Published: 00:01 GMT Standard Time - Saturday 20 March 2010
Praying for the Persecuted Church in Lent - Russia
In former times, Orthodox Christianity was a strong part of the identity and culture of Russia, which saw itself as a bulwark against the Muslim Tatars and other Muslims of Central Asia. Decades of persecution under communist rule (1917-1991) have left their mark on the very diverse people of this vast country. Estimates suggest that about 200,000 Christian leaders were martyred during this period, and a further 500,000 Christians were imprisoned. However, the Communists’ threat to destroy Christianity and to parade the Soviet Union’s last Christian on television never came true. Instead the end of Communism heralded a massive increase in churches, churchgoing and Christian activities.
Yet in recent years a climate of hostility and antagonism against Christians has spread, particularly against members of “nontraditional” groups (i.e. those other than the numerically and politically dominant Russian Orthodox Church), and Pentecostals, Baptists and Catholics are facing harassment from local authorities. A law passed in 1997 on the registration of religious organisations, and subsequent legislation, impose restrictions on minority groups and discriminate against them. An increasing number of anti- Christian incidents have been reported. With rising nationalism and the government’s subtle use of the Orthodox Church and Islam to harass Protestants, some Christian leaders even say that the situation for Protestant Christians is now worse than it was in communist times.
There are large Muslim populations in the North Caucasus region, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. In these areas there are new churches springing up comprised of converts from Islam. These new believers suffer discrimination and persecution from the Muslim majority.
Church and training centre (Ref. 43-769)
In May 2009 the Russian Justice Ministry re-constituted a council with wide-ranging powers to investigate the activity, doctrine, leadership, literature and worship of religious groups and to recommend government action. If given free rein it is likely to recommend harsh measures against some Christian groups.
- Pray that the freedoms granted to Christians in Russia since the fall of Communism will be maintained.
- Pray that the churches will stand together against the threat of repressive government and be wise as serpents yet innocent as doves in their dealings with the authorities.
- Pray too for an effective Christian witness throughout the country.