The Soviet Union appears to be easing import restrictions on a basic Western commodity - the Bible. A gift of 100,000 Bibles, the largest single shipment of its kind, is to be sent to the Soviet Union early next year, according to the American Bible Society.
The previous record single shipment of Bibles to the Soviet Union was a gift of 25,000 Russian Bibles and 5,000 concordances to Baptists in Moscow in 1978.
Soviet acceptance of the Bible shipments ``leads one to wonder if fundamental and official changes about access to the Bible are being made in the Soviet Union,'' says the Rev. John Erickson, the society's general-secretary.
The Bibles, 98,000 in Russian and 2,000 in Ukrainian, are scheduled to be delivered to the Moscow-based All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in four installments between January and April 1988.
The books would begin to arrive as Soviet Christians celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity in Russia. The All-Union Council received permission to import the Bibles after months of negotiations with the Soviet Union's Council of Religious Affairs.
The Rev. Alexei Bichkov, the All-Union's general secretary, said that he and his colleagues were ``unbelievably happy'' about permission to receive the Bibles and ``profusely thanked'' the United Bible Societies (UBS) for making the gift possible, according to John Duguid, a spokesman for the American Bible Society.
UBS is an international agency that the American Bible Society helped organize 41 years ago.
``People throughout Eastern Europe tell us of a great need for the Word of God,'' Mr. Erickson said. ``As Bible societies, it is our mission to try to meet those needs, working through official channels.''
Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia have produced and distributed well over 1 million copies of the Scriptures in national and minority languages in the past decade on paper supplied by UBS. In East Germany, a printing plant, paid for by UBS, has an annual output of 200,000 Bibles and Testaments.
UBS sent publishing materials to Poland and Hungary for local Bible production.
Poland used the paper to print 50,000 copies of the New Testament in Polish, with color pictures of the Holy Land, the ninth such printing since 1978, for a total of 300,000 copies.