Religion in Russia is reviving, but the pattern of resurgence is uneven, particularly for the Russian Orthodox Church.
These is one of the conclusions of an exhaustive survey of religion in Russia in the current issue of the journal Religion, State and Society (March). The most noticeable trend throughout the issue is the checkered condition of Russian Orthodoxy In the Russian heartland, Siberia, as well as major cities such as Moscow, Orthodoxy is increasingly bound up with nationalism, which usually spells serious problems in outreach. Researcher Felix Corley looks at four Russian heartland provinces and finds a common pattern of an authoritarian bishop gaining power and seeking to control and increase church finances while closing parishes and new programs of outreach.
At the same time, these church officials tend to work with politicians in restricting most other faiths from operating in their regions and, in turn, draw public funds for themselves. The situation is markedly different in northern Russia, where innovation seems to be accepted. Orthodox priests and bishops support outreach — such as an Orthodox scouting program — and intellectual and social programs involving the laity.
There is cooperation between Orthodox and other Christians. Unlike other regions, the dioceses do not receive subsidies from the government, and, in turn, there is little pressure or restrictions on non-Orthodox religions. Sirgei Filatov and Roman Lunkin conclude that the more decentralized and democratic culture of the Russian north has encouraged a more open attitude among the Orthodox.
Another article by Filatov with Lyudmila Vorontsova finds that attempts by the Vatican to encourage only “ethnic Catholics” (the Polish, for instance) to attend parishes in Russia in the hopes of improving relations with the Orthodox are backfiring. In fact, most of the Latin rite Catholic churches are full of young intellectual Russians who value the culture and freedom of Western civilization they find in these churches. While the Orthodox hierarchy oppose such a Catholic presence and expansion, the differences between the two communions are downplayed by most laity.
The Protestant situation in Russia has changed the most in recent years, according to Filatov. The older associations of Baptists and Pentecostals have given way to new fast-growing bodies influenced by Western missionaries, such as New Generation and the Vineyard. These groups have been in the forefront of creating new social ministries and even political initiatives. The same growth is evident in Lutheranism, particularly its more conservative strains. But there is also a new niche for the more liberal Lutherans and U.S.-based United Methodists (UM).
Methodist churches based on informality (where participants “discuss the Bible, drink tea together and sing hymns they have composed”) and moderate-to-liberal social views have spread throughout Russia. Members say they value the “spirit of freedom” in the UM, as seen in its liberal positions on homosexuality (the only Russian church body to take a liberal position on the issue) and women’s ordination.
(Religion, State and Society, Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford OX2 6SH, UK)