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.
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.