Mikhail P. Kulakov Sr., the first president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's Euro-Asia region, and a pioneering Adventist leader who endured imprisonment in the former Soviet Union for his faith, died of brain cancer February 10 at his home in Highland, California. He was 83.
Once exiled as an enemy of the state, Kulakov in the 1980s was able to openly write in leading national Soviet publications on freedom of conscience, winning him respect from fellow believers, dissidents and human rights activists. He later helped to establish the country's first Adventist theological seminary.
"He taught us to dream big dreams, not to be afraid of trials and challenges," said his son Mikhail Kulakov Jr., who in Washington, D.C. coordinates the Russia-based Bible Translation Institute his father founded.
In his condolences to the Kulakov family, Pastor Jan Paulsen, Adventist world church president, referred to Kulakov as "a highly valued colleague of mine in the service of our church. We are honored to have had Pastor Kulakov serve the church in such an outstanding manner. He will long be remembered for that."
Paulsen noted that among the notable aspects of Kulakov's ministry is the fact that he served as the first president of the Euro-Asia Division, a pioneer Adventist leader in the former Soviet Union. "I am indeed grateful for Pastor Kulakov's influence in establishing the Adventist Theological Seminary in Zaokski. His legacy will be felt for many years to come," Paulsen said.
Born in Leningrad in 1927 to the family of an Adventist minister, who was laboring for conscience amidst state-enforced atheism, Kulakov endured persecution, relocation, and the periodic arrest of his father. After becoming the leader of underground worship services he, too, was arrested, and in 1945 sentenced to prison and hard labor. Upon his release in 1951, he was exiled to Kazakhstan.
Following his release in 1953, after the death of Stalin, Kulakov began an underground journal for ministers and established unofficial ministerial training courses. Throughout the next two decades, Kulakov endured several arrests on charges of defying the communist government, his son Peter said.
In 1990, Kulakov became the first president of the newly established Euro-Asia Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with headquarters in Moscow, a position he held until 1992. The same year, he founded the Russian chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association and as its first secretary advocated for the freedom of conscience.
Kulakov led in establishing the Zaokski Adventist Theological Seminary, near Tula, in 1988. He also established the Bible Translation Institute at Zaokski.
In 2003, the institute published a modern-day Russian translation of the Bible, which is heralded today as the top translation in Russia, his son, Peter Kulakov, an Atlanta-based minister, said by phone. The first five books of the Old Testament rolled off the institute's press on February 10, the day of his death, Peter Kulakov said.
"We have no doubt that this legacy will bring many people to salvation," Peter Kulakov said. "He was one to never quit."
Kulakov's memoirs were published in the 2008 book Though the Heavens Fall [Review and Herald Publishing Association].
He is survived by his wife, Anna, six children, 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.