June 27, 2012

No Security Clearance to Heaven

Gaining entry into Moscow’s Petrovsky Palace on a recent evening was like penetrating a fortress.

Police cars and officers surrounded the palace, which was built in the late eighteenth century on orders of Catherine the Great. Inside, dark-suited security officials wearing shiny black shoes walked around the opulent rooms. Reporters were directed to a separate entrance with a metal detector and X-ray machine.

We had been warned in advance about the security rules for the invitation-only gathering between Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin and a group of foreign businesspeople:

  • Don’t forget your passport.
  • For those arriving by car, notify organizers in advance with the license plate number and the color of the vehicle.
  • Russians: Alert organizers about your patronymic,* or you won’t get past security.
  • Reporters: Expect the process of clearing security to take 75 minutes, so show up early.

“The security here is tougher than it was for Vice President Joe Biden,” an acquaintance told me as we waited for the mayor to arrive. My acquaintance knew what he was talking about: he had helped organize both the mayor’s event and Biden’s speech to the same group of businesspeople in Moscow in March 2011.

2012 1518 page17Only guests with special name tags were allowed into the main hall on the palace’s second floor for a speech by the mayor. The audience of about 140 people who got name tags included U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and executives from such companies as Abbott Laboratories, Microsoft, and John Deere. They sat on ornate blue-gray cushioned chairs below a magnificent domed ceiling.

I was fortunate to receive a name tag, which, most important, also granted entrance to a private two-hour reception after the speech. There guests could meet informally with the mayor and discuss their ideas and concerns. But the reporter who arrived with me for the event was relegated to a room on the first floor with the other journalists, where they watched the mayor’s speech on two large flat-screen television sets mounted on a wall. Even though they had cleared security, they could get nowhere near the mayor.

But no one complained. It was a privilege to gain entry to the important event in the palace—which, incidentally, briefly housed the general headquarters of French emperor Napoleon before he fled Moscow in 1812.

The tight security raised numerous barriers between the mayor and me, making it difficult to reach him. I was allowed to approach the mayor only on his terms: with a passport, an invitation, and a name tag.

But God, who is seated in a palace whose beauty exceeds imagination, puts no barriers between Himself and us. The only barriers are those raised by me—when I sin. But even then we don’t need a passport or our names on a VIP list to gain access to God. Indeed, we can walk right up to His throne with confidence that no bodyguards will block us and that we will have His undivided attention. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

It may be difficult to catch the ear of the mayor of Moscow, but we always have the full attention of the King of the universe.

* Every Russian has a patronymic derived from his or her father’s first name. For example, if the name of Sergei Ivanov’s father is Andrei, Sergei’s patronymic is Andriyevich and his full name is Sergei Andriyevich Ivanov.

Andrew Mc Chesney is a journalist in Russia.  This article was published June 28, 2012.