975, the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Agreement and pledged that it would honor religious freedom. This stimulated “self-monitoring,” which led to another wave of arrests and consequent protests. 

In 1976 Fr. Gleb Yakunin set up the “Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights” and systematically transmitted new information from all areas and denominations to Christian human rights groups in the West.

"Many Christians in the USSR went through the same trials as I did.”

I concluded my interview with her in St. Petersburg by asking Aida if she thought that all the suffering she had endured had been worthwhile?

“Of course it was,” she said firmly. “The next time you come, I will share more with you and I will also tell you about our church. Our pastor was in prison and many Christians in the USSR went through the same trials as I did.”

This extraordinary lady is still serving the Lord in St. Petersburg and her early life story was told in the book “Aida of Leningrad: the story of Aida Skripnikova”; edited by Xenia Howard-Johnston and Michael Bourdeaux and published in the UK by Mowbrays, [1972].

Maybe it is time now for a follow-up book to be written.

 You may republish this story with proper attribution: By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

  Photo: of our actual Celtic Cross Shield (TM).  The Prayer Foundation Logo and Trademark.  Phot Copyright 2007 S.G.P.  All Rights Reserved. ________________________________

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 Photo of "Skellig Michael" Copyright Irish Tourist Board. 

(Except Text by Dan Wooding) Copyright © 2007 S.G.P. All rights reserved.  

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