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Russia: Churches Saw Growth and Difficulties in 2006

January 22, 2007

The churches in modern Russia can be grouped generally as follows:

* The highly influential Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow
Patriarchate (ROC MP) is the church recognised by both the
government and most of the people. It is statistically large with
70 per cent of the population saying they belong there, although
only seven per cent of them are regular churchgoers and follow its
teaching. The government\'s very supportive relationship is borne
out by official agreements giving the church access to various
state institutions. Positive trends are evident in the life of ROC
MP with a gradually growing number of believers, many of whom want
spiritual reform. A miraculous sign of this was the recent start of
a Russian Orthodox version of the Alpha course to attract newcomers
to the church. Progressive-thinking church members and even priests
are now looking at possibly co-operating with Protestants and
Catholics.

* The Old Ritualists (Staroobryadsy) are a traditional Russian old
Orthodox group resulting from a split in the ROC in the mid-17th
century. After 250 years\' severe persecution they strongly distrust
both the ROC MP and the state. However, the ROC MP is taking steps
to restore a good relationship with the Old Ritualists and the
government also is showing them some respect. However, problems
still arise when the government hands over Old Ritualists\' historic
property to the ROC MP. Other non-MP Orthodox churches in Russia
face real opposition from the ROC MP and often from state
officials, being considered heretics and \'sectarians\'.

* The established older Russian Protestant churches like Lutherans,
Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostals existed even
before the Soviet era when they suffered significant persecution.
Although officially recognised and with representation in state
religion bodies, they are greatly hindered in their ministry in
society with strengthening opposition towards their evangelism and
missionary activities. A particular problem these churches face is
a very adverse image due to years of Soviet era brainwashing
depicting these believers as a threat to the people. A \'sect\' (as
they were described) is very negative to the Russian mind and is as
bad as a curse. Even today some journalists refer to these churches
as sects.

* The Catholic Church is watched warily by the ROC as an old
opponent. However, as noted above, in 2006 there has been a
tendency towards tolerating the Catholics.

* Numerous younger generation Presbyterian, Methodist, charismatic
and other evangelical churches which resulted from two decades of
foreign and Russian missionaries\' activities often experience
greater opposition than do the older traditional Protestant
churches. They can have a few members to several thousand and face
difficulties with renting or building places of worship. Their
opponents from ROC MP, state authorities, some pro-Orthodox
religious specialists and the mass media depict them not just as
sects but \'totalitarian destructive sects\'. They lump them in with
New Age groups, Jehovah\'s Witnesses, Mormons and other cults. These
young churches are learning to advocate openly for their
constitutional rights and to seek justice through the courts, with
growing support from Christian professionals, including lawyers,
journalists and religious specialists.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* growing spiritual revival in the Russian Orthodox Church leading
to both knowing God more deeply and to the growth of
co-operation with Catholics, Protestants and other Orthodox
denominations.

* the government to ensure the rights of all the believers are
equally respected according to the Constitution, and that
attempts to impose Russian Orthodox religion as one ideology for
the country will be stopped, which will avert the inevitable
persecution of others.

* Protestants and other Christian confessions to remain strong in
the Lord despite all the opposition they are facing.

* unity amongst all Christian believers and their leaders.

\'Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love,
a tender heart, and a humble mind.\' (1 Peter 3:8)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCHES IN RUSSIA SAW GROWTH AND DIFFICULTIES IN 2006

The privileged Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (ROC
MP) has official access to many places now denied to other groups.
There were also some positive trends in the ROC MP with the number
of believers gradually growing. Apart from the Old Ritualists
Church (Staroobryadsy), other non-MP Orthodox churches in Russia
are strongly opposed. ROC MP tended to be more tolerant towards
Catholics during 2006. Though officially recognised, the
established Russian Protestant churches like Lutherans, Baptists,
Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostals are often hindered in their
outreach. Many of the younger generation evangelical churches
resulting from two decades\' missionary work continue to be strongly
opposed, being depicted as \'totalitarian destructive sects\'.
However, Christian professionals, including lawyers and
journalists, are rallying to their support.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia is an RLP guest writer. The article was edited
for length. (Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and writer,
is on leave.)

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