Vienna, June 1 -- Members of Protestant churches now outnumber those affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church both in Siberia and the Russian Far East and in Karelia and Kaliningrad, according to a prominent Moscow sociologist of religion.
In an interview carried on the Religiopolis.org site, Elena Kublitskaya, a senior researcher at the Institute of Social-Political Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that this reflects intense Protestant missionary work in these places (www.religiopolis.org/religiovedenie/506-religija-v-rossii-vzgljad-sotsiologa.html).
Specifically, she says, “the number of believing Protestants exceeds the number of Orthodox believers in “Siberia, Buryatia, the Komi Republic, the Sakha Republic, Primorsky and Khabarovsk krays, Amur and Irkutsk oblasts, Sakhalin, Yamalo-Nenets district, the Karelian Republic and Kaliningrad oblast.”
And that pattern, the result of often intense missionary work by Protestant groups, “is capable of leading in the future to a sharpening of inter-confessional relations and conflicts on the basis of the dissatisfaction of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Russian Orthodoxy “will not give up its positions in the European Center, but in Siberia, it is facing solid competition from the Old Believers, major Catholic centers in Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, and Khabarovsk,” as well as from Protestant groups like the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Adventists, and the Pentecostals.”
These trends are taking place, she said, at a time when the overall growth of religiosity among Russians is slowing. From 1983 to 1993, that growth was so great that many spoke of “a religious renaissance,” but since then, religiousness has stabilized at “from 40 to 70 percent” of the population depending on region.
And that in turn means that there are ever more cases when an individual shifts from one religion to another, actions that have become increasingly common and that in areas where the Protestants are active and the Orthodox are not typically mean a gain by the former and a loss by the latter.
In other comments, Kublitskaya says that there are three reasons why Russians have become more religious over the last 25 years. First, as is true everywhere, people growing through social and economic cataclysms of various kinds often ten to religion for sustenance.
Second, with the end of communism, religious organizations were able to become more active, and many Russians viewed a return to religion as part of a general turning away from the Soviet system when the government actively promoted atheism.
And third – and she suggests that this is “a very essential aspect” – “the information openness of the first years of perestroika” meant that individuals learned about and often were attracted to religious groups about which earlier they had not heard or had heard only negative reporting.
The rise of some Protestant groups that Kublitskaya points and especially their prominence in Siberia too may soon attract attention for another reason: the increasing number of young men from that region seeking alternative service on the basis of religious convictions.
Yesterday, the Siberian Military District of the Russian military reported that the number of draftees seeking alternative service in Siberia and the Transbaikal had nearly doubled this year to 58, approximately two-thirds of whom were either Baptists or Jehovah’s Witnesses (www.rian.ru/society/20100531/240761713.html).
Given the difficulties the Russian military is having with reaching its draft quotas, it appears likely that the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church will seek to get government support for its campaign against missionary work by pointing to this development.