Religion in Russia
plays a prominent role in the public and spiritual life
of today's Russia.
The majority of believers belong
to the Orthodox Christian denomination.
Russia adopted Christianity
under Prince Vladimir of Kiev in 988, in a ceremony
patterned on Byzantine rites. Russia's baptism laid the
foundations for the rise of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1448, the Council of the
Russian higher clergy elevated Bishop Iona of Ryazan to
the cathedra of the Metropolitan of Moscow and All
Russia, independently of Constantinople, making the
Russian Orthodox Church autocephalous.
A patriarchal throne in Moscow
was instituted in 1589, with the first Russian patriarch,
Tova, enthroned on January 26.
Nikon, the Patriarch of Moscow
and Russia (1652-1658), stands out among the hierarchs of
the patriarchal period for his vigorous attempts to
modify church rites and amend the church service books in
line with the service practised in Greek churches. His
reforms led to a religious split and emergence of the
so-called Old Belief.
The patriarchate survived in
Russia until the early 18th century. In 1718, Peter the
Great introduced collective control in the Russian
Church. This innovation worked until 1721 only, when
the Ecclesiastical College was transformed into a ruling
Holy Synod, instituted as an administrative body of
church power of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1917, the Local Council of
the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a resolution that
restored patriarchal rule.
After the 1917 upheavals, the
Russian Orthodox Church has traversed a hard and tragic
road. The early years of the Soviet regime were
particularly trying for it. The Land Decree of October
26, 1917, deprived the Church of the bulk of its lands.
The worst hit were the monasteries. In its another
decree, made public on January 26, 1918, the Council of
People's Commissars (the government) separated the church
from the state and school. As a result, all church
organizations lost the powers of legal entity and the
right to own property. To have the decree put into
effect, a special liquidation committee was set up to
evict the monks from their monasteries, many of which
were destroyed, not without acts of vandalism, in which
church utensils and bells were melted down and shrines
containing relics were broken open.
In the late 1980s, with attempts
launched to restructure the country's economic and
political system, major changes were made in the
relationship between the state and the Church in the hope
of revival. The millennium of Christianity in Russia in
1988 was celebrated on a grand scale. In that year, 1,610
new religious communities, most of them of the Orthodox
belief, were registered in the country.
In 1990, a series of laws were
passed on the freedom of religion, under which many of
the existing restrictions were removed from religious
communities, allowing them to step up their activities.
Religion in Russia Today
With nearly 5,000 religious
associations the Russian Orthodox Church accounts for
over a half of the total number registered in Russia.
Next in numbers come Moslem associations, about 3,000,
Baptists, 450, Seventh Day Adventists, 120, Evangelicals,
120, Old Believers, over 200, Roman Catholics, 200,
Krishnaites, 68, Buddhists, 80, Judaists, 50, and Unified
Evangelical Lutherans, 39.
Many churches and monasteries
have been returned to the Church, including the St.
Daniel Monastery, the current seat of the Moscow
Patriarchate, the spiritual and administrative center of
the Russian Orthodox Church.
Some statisticians estimate the
percentage of believers at 40 per cent of the entire
Russian Federation. Close to 9,000 communities belonging
to over forty confessions had been officially registered
in the country.
The majority of religious
Russians are Christians. The country has over 5,000
Russian Orthodox churches. Many are built anew or under
repair on parish and local budgets money.
Among the several more ambitious
projects is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, erected
in Red Square to commemorate the liberation of Moscow by
Minin and Pozharsky's militia, pulled down in 1936, and
recently rebuilt from scratch. The Cathedral of Christ
the Saviour, demolished in 1931, is restored. Patriarch
Aiexis II described its rebirth as "a sublime act of
piety and penitence."
Russia had 150 Roman Catholic
parishes, two theological seminaries and an academy
before the revolution of 1917. All were suppressed in the
Soviet years, and the believers -- ethnic Lithuanians,
Poles and Gennans -- were banished and seattered about
Siberia and Central Asia. 83 communities have reappeared
by now, and Apostolic Administrations linked to the Vatican have
been established in Moscow for European Russia, and in Novosibirsk
for Siberia. There are four bishops and 165 priests working among
the approximately 1,300,000 Catholics in the country.
The theological seminary, Mary Oueen of the Apostles, opened in Moscow
in 1993 and was transferred to St. Petersburg in 1995.
The two million Protestants have
The nineteen million Muslims,
the second largest religious community in Russia, have
over 800 parishes and mosques, mostly in Bashkortostan,
Daghestan, Kabarda-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Tatarstan,
Ingushetia, and Chechnya. The Muslim Board for Central
European region has been re-established. The Moscow
Muftiyat, an independent ecclesiastical body, is
responsible for the Moscow, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma,
Tula, Tver, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaluga, Yaroslavl and
Kaliningrad regions, and Sochi, the renowned seaside
resort in the Krasnodar Territory.
Buddhism is widespread in
Buryatia, Kalmykia, Tuva, and the Irkutsk and Chits
regions. The Russian Federation currently has ten datsan
monasteries, with the total monastic body approaching
200. Another ten monasteries are under construction.
The Russian Federation has 42
Jewish communities. Moscow accounts for over 10 per cent
of Russian Jews, and has three synagogues, one of which