Orthodoxy and Religious Freedom

Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox church

Russia adopted anti-missionary anti-proselytizing laws in 2016 at the federal level. Similar laws already existed in various Russian states.

On July 6th, 2016, President Vladimir Putin signed amendments to the Religion Law imposing harsh restrictions on the sharing of beliefs, including on where and by whom they may be shared. The amendments ban broadly defined “missionary activity” by anyone without written permission from an officially recognized religious association, and apparently any activity performed by religious organizations not using their full legal names. The amendments also prohibit “missionary activity” on residential premises, or carried out by anyone who is a former member of an allegedly “extremist” religious organization, and allow wide scope for arbitrary official actions. The amendments were introduced as part of an “anti-terrorism” package proposed by United Russia Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya and Senator Viktor Ozerov. Protests against the changes were widespread. Putin is himself Russian Orthodox. For background on who proposed these laws and their history see here.

During the pandemic, Russia has continued its crackdown on evangelism and unregistered church activity—which includes almost all religious practice outside of the Russian Orthodox church. The 2016 regulations restrict people in Russia from sharing about their faith or announcing church activities, even online or at home unless permitted through a religious organization that has registered with the Russian government. Even then, evangelism is only sanctioned to occur within those designated churches.

Evangelical Protestants have become the most punished group under these new Draconian laws which severely restrict the religious freedom of non-Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox church (Moscow Patriarchate) is the only church in Russia not liable to these laws. It’s easy to see how this gives an enormous advantage to the Orthodox church in Russia to recruit new members, engage in missionary activities, etc.

The 2016 Yarovaya laws ban Russians from inviting outsiders to join their faith, even online or in their own homes, unless they have a government permit through a registered religious organization, and even then they can only evangelize in designated churches and religious sites.

Evangelicals in the former Soviet country say that even as many Christians outside the state-affiliated Russian Orthodox Church heed the restrictions, violators are more likely to face punishment when charged by authorities. The fines start at 5,000 rubles for individuals (~$75) and at least 50,000 rubles ($750) for organizations.

“Believers are afraid to carry the Word of God to the masses, because they fear fines,” Pentecostal Union lawyer Vladimir Ozolin told Forum 18. “As ever, law enforcement agencies assume that any church activity is missionary activity, which is certainly not true.”


These fines are very heavy. The typical Russian only earns $12 per day.

The July 2016 “anti-missionary” legal changes may be deterring some religious communities from public expressions of belief. “Because of the impossibility of clearly distinguishing between religious and missionary activities, the courts often conflate these concepts,” Society for Krishna Consciousness lawyer Mikhail Frolov commented to Forum 18, a news service covering religious freedom issues in Russia and surrounding countries, on April 9th.

“Believers don’t understand what they can and can’t do,” Frolov added, “and because of heavy fines they don’t want to take the risk and therefore significantly reduce their activity, especially in public.”

Pentecostal Union lawyer Vladimir Ozolin agrees that “to some extent”, the “anti-missionary” amendment has had a deterrent effect. “Believers are afraid to carry the Word of God to the masses because they fear fines,” he told Forum 18 on 19 April. “As ever, state officials assume that any church activity is missionary activity, which is certainly not true.”

These laws are truly disgusting. It shows that the Russian Orthodox faith cannot stand on its own merits, and requires state protection to flourish! I am very upset at the lack of condemnation of these repressive and discriminatory laws by Orthodox living outside Russia in Western countries such as Canada, Australia, Western Europe, and the United States. I’ve noticed in my own Facebook theological discussion groups that 99% of the Orthodox don’t raise a single word in objection to these laws in Russia. They are happy that Orthodoxy is being favored and enjoys a special protected status. They certainly don’t care that Evangelical Protestants are the main victims! It is absolutely disgusting! Having suffered enormously under Soviet Communist rule you’d think they would have compassion for Evangelicals, but they don’t. These despicable laws are a black mark on Orthodoxy. Russia has more Orthodox than any other country. In fact, they make up the majority of the Orthodox worldwide. So you have the majority of Orthodox fine with religious discrimination and repression of religious freedom! Once the vast majority of Orthodox start denouncing these wicked laws and call for their repealing I will have more respect for Orthodoxy!

I’ve noticed Orthodox are the least ecumenically minded in my internet discussions. They, like Catholicism, maintain they are the One True Church and that anyone outside of Orthodoxy is outside the Body of Christ. As a Reformed Evangelical Protestant, I find this very disturbing and unsettling. I believe the One True Church is the invisible Church made up of all those who have been regenerated whether they be in the Catholic church, Orthodox church, or in Protestant churches.

The Russian Orthodox church is in bed with Russian president Vladimir Putin who maintains ruthless control of Russia. Instead of working together with Evangelical Christians, the Orthodox wish to subdue and punish them and force them into silence and submission. Absolutely shameful!! WAKE UP ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA AND START DENOUNCING THESE VILE LAWS!

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