Staunton, September 3 – In response to what he calls a strengthening of “an anti-Orthodox consensus” in Russian society and the increasingly arbitrary actions of federal and regional officials toward non-Orthodox Christians, Moscow needs to establish a modified version of the USSR Council on Religious Affairs, Roman Lunkin says.
Such a council would have branches in the regions but would exist to keep track of developments in the religious sphere and serve as a place to which believers could appeal rather than be a controlling center like its Soviet predecessor, the head of the St. Petersburg Center for the Study of Problems of Religion says (ng.ru/ng_religii/2019-09-03/12_471_antiortodox.html).
At present, Lunkin says, no one place has a handle on what is going on and that is generating anti-Orthodox and even anti-religious attitudes on the basis of incomplete information of the widespread assumption that the ROC MP has become little more than a branch of the state rather than a religious faith.
As a result, Lunkin continues, there is an increasing likelihood that Orthodoxy will be isolated domestically, not as a result of repression as in Soviet times but rather because of the suspicions many Russians have about its relationship to the government and the mounting number of scandals involving the hierarchy.
For the first two decades after the collapse of communism, Orthodoxy was viewed “by all categories of society” as “something sacred” and the state’s involvement with it as entirely natural and justified. But events in the last decade have undermined that support, harming both Orthodoxy and other Christian denominations.
According to Lunkin, “inter-religious dialogue and above all inter-Christian is extremely important for the image of the church, the formation of Christian culture in society, and the creation of a place of civic solidarity.” The dominant denomination “cannot be the only” or it will inevitably be viewed as part of the state.
But there is an even greater danger, he argues. “In contrast to European countries, in Russia, the secular post-Soviet society often does not remember or know any religious traditions of the past.” As a result, “the post-Soviet individual easily accepts anti-religious ideas,” an act that makes the creation of a civil society that much more difficult.
Many non-Orthodox churches in this situation engage in prosyletization, something the ROC MP mistakenly believes works against Orthodox and seeks to block. In fact, many who first join Protestants groups ultimately become Orthodox, far more than the other way around although the situation with regard to Roman Catholicism is somewhat more complicated.
But the actions the ROC MP has promoted to prevent the expansion of other faiths have backfired in the sense that they have promoted even among non-believers a skeptical attitude toward Orthodoxy and a belief that the church and the state view all non-Orthodox as “second-class” people.
The state’s moves to control missionary activity really took off in 2016 with the adoption of the so-called Yarovaya package of laws that since then have led to more than a thousand administrative charges and approximately seven million rubles (120,000 US dollars) for those found in violation.
This package of laws has been applied throughout the Russian Federation, but efforts to block the construction of churches or to confiscate those that do exist haven been made by some regional governments but not others, leading to a patchwork of approaches that has further undermined confidence in the legal system and the role of the ROC MP.