Religion plays a prominent role in the public and spiritual life of today’s Russia.
The majority of believers belong to the Orthodox Christian denomination.
Russia adopted Christianity under Prince Vladimir of Kiev in 988, in a ceremony patterned on Byzantine rites. Russia’s baptism laid the foundations for the rise of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1448, the Council of the Russian higher clergy elevated Bishop Iona of Ryazan to the cathedra of the Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, independently of Constantinople, making the Russian Orthodox Church autocephalous.
A patriarchal throne in Moscow was instituted in 1589, with the first Russian patriarch, Iov (Job), enthroned on January 26.
Nikon, the Patriarch of Moscow and Russia (1652-1658), stands out among the hierarchs of the patriarchal period for his vigorous attempts to modify church rites and amend the church service books in line with the service practised in Greek churches. His reforms led to a religious split and emergence of the so-called Old Belief.
The patriarchate survived in Russia until the early 18th century. In 1718, Peter the Great introduced collective control in the Russian Church. This innovation worked until 1721 only, when the Ecclesiastical College was transformed into a ruling Holy Synod, instituted as an administrative body of church power of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1917, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a resolution that restored patriarchal rule.
After the 1917 upheavals, the Russian Orthodox Church has traversed a hard and tragic road. The early years of the Soviet regime were particularly trying for it. The Land Decree of October 26, 1917, deprived the Church of the bulk of its lands. The worst hit were the monasteries. In its another decree, made public on January 26, 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars (the government) separated the church from the state and school. As a result, all church organizations lost the powers of legal entity and the right to own property. To have the decree put into effect, a special liquidation committee was set up to evict the monks from their monasteries, many of which were destroyed, not without acts of vandalism, in which church utensils and bells were melted down and shrines containing relics were broken open.
In the late 1980s, with attempts launched to restructure the country’s economic and political system, major changes were made in the relationship between the state and the Church in the hope of revival. The millennium of Christianity in Russia in 1988 was celebrated on a grand scale. In that year, 1,610 new religious communities, most of them of the Orthodox belief, were registered in the country.
In 1990, a series of laws were passed on the freedom of religion, under which many of the existing restrictions were removed from religious communities, allowing them to step up their activities.
Religion in Russia Today
With nearly 5,000 religious associations the Russian Orthodox Church accounts for over a half of the total number registered in Russia. Next in numbers come Moslem associations, about 3,000, Baptists, 450, Seventh Day Adventists, 120, Evangelicals, 120, Old Believers, over 200, Roman Catholics, 200, Krishnaites, 68, Buddhists, 80, Judaists, 50, and Unified Evangelical Lutherans, 39.
Many churches and monasteries have been returned to the Church, including the St. Daniel Monastery, the current seat of the Moscow Patriarchate, the spiritual and administrative center of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Some statisticians estimate the percentage of believers at 40 per cent of the entire Russian Federation. Close to 9,000 communities belonging to over forty confessions had been officially registered in the country.
The majority of religious Russians are Christians. The country has over 5,000 Russian Orthodox churches. Many are built anew or under repair on parish and local budgets money.
Among the several more ambitious projects is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, erected in Red Square to commemorate the liberation of Moscow by Minin and Pozharsky’s militia, pulled down in 1936, and recently rebuilt from scratch. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, demolished in 1931, is restored. Patriarch Alexis II described its rebirth as "a sublime act of piety and penitence".
Russia had 150 Roman Catholic parishes, two theological seminaries and an academy before the revolution of 1917. All were suppressed in the Soviet years, and the believers -- ethnic Lithuanians, Poles and Gennans -- were banished and seattered about Siberia and Central Asia. 83 communities have reappeared by now, and Apostolic Administrations linked to the Vatican have been established in Moscow for European Russia, and in Novosibirsk for Siberia. There are four bishops and 165 priests working among the approximately 1,300,000 Catholics in the country. The theological seminary, Mary Oueen of the Apostles, opened in Moscow in 1993 and was transferred to St. Petersburg in 1995.
The two million Protestants have 1,150 communities.
The nineteen million Muslims, the second largest religious community in Russia, have over 800 parishes and mosques, mostly in Bashkortostan, Daghestan, Kabarda-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya. The Muslim Board for Central European region has been re-established. The Moscow Muftiyat, an independent ecclesiastical body, is responsible for the Moscow, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma, Tula, Tver, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaluga, Yaroslavl and Kaliningrad regions, and Sochi, the renowned seaside resort in the Krasnodar Territory.
Buddhism is widespread in Buryatia, Kalmykia, Tuva, and the Irkutsk and Chits regions. The Russian Federation currently has ten datsan monasteries, with the total monastic body approaching 200. Another ten monasteries are under construction.
The Russian Federation has 42 Jewish communities. Moscow accounts for over 10 per cent of Russian Jews, and has three synagogues, one of which is Hasidic.