Russia (MNN) — Concerning news follows on the heels of Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List release. For the first time in eight years, Russia is ranked as one of the world’s toughest places to be a Christian.
This news might come as a surprise, given the prevalence of Christianity in Russia. According to Open Doors, Christians comprise approximately 82-percent of the total population.
However, “it’s important to understand the landscape” and consider this update against that religious backdrop, notes Slavic Gospel Association’s Eric Mock.
“We cannot talk about the state of Christianity in Russia apart from the Orthodox Church.”
Religious freedom: Orthodox and Protestant
Christianity falls into two categories in Russia: Orthodox and Protestant. While markedly different, it’s difficult to understand the struggles of one group without knowing the other’s role and status.
Most of the Russians who claim to be Christians today belong to the Orthodox Church, explains Mock. Orthodox Christianity is woven throughout Russian history, and its origins trace back to the mid-900’s AD.
“There are some long and deep, traditional feelings about the Orthodox Church and Christianity in Russia,” Mock says. “This goes back a long time before it was stifled under the 70 years of Communism.”
In the early days, “Moscow saw itself as the keeper of the faith” and a close tie existed between church and state leaders. The 1920s introduced the Bolshevik revolution, World War I, and Soviet rule. Under Communist rule and state-led persecution, no one – Orthodox or Protestant, Jew or Muslim – was safe.
Fast-forward several decades, and Mock says that “while we’re seeing a relative stability in religious freedom for Orthodox churches, we’re seeing increased difficulty for Protestant churches.
“We have seen a regression in religious freedom for Protestant churches.”
New laws and regulations factor into this regression, but they’re not the only cause of hardship.
“At the government level, there is a vocalized push for religious freedom, but in practical state and local level efforts, you see it actually becoming a little more difficult,” explains Mock.
Leaders often face difficulty when registering their Protestant churches. In some areas, civic leaders at the local level are reportedly applying “pressure” to Protestant churches.
“Protestant Christianity is viewed as that which is counter to the advancement of the Orthodox Church,” Mock says. “We have to look at things both from a judicial point of view and also from a religious point of view as these issues are worked out in Russia.”
Challenge or opportunity?
How would you respond to a situation like this? Mock says Russian believers offer an unexpected perspective.
“We often think of roadblocks, and they think of bridges. [They believe] difficulties in society, difficulties in legislation, are just platforms for proclaiming the grace of God at every opportunity.”
Pray that independent local churches will concern themselves with the faithful proclamation of the Gospel instead of hindrances from society. Pray for boldness and steadfast faith.
“Those that are on the Open Doors list, even those in central Asia and other locations, they are not praying for comfort and peace,” says Mock.
“They are praying for faithful proclamation of the Gospel, looking towards a time when Jesus will unify us all.”
Header image obtained via Pexels.