Monday, February 10, 2014

for all that has remained the same, much has changed in Russia—and so, too, have its Christians. Under communism, Russian Orthodox Churches were allowed to hold services, but no one under the age of 18 was allowed to attend, and any expression of faith outside the church walls—like Ogorodniknov’s Christian discussion group—was punished.

When communism fell in 1991, there was a rush of religious fervor in Russia known as bogoiskatelstvo, or “searching for God.” In a phone interview, Wally Kulakoff, vice president of ministries and church relations for Russian Ministries, said, “All of a sudden, the things that were taboo became very interesting to society. To have a Bible, to have a New Testament was very popular. To carry a cross was very popular.” Even non-Christians, he said, kept Bibles on their bookshelves as lucky charms.

Today, the Russian Orthodox Church is mainstream. In fact, it’s the unofficial official church of Russia. Putin often appears in the pews and, in 2012, Patriarch Kirill famously called Putin’s rule a “miracle of God.” The seemingly cozy relationship between the church and an administration accused of murdering its critics has not gone without criticism of its own, but Father Gregory Joyce, priest at St. Vladimir Orthodox Church in Ann Arbor, Mich., says what people fail to understand is the utter novelty of the Russian situation.

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