Christianity in Russia

Christianity by Country
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Christians in Russia constitute by some estimates the largest religion of the country (from 15% to 80% of total population by some sources).[1] Approximately 83% of the country residents consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, although the majority are not regular churchgoers.[2] By official information, there are 68 eparchies of Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).[3]

There are from 500,000 to one million so-called Old Believers, who represent an older form of Russian Orthodox Christianity, and who separated from the Orthodox Church in the 17th century as a protest against Patriarch Nikon's church reforms. According to the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, Protestants make up the second or third largest group of Christian believers, with approximately 3,500 organizations and more than 1 million followers. A large number of missionaries operating in the country are from Protestant denominations.[2] In Russia today, about 280,000 associate with over 2200 congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reports over 20,000 adherents in 126 congregations.

The Roman Catholic Church estimates that there are from 600,000 to 1.5 million Catholics in the country, figures that also exceeded government estimates.[2] There is one Roman Catholic Archdiocese (Mother of God at Moscow) with three suffragan dioceses (Saint Clement at Saratov, Saint Joseph at Irkutsk, Transfiguration at Novosibirsk) and Apostolic Prefecture of Yuzhno Sakhalinsk.[4] The Russian "law on non-governmental organizations" taken effect in April 2007 requires non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Christian churches, to register with state agencies, list their funding sources and provide records of all meetings.


Russian Orthodox Church

Holy Trinity Cathedral in Sergiev Posad

The Russian Orthodox Church is organized in a hierarchical structure. Every church building and its attendees constitute a parish (prikhod).

All parishes in a geographical region belong to an eparchy (eparkhiya—equivalent to a Western diocese). Eparchies are governed by bishops (episkope or archierey). There are around 130 Russian Orthodox eparchies worldwide.

Further, some eparchies are organized into exarchates, or autonomous churches. Currently these include the Orthodox Churches of Belarusian exarchate; the Latvian, the Moldovan, and the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. The Chinese and Japanese Orthodox Churches were granted full autonomy by Moscow Patriarchate, but this autonomy is not universally recognized.

Smaller eparchies are usually governed by a single bishop. Larger eparchies, exarchates, and autonomous churches are governed by metropolitans and sometimes also have one or more bishops assigned to them.

The highest level of authority in the Church is represented by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, head of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Holy Synod is the governing body of the Church in the period between the Bishops’ Councils.

By information of Saint Tikhon's Orthodox University and other researchers, from one to several hundred thousands of Orthodox believers were repressed for their faith in the Soviet time.[5]

According to figures released on February 2, 2010, the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) has 160 dioceses including 30,142 parishes served by 207 bishops, 28,434 priests and 3,625 deacons. There are 788 monasteries, including 386 for men and 402 for women.[6]

Old Believers

In 1971 the Moscow Patriarchate revoked the anathemas placed on the Old Believers in the 17th century, but most Old Believer communities have not returned to Communion with other Orthodox Christians.

Estimates place the total number of Old Believers remaining today at from 500.000 to 1 millions, some living in extremely isolated communities in places to which they fled centuries ago to avoid persecution. An Old Believer parish in the United States has entered into communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

Old-Believer churches in Russia currently have started restoration of their property, although Old Believers (unlike the nearly-official mainstream Orthodoxy) face many difficulties in claiming their restitution rights for their churches. Moscow has churches for all the most important Old Believer branches: Rogozhskaya Zastava (Popovtsy of the Belokrinitskaya hierarchy official center), a cathedral for the Novozybkovskaya hierarchy in Zamoskvorech'ye and Preobrazhenskaya Zastava where Pomortsy and Fedoseevtsy coexist.

Roman Catholic Church

Catholic Church in Samara

Roman Catholic Church in Russia (by 2008) has one Archdiocese of Mother of God at Moscow (headed by Arcbishop Pavel Pezzi), three dioceses (Saint Clement at Saratov, Saint Joseph at Irkutsk, Transfiguration at Novosibirsk), one Apostolic Exarchate and one Apostolic Prefecture in Yuzhno Sakhalinsk.[7]

The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow has voiced his support for religious education in state sponsored schools, citing the examples of other countries.[8]

Relations with the Russian Orthodox church have been rocky for nearly a millennium, and attempts at re-establishing Catholicism have met with opposition. Pope John Paul II for years expressed a desire to visit Russia, but the Russian Orthodox Church has for years resisted.[9] In April 2002, Bishop Jerry Mazur of Eastern Siberia was striped of his visa, forcing the appointment of a new bishop for that diocese.[10] In 2002, five foreign Catholic priests were denied visas to return to Russia, construction of a new cathedral was blocked in Pskov, and a church in southern Russia was shot at.[11] On Christmas Day 2005, Russian Orthodox activists planned to picket outside of Moscow's Catholic Cathedral, but the picket was cancelled. Despite the recent thawing of relations with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, there are still issues such as the readiness of the police to protect Catholics and other minorities from persecution.[12]

One thousand Russian Catholics gathered in the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Moscow to watch the Pope's funeral in 2005. Earlier Pope John Paul II gave an 18th century copy of the famous Our Lady of Kazan icon to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian Catholic Church

There are also communes of Byzantine Rite Catholic Church in Russia (in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Omsk, Nizhnevartovsk), which are in full communion with and subject to the authority of the Pope as defined by Eastern canon law. That tradition is closely connected with the ideas of philosopher and poet Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov.


Lutheran Church in Arkhangelsk

There are Evangelical Christians - Baptists (most numerous), Lutherans, Pentecostals , Adventists,[13] Methodists, Quakers [14] and nearly all other known Protestant denominations presented in the country.

By the opinion of Keston Institute, Protestants are widely present and may well outnumber the Orthodox in some places of Siberia. There are very few "nominal" believers among them: everywhere they preach, pray and often struggle against local bureaucracy to acquire their rights. Anyway, they are also regarded as respectable, hard-working citizens.[15]

Some Protestants (especially at provincial level) report encountering local authorities obstruction of their activities and government restrictions. In April 2007, the European Court of Human Rights obliged Russian state to pay EUR 10,000 (ten thousand euros) as a non-pecuniary damage for the refusal in registration of the Moscow branch of Salvation Army.

Conducted in July - August, 2007, bicycle missionary expedition of Evangelical Christians Baptists faced, by their report,[16] serious obstacles and suspicious attitude from local authorities in several regions of Russia. The evangelization meetings several times were banned in public parks. The initial goal of the above mentioned tour was to share the Gospel with people in towns and villages throughout the country and, by words of UECB President Yuri Sipko, to "fight their way through on foot or on bicycles to reach even the most remote village and the most despairing person in order to bring them the message of God’s kingdom."


Certain Christian religions consider themselves to have restored primitive Christianity and do not consider themselves part of Protestantism. The largest such denominations are Jehovah's Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Zion's Watch Tower (now called The Watchtower, the primary journal of the Watch Tower Society and Jehovah's Witnesses) had subscribers in Russia as early as 1887, and another Witness publication quoted correspondence from a 1904 group in Russia. Early Russian adherent Semyon Kozlitsky, a Russian Orthodox seminary graduate, associated personally with Charles Taze Russell as early as 1891 and was an active Jehovah's Witness in Russia, Siberia, and what is now Kazakhstan until his death in 1935.

In the 1920s, The Watch Tower began to be published in Russian, and Russian-language congregations were established in the United States and elsewhere. Although there were restrictions in Russia itself, the Latvia branch translated and printed Russian-language literature and the Estonia branch broadcast Russian-language radio lectures. In 1935, the Watch Tower Society unsuccessfully attempted to establish a branch office in the Soviet Union to support the Witnesses already there.

The results were just the opposite of what was expected; they wanted to weaken the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USSR, but in fact they only strengthened it. In new settlements where no one had heard of their religious confession, Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘infected’ the locals by their faith and their loyalty to it.

Dr. N. S. Gordienko (Herzen University, St. Petersburg)

By 1939, thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses were already residing in the Baltic states when the Soviet Union absorbed those formerly independent countries. In the 1940s, the Soviet government forcibly dispersed thousands of Witnesses in a program later described by Dr. N. S. Gordienko, a professor at Herzen University as having had "just the opposite of what was expected; they wanted to weaken the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USSR, but in fact they only strengthened it".

In the 1950s and 1960s, Jehovah's Witnesses were surveiled, infiltrated, harassed, and persecuted by the Soviet government, which seems to have taken decades to conclude that the faith was not a threat. According to Witness Viktor Gutshmidt, the prosecutor general for the Russian Republic in 1961 privately acknowledged that and guessed that perhaps 500,000 in the Soviet Union might eventually become Witnesses if restrictions were lifted. By 1971, there were more than 4500 Witnesses in the Soviet Union.

When the religion was formally recognized in March 1991, Russia reported 15,987 active Jehovah's Witnesses. Beginning in 1993, graduates of Gilead Extension School in Germany began to be assigned to Russia as missionaries to support the local Witnesses already there. Between 1996 and 2006, Jehovah's Witnesses trained thousands of fulltime ministers in hundreds of Pioneer Service Schools across Russia.[17]

Despite local and unofficial harassment, the number of adherents has steadily grown since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On January 31, 2001, the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses occupy fourth place among Russian religions."[18] By 2009, Jehovah's Witnesses reported "an estimated 280,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and associates in Russia", organized into 2235 congregations.[19][20] Across the former republics of the USSR, over 700,000 attend the meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses.[21]


In the Novouzensk region about 1855, Ivan Grigorev Kanygin founded religious communities with untraditional marriage and communal practices they derived from the New Testament. Although they called themselves Communists or Methodists (due to a claimed association with Methodism), an Orthodox priest named Khrisanf Rozhdestvenskiy in 1869 labeled them "Mormons" after the contemporaneous American movement, and the term was thereafter applied pejoratively to such adherents. In the 1870s, an unrelated community developed near the Volga city of Samara which avoided alcohol, tobacco, and swearing, cooperated in commercial enterprises, and governed themselves by "apostles" and "prophets". Adherents refused to discuss their theological beliefs with outsiders, and it seems that others incorrectly but perhaps sincerely identified them with Mormonism. The "Samara Mormons" came to tolerate the name into the 20th century, though they too had no known connection to the actual Latter Day Saint movement.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established its first congregation in Russia in 1990, and the Church was recognized in May 1991. By 2010, the Church reported membership of 20,276 in 126 congregations in Russia.[22]

Bible translation

The first attempts to translate books of the Bible into modern Russian language of that time took place in 16th and 17th centuries. But the mentioned works (by deacon of Posolsky Prikaz Avraamiy Firsov, pastor E.Gluk, archbishop Methodiy (Smirnov)) were lost during political turbulence and wars.

Makarios Bible

Mikhail Iakovlevich Glukharev, known as Archimandrite Makarios, was a Russian Orthodox missionary who translated most of the Old Testament between 1839 and 1847, while a contemporary associate named Gerasim Petrovich Pavsky translated Psalms. Makarios was unable to publish the translation during his lifetime, but a journal called Orthodox Review acquired and published the Makarios Bible in installments between 1860 and 1867, under the title An Experiment of Translation Into the Russian Language.

The aging magazines, more than a century old, were discovered in 1993 in the rare-books section of the Russian National Library, and permission was given for the work to be copied and prepared for publication. In January 1997, the Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia "arranged for nearly 300,000 copies of this Bible to be printed in Italy for distribution throughout Russia and the many other countries where Russian is spoken. In addition to Makarios’ translation of most of the Hebrew Scriptures, this edition of the Bible contains Pavsky’s translation of Psalms as well as the Orthodox Church-authorized synodal translation of the Greek Scriptures."[23]

Russian Bible Society

The full-scale Bible translation into Russian language began in 1813 since the establishment of the Russian Bible Society. The full edition of the Bible with Old Testament and New Testament was published in 1876. This work, called also Russian Synodal Bible, is widely used by Protestant communities all over Russia and former USSR countries. Lately appeared several modern translations.[24] The Russian Bible Society since its establishment in 1813 and up to 1826 distributed more than 500 thousand of Bible related books in 41 languages of Russia. Several times in 19-th and 20th centuries activities of the Society were stopped by reactionary policies of the Russian Government.

It was restored in 1990-1991 after a pause connected with the Soviet regime restrictions.[25]

The opening ceremony of the Building of the Russian Bible Society in Moscow was visited by representatives of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches, who joined their efforts in Bible translation and distribution cause. The editions of Society are based on the universal doctrine of the early Christian church and include non-confessional comments. Over 1,000,000 Bible related books are printed per year by that institution. The Bible is also being translated into native languages and dialects of Russia's ethnic groups.

New World Translation

In 2002, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania released Holy Bible (with New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures) in Russian.[26] The complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Russian was released in 2007.[27] In 2010, New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (the New Testament) was released in Russian Sign Language.

The New World Translation is favored and distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses.

See also


  1. ^ CIA World Factbook
  2. ^ a b c US State Department Religious Freedom Report on Russia, 2006
  3. ^ Religion and mass media Institute of Russia site
  4. ^ GCatholic Directory
  5. ^ N.E.Emelyanov, "How many repressed in Russia suffered for Christ", Pravmir, in Russian
  6. ^ (Russian)Доклад Святейшего Патриарха Кирилла на Архиерейском cовещании 2 февраля 2010 года February 2, 2010
  7. ^ Catholic Dioceses in Russian Federation, GCatholic site
  8. ^ "Russian Catholics back religious education at school". Russian News and Information Agency. June 19, 2006. 
  9. ^ Kishkovsky, Sophia (July 3, 2006). "Putin warns of 'clash of civilisations' at Moscow religious summit". Ecumenical News International. 
  10. ^ Myers, Steven Lee (July 9, 2002). "Church Dispute Festers". New York Times. 
  11. ^ Kishkovsky, Sophia (September 13, 2002). "Archbishop Appeals To Rights Groups". New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Whose side are police on? Russian Christians ask". Catholic World News. June 7, 2006. 
  13. ^ Seventh-day Adventist Church Number Two in Russia, Worldwide Faith News, August 1998
  14. ^ Quakers in Russia site
  15. ^ The religious maelstrom of modern Russia, Timesonline, July 2008
  16. ^ Baptist Union of Russia site, News
  17. ^ "Russia", 2008 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, ©2007 Watch Tower, pages 66-255
  18. ^ As quoted by "Moscow Prosecutor Seeks a Ban on Religious Freedom", Jehovah's Witnesses Official Media Web Site, As Retrieved 2010-08-04
  19. ^ As quoted by "Moscow judges order retrial", Jehovah's Witnesses Official Media Web Site, As Retrieved 2010-08-04
  20. ^ "2009 Report of Jehovah's Witnesses Worldwide",, Retrieved 2010-08-04
  21. ^ "Russia", 2008 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, ©2007 Watch Tower, page 176, "700,000 people attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the territories of the countries of the former Soviet Union"
  22. ^ "Country Profiles: Russia", The Official Church Resource..., Retrieved 2010-08-04
  23. ^ "A Hidden Treasure Comes to Light", The Watchtower, December 15, 1997, pages 22-27
  24. ^ Russian Bible Society, in Russian
  25. ^ History of Russian Bible Society, in Russian
  26. ^ "Announcements", Our Kingdom Ministry, February 2002, page 7
  27. ^ "Russia", 2008 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, ©2007 Watch Tower, page 237


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