Russian History


Non-Orthodox Christian Religions

The Soviet Union was home to large numbers of Christians who were not followers of the Russian Orthodox Church. Several other churches had numerous adherents, including the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (also called the Armenian Orthodox Church), and the Ukrainian and Belorussian autocephalous Orthodox churches, which, like the Russian Orthodox Church, were rooted in Byzantine rather than Roman Christianity. All of these faiths likewise endured persecution by the Soviet state. A large number of Roman Catholics and Protestants of various denominations also resided in the Soviet Union. But, because the majority of non-Orthodox Christians were concentrated in the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the representation of non-Russian Orthodox groups in post-Soviet Russia is much less than it was in the Soviet Union.

The first West European Protestants in Russia were German Mennonites who arrived in the second half of the seventeenth century. Throughout the twentieth century, the Baptists have been by far the most active and numerous Protestant group. During the repressive 1960s, enthusiastic Baptist groups attracted numerous young Russians away from the official Komsomol, and the fervor of the Baptists in a nominally atheist society earned them admiration even among communist officials. The number of Protestants in the Soviet Union was estimated at 5 million in 1980; in 1993 an estimated 3,000 Baptist communities were active under the administration of the Eurasian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Baptist Christians. Within that structure, the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches includes about 1,000 communities and supports two missionary groups and one publication. Headquarters is in Moscow. The Council of Churches of Evangelical Baptist Christians was founded in 1961 as a splinter group from what was then the Union of Evangelical Baptist Christian Churches; it existed illegally in Russia until 1988 and is not registered officially as a religious group. In the mid-1990s, the council included 230 communities.

Other Protestant groups in Russia have far fewer members than the Baptists. The Union of Evangelical Christian Churches was founded in 1992 to continue the tradition of the Union of Evangelical Christians, which had been founded in Russia in 1909 and then banned under communist rule. Pentecostals first became active in Russia in the early twentieth century. In 1945 one faction reunited with the main Baptist church; then in 1991 the remaining group formed the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith Pentecostal, which issues several publications and supports missions.

The Seventh-Day Adventists formed a Russian union in 1909, despite active government opposition. The church structure was largely destroyed during the Soviet period. Then, after World War II, the All-Union League of Seventh-Day Adventists was established. The union was inactive from 1960 until 1990, when it was included in the international General Assembly of Adventists. About 600 communities were active in the mid-1990s, with publications, one seminary, one religious school, and a radio broadcast center.

The Jehovah's Witnesses appeared in Russia in 1939; their center in St. Petersburg and their missionary work in Russia are supported by the Jehovah's Witnesses Center in Brooklyn, New York. Lutheranism appeared in Russia in the seventeenth century; in the mid-1990s, only a few churches were active. A few groups of Methodists, Presbyterians, Mormons, and Evangelical Reformed believers also are active in Russia.

The size of the Roman Catholic population of Russia has varied greatly according to the territorial extent of the country. For example, after the partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, large numbers of Polish Catholics became subjects of the Russian Empire. Accordingly, from the eighteenth century until 1917 a papal legate, or nuncio, represented the Vatican in St. Petersburg. A Roman Catholic academy operated in St. Petersburg, and a mission was established in Astrakhan'. After World War II, the absorption of the Baltic states added many Catholics to the Soviet Union's population, but relatively few of those individuals entered the Russian Republic. In 1993 twenty-nine Roman Catholic dioceses were active in the Russian Federation, with those in the European sector administered from Moscow and those in the Asian sector from Novosibirsk.

The 1990 establishment of new Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia has caused tension with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. The two churches have an understanding that neither will proselytize in the "territory" of the other, so representatives of the patriarch have condemned expanding Catholic influence as an unwelcome Western intrusion.