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banner Friday, 2 June, 2000, 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
Russia fends off foreign gods
russian orthodoxy
Russia's Orthodoxy are wary of foreign 'invaders' bringing new religious practices

This story is part of Correspondent, 'Our Faith', shown on Saturday June 3rd on BBC2 at 18:50 (BST)

Russia has undergone massive social, economic and political upheavals in the last fifteen years. The Orthodox Russian Church, so long repressed under Communism, is now experiencing freedom to practice.

However there are problems. Many of the Russian people deprived of contact with religion for several generations, don't know the meaning of many Orthodox religious rituals.

Consequently, when Correspondent visited a church in central Moscow on Easter night, the congregation was small. The same is true across Russia: only a tiny proportion of Russians are worshipping.

Free market in religion

Changes in society have meant that the Orthodox Church is now competing against other 'imported' religions for its loyal 'customers'. The church
Orthodoxy and the past go hand in hand during May day celebrations
is now calling on the help of the State to repel these foreign invaders, challenging Orthodoxy as they once challenged Communism.

While the American missionaries have the money to target every household with their own brand of evangelical worship, the Russians prefer subtler methods, such as building a bigger Cathedral on the site of a much loved park. Until challenged by lawyers, the Governor, Ivan Shabanov, tired to fund it through the public purse.

The Russian people have been so beaten down. We bring them hope, they can know God loves them in a personal way

Pentecostal missionary

The church is unwilling to break the ties with the State and go it alone. As a result, Lenin, Stalin, Tsars, and Saints are now all branded as good Russians by the church's bureaucrats.

New missionaries encounter opposition

Correspondent investigates this new religious market place and hears claims of slander and dirty tricks against Russia's new denominations. Jehovah's Witnesses and American Pentecostals are being targeted by the Russian Orthodox Church and The State, who see new beliefs as a threat to the fragile nature of contemporary Russian society. To the Orthodox they are soul snatchers, creating a fifth column on holy Russian soil.
Ivan Shabanov, ex-communist leader of Voronezh and now governor

The Jehovah's Witnesses have met the fiercest resistance. They are accused of spearheading an American conspiracy against Russia, or splitting families, and kidnapping children! Attempts are being made to ban them for promoting religious hatred, a process which only spurs them on - martyrdom having its own reward.

Evangelical worship is liberating for many brought up with Orthodoxy
The Pentecostal community is having difficulty finding a church. The authorities will not grant them permission and rented halls are being told not to let them use their facilities. However, the Culture Palace of the Voronezh tyre factory has welcomed Western evangelists despite pressure to ban them. It welcomes several hundred converts, young and old, men and women, thanks to its leafleting campaign.

Producer: Daniela Volker

Reporter: Tim Whewell

Click here for transcripts

Russian Orthodoxy fights new religious groups
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