Friday, 8 July 2011

A History of The Russian Church

Looking at Russia's history and the challenges that churches face there

Russia has played a pivotal role in Eastern Europe and the world. Yet despite close connections with many democratic states, the country’s experience has mostly been of dictatorship and oppression. It has only just begun to experience the kind of freedom we enjoy in the west. A country filled with complexities, yet still many parts have simplicity in standards of living. Determined in progress yet still feeling strongly about tradition and faith. The diversity of the population has allowed many of the cultures older aspects to last in some places, whilst other areas have strived towards development and power. Although regularly facing oppression its people’s passion has helped the nation prevail through extreme events.

Geography and Landscape

Russia stretches across northern Eurasia, through 11 time zones. It varies dramatically from large forested plains, wide mountain ranges such as the Urals, and also artic/sub-artic areas.


Although often seen as cold and harsh, Russia’s vastness gives it a variety of climates, with many parts being warm and mild.

Major Cities

Moscow (the capital), St Petersburg, Novosibirsk and Nizhny Novgorod.


Countries in Asia and  Europe including the Ukraine, Norway, Finland, Mongolia and China.

Seas and Oceans

The coastline connects with the Artic and Pacific oceans as well as having important connecting seas such as the Black, Baltic, Caspian, North Sea and Sea of Japan.


Russia has suffered a lot of turmoil with war, political upheaval and financial crisis. Its vast, rich land brought cultural diversity as eastern and western tribes settled in the area. It first connected with the Christian Orthodox Church, as the country gained immigrants from the Byzantine Empire. This still continued through the invasion and occupation by the Mongols. With Orthodoxy becoming the official state religion in 988 AD after the Mongols were expelled. The country became more unified under a grand Tsar, firstly with the Riurikovich dynasty, and then the more famous Romanovs. The Tsar was seen as God appointed, doing God’s divine will on earth. Orthodoxy and the state became intertwined and the Church became a political institution.
Despite a Church endorsement of the Tsar and the religiousness of the people, many still sought there own voice, particularly as neighbouring Europe became democratic. The impact of financial trouble as well as famine and war caused dissatisfaction. Uprisings occurred against the Tsarist state in 1917 and a new government was put in place only to be overthrown three months later by the Bolsheviks, who established Communism. Following Marxist teaching Communism saw religion as, ‘the opium of the people’. It viewed the Church as anti revolutionary and many Church buildings were either destroyed or taking over by the Communist party. The Church no longer had a right to publicly promote itself; whilst anti religious material was encouraged. The country survived revolution and was united in facing threats such as that of Nazi Germany 1941. Which resulted in an estimated 27 million deaths.
However many other deaths occurred throughout communism, as a state run by fear, killed anyone it perceived as a threat. After communism fell in 1991 freedom of speech was allowed and for the first time a democratic government was established. Though the troubles Russia has faced still tell financially and socially.


Although changes in politics has tried to ignore or even destroy religion with its most difficult times being in the Communist period, belief in God has still prevailed and is a mainstay of the Russian people. Today Russia contains a variety of religious groups including Jews, Buddhists, Muslims as well as Christian. It is predominately still Orthodox; however other denominations are growing as is Islam. Since the fall of Communism the Church was again allowed to have a voice in the media and to re-establish or build Churches. Missionaries were welcome again, instead of having to smuggle in bibles. However although the number of people becoming Christians increased rapidly in the early 90s the figures can be misleading. It is believed that many Russians welcomed anything western including its Church. A Church that started in the early 90s registered that there had been thousands of baptisms, yet the congregation was still relatively small.
A country so long deprived of material goods was hungry for them. People searching for a better quality of life found 'prosperity preaching Churches', then got disheartened after these groups did not deliver. In 1997 a law passed by the government on religion, meant that fewer rights were granted to any religious group who didn’t have proof of worshiping within the country for at least 15 years. This was to protect the people from any such groups who may try to take advantage of them.
Unfortunately this complicated the work of those who genuinely want to see lives changed, as they are touched by God. Despite these difficulties there are still missionaries going to Russia and new Churches spring up. As well as short term groups, Christians are recognising a calling to long term commitments. With so much hurt there is a great importance in true teaching and building relationships to help lead people to Christ, so that they too can lead others.

Copyright © Nathan Groves
This Work Is Not To Be Reproduced With Out Permission.

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