Friday, October 4, 2019

New Muslim and Protestant Parishes Cutting into Orthodox Church’s Dominance of Russian Religious Scene

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 2 – The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate remains the dominant religious group in Russia in terms of parishes, but its advantage over other denominations and faiths has been declining and fell precipitously this year in terms of the number of parishes registered with the state, Mariya Nemtseva of the Daily Storm portal says.

            Religious groups can function without that registration, although they then operate under significant disadvantages as they cannot own or rent property or even open a bank account. But registered groups nonetheless provide a rough estimate of the relative size of Russia’s various religious groups.

            There are currently 31,392 religious organizations representing more than 60 different confessions, Nemtseva says. They are overwhelmingly Russian Orthodox, but among the 2927 registered in the last five years, and especially among the 483 registered during the first five months of 2019, the balance has shifted

Of those registered this year, only 267 were Orthodox, significantly fewer than half while 152 were Muslim and 42 were Protestant. In addition, there were 12 Buddhist groups, 4 Jewish ones, four neo-pagans, on Vishnu, and one Catholic. Of the Orthodox, 253 were part of the ROC MP, eight were Old Believers, three Orthodox Catholics, and three Armenian. 

Some groups do not register out of principle, while others face difficulties in gaining official status. Muslim leaders promote registration in order to isolate extremist groups while some Muslim communities either avoid registration or face difficulties in getting the Russian authorities to register them.

The justice ministry maintains a list of those groups which exist but haven’t registered with the state. At present, there are 2514 religious bodies of various denominations on it; but Nemtseva doesn’t provide a breakdown.

At the same time, there are 25 religious groups which the authorities have banned as extremist. The most prominent of these are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 395 branches of which have been shuttered by court order. But others include the Ancient-Russian Inglist Church which views itself as Orthodox but which the Orthodox say is pagan, and the Karakol Initiative Group in the Altai which fights both Orthodoxy and Buddhism.

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