Russia Table of Contents
Article 14 of the 1993 constitution stipulates that "the Russian Federation is a secular state. No religion may be established as the state religion or a compulsory religion. Religious associations are separated from the state and are equal before the law." However, such a constitutional guarantee existed even during the Stalinist era, when religious oppression was at its worst. In the 1990s, the Russian citizenry has shown that the traditional, deeply felt linkage between Russian Orthodoxy and the Russian state remains intact. That linkage has a palpable effect on Russian secular attitudes toward religious minorities, and hence on the degree to which the new constitutional guarantee of religious liberty is honored.
Even before the demise of the Soviet Union, the new openness of Russian society had attracted religious activists of many persuasions from all over the world. In Moscow evangelists and missionaries filled the airwaves and the streets. Notable among them were German Lutherans, a Roman Catholic missionary society, Swiss Protestant church groups, the Quakers, the Salvation Army, and the Sisters of Charity, a Roman Catholic order of nuns headed by Mother Teresa. Also present were members of such groups as the Hare Krishnas, the Unification Church, and the Church of Scientology.
The activity of such groups, which paralleled Russia's new enthusiasm for all things Western in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had begun to wane by 1994. However, it stimulated a strong reaction among conservative political and religious groups. In November 1992, the influential conservative wing of the Russian parliament reacted to the influx of non-Russian religious activists by proposing the creation of a so-called Experts' Consultative Council of church representatives and government officials. That body would have had the power to tighten the requirements for registration of a religious group or missionary activity.
After a flurry of criticism from international human rights and religious groups, President Yeltsin failed to sign the consultative council bill, which died in the fall of 1993. After a new parliament convened, additional versions of the bill appeared. In mid-1996 a somewhat milder bill requiring registration of foreign missionary groups was passed by parliament. Meanwhile, some eighteen jurisdictions in the federation passed a variety of bills restricting missionary activity or requiring registration. Non-Orthodox religious groups also found that the purchase of land and the rental of building space were blocked increasingly by local authorities.
In the 1990s, the Russian Orthodox hierarchy's position on the issue of religious freedom has been muted but negative in many respects, as church officials have seen themselves defending Russian cultural values from Western ideas. Patriarch Aleksiy lent his support to the restrictive legislation as it was being debated in 1993, and Western observers saw an emerging alliance between the Orthodox Church and the nationalist factions in Russian politics. In another indication of its attitude toward the proliferation of "foreign" religious activity in Russia, the hierarchy has made little active effort to establish contacts with new foreign religious groups or with existing groups, and experts see scant hope that an ecumenical council of churches will be established in the near future. In October 1995, the Orthodox Church's governing Holy Synod refused to participate in a congress of Orthodox hierarchs because the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople had recognized the Orthodox community in Estonia and an autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
In 1995 the Yeltsin administration formed a consultative body called the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations, which included representatives from most of the major denominations. On the council, the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and Islamic organizations have two members each, with one representative each for Buddhist, Jewish, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-Day Adventist representatives. Council decisions have only the status of recommendations to the government.
The Soviet Union was home to large numbers of Christians who were not followers of the Russian Orthodox Church. Several other churches had numerous adherents, including the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (also called the Armenian Orthodox Church), and the Ukrainian and Belorussian autocephalous Orthodox churches, which, like the Russian Orthodox Church, were rooted in Byzantine rather than Roman Christianity. All of these faiths likewise endured persecution by the Soviet state. A large number of Roman Catholics and Protestants of various denominations also resided in the Soviet Union. But, because the majority of non-Orthodox Christians were concentrated in the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the representation of non-Russian Orthodox groups in post-Soviet Russia is much less than it was in the Soviet Union.
The first West European Protestants in Russia were German Mennonites who arrived in the second half of the seventeenth century. Throughout the twentieth century, the Baptists have been by far the most active and numerous Protestant group. During the repressive 1960s, enthusiastic Baptist groups attracted numerous young Russians away from the official Komsomol, and the fervor of the Baptists in a nominally atheist society earned them admiration even among communist officials. The number of Protestants in the Soviet Union was estimated at 5 million in 1980; in 1993 an estimated 3,000 Baptist communities were active under the administration of the Eurasian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Baptist Christians. Within that structure, the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches includes about 1,000 communities and supports two missionary groups and one publication. Headquarters is in Moscow. The Council of Churches of Evangelical Baptist Christians was founded in 1961 as a splinter group from what was then the Union of Evangelical Baptist Christian Churches; it existed illegally in Russia until 1988 and is not registered officially as a religious group. In the mid-1990s, the council included 230 communities.
Other Protestant groups in Russia have far fewer members than the Baptists. The Union of Evangelical Christian Churches was founded in 1992 to continue the tradition of the Union of Evangelical Christians, which had been founded in Russia in 1909 and then banned under communist rule. Pentecostals first became active in Russia in the early twentieth century. In 1945 one faction reunited with the main Baptist church; then in 1991 the remaining group formed the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith Pentecostal, which issues several publications and supports missions.
The Seventh-Day Adventists formed a Russian union in 1909, despite active government opposition. The church structure was largely destroyed during the Soviet period. Then, after World War II, the All-Union League of Seventh-Day Adventists was established. The union was inactive from 1960 until 1990, when it was included in the international General Assembly of Adventists. About 600 communities were active in the mid-1990s, with publications, one seminary, one religious school, and a radio broadcast center.
The Jehovah's Witnesses appeared in Russia in 1939; their center in St. Petersburg and their missionary work in Russia are supported by the Jehovah's Witnesses Center in Brooklyn, New York. Lutheranism appeared in Russia in the seventeenth century; in the mid-1990s, only a few churches were active. A few groups of Methodists, Presbyterians, Mormons, and Evangelical Reformed believers also are active in Russia.
The size of the Roman Catholic population of Russia has varied greatly according to the territorial extent of the country. For example, after the partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, large numbers of Polish Catholics became subjects of the Russian Empire. Accordingly, from the eighteenth century until 1917 a papal legate, or nuncio, represented the Vatican in St. Petersburg. A Roman Catholic academy operated in St. Petersburg, and a mission was established in Astrakhan'. After World War II, the absorption of the Baltic states added many Catholics to the Soviet Union's population, but relatively few of those individuals entered the Russian Republic. In 1993 twenty-nine Roman Catholic dioceses were active in the Russian Federation, with those in the European sector administered from Moscow and those in the Asian sector from Novosibirsk.
The 1990 establishment of new Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia has caused tension with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. The two churches have an understanding that neither will proselytize in the "territory" of the other, so representatives of the patriarch have condemned expanding Catholic influence as an unwelcome Western intrusion.
Data as of July 1996
Russia Table of Contents