- The history of Christianity in Russia dates back over a millennium to when Prince Vladimir I of Kiev officially adopted Christianity of the Byzantine rite. As a result of the Great Schism (1054), the eastern (Orthodox) and western (Catholic) branches of Christianity were permanently sundered. Within Orthodoxy itself, religious reforms continued throughout the centuries. One reform concerning liturgy principles caused a schism at the end of the 17th century between the so-called Old Believers and other members of the Orthodox faith.With the exception of the Catholic Poles and Lithuanians, most Christian subjects of the Romanov Empire were Eastern Orthodox, with the vast majority being members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Under tsarist rule, Slavic Christians enjoyed the highest status, while non-Orthodox subjects (inovertsy), including Muslims and Buddhists, were often subjected to economic, spatial, and political restrictions. Under Soviet rule, the state vigorously promoted atheism, while effectively co-opting the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchy. During World War II, Joseph Stalin allowed a resurgence of religious life, particularly among Russian Christians, in an effort to increase patriotism and mollify his Western allies; the new openness toward religion, however, was short-lived and the old sanctions were soon reinstated.Under perestroika, restrictions on religious practice were significantly lessened. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia’s identity as a Christian state has returned in force, with many politicians—including Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Yury Luzhkov—striving to demonstrate their religiosity. While a number of Eurasianist ideologues stress the positive aspects of Russia’s confessional diversity, changes in state policy have led to an increasing Christianization of the education system, with Russian Orthodoxy being linked to patriotism.In the wake of the passage of the 1993 constitution, the Russian government recognized four “native” religions: Eastern Orthodoxy (including its Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Armenian, and Georgian variants); Islam; Buddhism; and Judaism. While there are still a good number of indigenous Catholics in the country, they, as well as members of other Christian sects, particularly Protestants, face regulation and, in some cases, have been arrested and/or deported. The high birth rate of Russian Muslims, when compared to the low fertility rate of the country’s Christian population, has generated social issues similar to those found in various countries of the European Union that face similar demographic changes.See also Alexius II; Islamism.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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