Staunton, July 29 – Even though roughly half of the population of North Ossetia identifies as Russian Orthodox, parishioners of that denomination’s churches there say followers of the traditional pagan faith in the republic there are now attacking them, a complaint that they have made to the local archbishop who has forwarded it to Patriarch Kirill.
The parishioners made their appeal after Roman Gabarayev, a member of the republic’s youth parliament, posted on line a call to drive Christians out of the republic. He later denied he did so, but an investigation concluded he had and Gabarayev was subsequently excluded from the youth parliament.
According to materials contained in the parishioners’ appeal – which is available on line at zen.yandex.ru/media/id/5b5d931ff8c46b00a93258c2/obrascenie-k-arhiepiskopu – this is not the first instance in which followers of the traditional Ossetian religion have attacked Russian Orthodoxy.
They assert that “attacks on Orthodox clergy and believers are increasing in frequency in recent years” and that the republic authorities have observed this “with silent approval” and thus contributed to the growth of such sentiments. And they say things are likely to get worse as the republic approaches the 1100th anniversary of the baptism of Alania.
What might seem to be a small controversy promises to become a large one extending far beyond the borders of that North Caucasus republic now that Moscow’s Kommersant has published a story about what is going on there, implicitly suggesting that such attacks on Orthodoxy are common elsewhere too (kommersant.ru/doc/4045783).
“In the official republic media,” the parishioners say and Kommersant reports, “adepts of ‘the true faith in their materials methodically draw a line between ‘their own’ and ‘not their own’ faiths” with some articles even declaring that “’he who accepts Christianity ceases to be an Ossetian.’”
At present, the paper notes, the republic is actively preparing for the celebrating of the 1100th anniversary of the Christianization of the Ossetians, an occasion that as the Orthodox archbishop there notes is bring religious tensions to a head. According to the churchman, these tensions not only undermine stability in the republic but relations between it and Russia.
Archbishop Leonid says that he is enlisting not only the patriarchate but also local law enforcement agencies to crack down on these attacks on Orthodoxy, suggesting, again according to Kommersant, that what is happening in Ossetia today has precedents in Ukraine and thus must be nipped in the bud.
Roman Lunkin, head of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society at Moscow’s Institute of Europe, tells the Moscow paper that conflicts between Orthodox and pagan Ossetians have been going on for a long time because each has its own rules of behavior that the other is seen as violating, especially with regard to women.
The republic authorities have called for a roundtable discussion about this issue, and the Orthodox Church also has been cautious in going further. The church and law enforcement agencies, Lunkin says, do not want to “go into conflict with the powerful Ossetian national movement” as that “contradicts the current national mission of the ROC MP and the nationality policy of the center in the regions.”
But the expert says, “the Ossetian powers that be in fact have no choice: they must support the national paganism and search for a compromise with the Russian Orthodox Church.”
This story is gaining legs in Russia and that may play a role as to what happens next. For an example of additional coverage of the clash between Orthodoxy and Ossetian paganism, see znak.com/2019-07-29/pravoslavnye_severnoy_osetii_pozhalovalis_na_diskriminaciyu_v_otnoshenii_hristian