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Billy Graham preaches in Soviet church

By WALTER WISNIEWSKI

MOSCOW -- The Rev. Billy Graham preached in the Soviet Union for the first time Sunday, condemning the evils of sin and the threat of nuclear war but avoiding any mention of the issue of religious freedom in the U.S.S.R.

'Khristos voskres' -- 'He is risen' -- Graham greeted the congregation in the packed Moscow Baptist Church, fullfilling a pledge to learn the phrase in the native language of the 2,000 believers who began arriving before 5:30 a.m. for his 8 a.m. appearance.

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'Indeed He is risen,' the electrified congregation responded in unison.

'The greatest contribution you can make to world peace is to live every day for Jesus Christ,' Graham told the congregation.

At least three banners apparently protesting the Soviets' denial of religious liberties were displayed in the church. Graham told reporters later he saw one of the signs, 'but didn't have a chance to read it.'

Reporters who saw the banners, however, said they were unfurled only after Graham finished his sermon and was preparing to leave the church.

A blue-and-white cloth banner saying, 'We have more than 150 prisoners for the work of the gospel,' was draped by a woman over the railing of the choir loft at the Moscow Baptist Church as Graham finished speaking. She appeared to have been detained as the congregation was leaving, but her fate was uncertain.

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The Tass news agency later refused to transmit a UPI photograph showing the banner.

Two other banners were displayed for a few seconds before security guards in the crowd pulled them down.

The audience for the early morning service appeared to be hand-picked. Special passes were necessary for all who entered.

Many in the congregation had only a vague idea who Billy Graham really was. But his forceful style of speaking drew praise. His words were translated into Russian by the English-speaking senior pastor of the Baptist congregation, Mikhail Zidkov, with almost as much fervor as Graham had displayed.

'What's the worst sickness in the world?' Graham asked the congregation. 'Is it cancer? Is it heart disease?

'No,' he declared. 'It is sin. Sin is a disease of the human heart. It is the root cause of all problems of the world. That is why Jesus said, 'you must be born again.''

About 300 people, some of whom traveled more than 1,000 miles hoping for a glimpse of Graham, were kept behind metal barricades half a block from the church. Plainclothes KGB agents prevented Western correspondents from photographing them as they sang hymns.

A message was passed to Graham about the waiting crowd, but his motorcade turned in the opposite direction as it left the church, already late for his next appearance at the golden-domed Russian Orthodox Yelokhovsky Cathedral.

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Graham told reporters during a visit later to the tomb of the Soviet unknown soldier at the Kremlin that he had no time to visit unofficial groups such as religious dissidents during his week in Moscow because his Russian hosts 'have got my time blocked out hour by hour.'

The schedule of Graham's activities distributed by his staff, however, showed he had no events scheduled Tuesday night, Wednesday morning or all day Thursday, when he was expected to leave Moscow.

Graham repeated his plea for nuclear arms control at the cathedral, where he appeared alongside dozens of other clergymen from around the world invited to attend this week's conference on 'Religious Workers for Saving the Sacred Gift of Life from Nuclear Catastrophe.'

He noted Sunday was 'Victory Day,' the public holiday celebrating the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

'... May God grant that we will never have another war like that.'

Commenting on the changes in the world since 1945, he said, 'At that time the United States and Russia -- the Soviet Union -- were allies. Now we have another common enemy -- the possibility of a nuclear holocaust.'

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