Staunton, October 31 – On the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s action that began the reformation, Sergey Kiriyenko, the first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, has declared that “the organs of state power view the Protestants of Russia as an inseparable part of the traditional religious community of multi-national Russia.”
The Kremlin official points to the willingness to work, patriotism and moral commitment of the millions of Russian Protestants, qualities which he adds “at present completely correspond to the needs of the country” (politsovet.ru/57055-v-kremle-poschitali-protestantov-tradicionnoy-konfessiey.html).
To the extent that his words have real consequences, this is a remarkable statement. Russian officials have long insisted that there are only four traditional religions in Russia – Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – and that only they are to be part of official institutions like the Inter-Religious Council.
The Protestants, like the Roman Catholics, have long sought the “traditional” designation given their rapid growth – in many areas they form the most rapidly growing religious trend – and social and political activism, although the latter has often landed them in trouble with the authorities that have harassed and repressed various Protestant groups.
According to some experts, there are now as many Protestant congregations in Russia as there are Orthodox ones, although only one in every three of the Protestant groups have been able to secure official recognition (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/04/window-on-eurasia-russians-leaving.html).
Kiriyenko’s words will certainly lead Protestants to demand an end to repression and the registration of all their congregations. They will also prompt the Roman Catholics to do the same, although Moscow seems significantly less willing to recognize the Catholics as a “traditional” faith of Russia.
But what they will also do is spark a sharp reaction by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. One the one hand, Patriarch Kirill is likely to view this statement as a slap in the face to his efforts to make Orthodoxy the state religion. And on the other, he certainly fears that some Orthodox will shift their affiliation to Protestant groups.