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Russia Guide > Russia’s Religion

Russia’s Religion

An overview of the main religions in Russia, including Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Islam

The main Russian religion is Russian Orthodoxy, which is represented in Russia itself by the Russian Orthodox Church. The church is reportedly the second largest Christian church in the world – with around 135 million members worldwide and 80 million in Russia it is surpassed only by the Roman Catholic Church – and is far larger than other Orthodox churches, such as the Greek Orthodox church.

The Russian Orthodox Church was founded by the Apostle Andrew, when he visited Kiev in the 10th century. Princess Olga of Kiev was baptized in 954, and churches and monasteries soon began to be built, and its influence rapidly developed until it became the state religion of Russia. By 1914 there were more than 50,000 Russian Orthodox Churches spread across the Russian Empire.

Soviet times, however, brought a crackdown on religion of all kinds in Russia. The church was officially split from the state and during the Russian Civil War, the Church took the logical, but disastrous decision to support the White opposition. Churches were either destroyed, or converted for secular use and, although religion was not outlawed, it was severely restricted. The Church is now undergoing a resurgence in Russia and, despite the enacting of the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations is building increasingly strong ties to the state, such that it seems well on the way to becoming Russia’s de-facto state religion.

There are many other religions active in Russia today, however. Other forms of Christianity – particularly Protestantism – are becoming increasingly popular, partly supported by an influx of foreign christian missionaries following the fall of the Soviet Union. Their rise is seen as an increasing cause for concern by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The other main religion in Russia is Islam. It is estimated that 23 million Russians are from a Muslim background, although not all are practising. Most Russian Muslims are based in Southern Russia, but there are also many (perhaps as many as 1.5 million) in Moscow. Islam has been a major Russia religion for centuries, since the Khanate of Kazan was conquered and incorporated into the Russia in 1552.

Some more of Russia’s religion include Buddhism, which is practised in Tuva, Kalmykia and Buryatia – indeed, Kalmykia is the only state in religion where Buddhism is the predominant religion. More traditional pagan religions such as Shamanism are also practised in parts of Siberia, although the number of adherents is dramatically falling.

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