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Articles

Prayer for the persecuted church: Russia

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October 19, 2016

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” – 1 Peter 4:12-14

Authoritarianism on the rise

Russia’s religious history is as complex and vast as its massive 6.6 million square mile geography (the U.S. is 3.7 mi2). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many freedoms opened up to Russian citizens, including religious freedom. In more recent years and months, however, the freedom to live out one’s faith is increasingly restricted.

New laws—called the “Yarovaya” package—have established the most restrictive religious laws since the Soviet Union. Though inspired in the name of anti-terrorism following the bombing of a passenger airliner in 2015, the restrictions go so far as to define missionary activity, and then prohibit it. The enforcement of these laws are proving that government restrictions on the freedom of religion quickly result in the denial of basic civil rights like the freedoms of speech, assembly and freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has a complex history and dominates the religious scene. To the extent Russians associate with the ROC, it serves primarily as a cultural identity and less of a lived faith. Over many decades the ROC has intertwined itself with the ruling government, from the Soviets to Putin. This has provided tangible benefits to the institution in recent history but continues to mislead many Russians into conflating the goals of the national government with the mission of the church. Some view the ROC as an enabler of the anti-missionary laws as the laws silence smaller but evangelistic religions, thereby eliminating competition in the religious and cultural arena.

Increasing persecution

Whatever the political motivations are for the recent anti-terrorism laws, in practice they heavily restrict the proclamation of the gospel. Very simply, such laws deny evangelism outside the walls of a church building. Specific instances of recent persecution include:

Prayer points

Further resources

Matthew T. Hawkins

Matthew T. Hawkins is a former policy director of the  ERLC. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and serves as chair of The One America Movement, a nonprofit that desires to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. More information … Read More