The road to religious freedom in Russia

7:27 PM, Dec 15, 2013   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

VORONEZH, Russia- It's a custom, a tradition, a faith that can't be eradicated by any regime.

Those who could would pray, even when it was forbidden during decades of Soviet rule. Religion in Russia and throughout the Soviet Union was outlawed. Beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, churches were demolished or robbed and priests were killed.

The deeply religious Russian people were not allowed to live their faith.
But now, things have changed, at least for the Orthodox majority.

Many believe that change began in the mid 1980s with Mikhail Gorbachev. His concepts of perestroika and glasnost opened up the country to change. Eventually, the Soviet Union fell apart. The ban on religion was lifted.

"1988 marked 1,000 years since the baptism of Russia," Bishop Andrew, of the Dioceses of Voronezh and Borisoglebsk, said. "That's when the Russian people had somewhat of an impulse to come back to church."

Most Russians are Orthodox Christians, a smaller percentage of other faiths exist there as well.

According to a 2011 study by the U.S. State Department, about 100 million Russians out of the total population of 142 million identify themselves as Russian Orthodox, but only 5 percent consider themselves observant.

The same report says Muslims, with a population between 10 to 23 million, are the largest religious minority in Russia.

The State Department says even though the Russian constitution guarantees religious freedom, some groups are discriminated against, and others, like the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, are given preferential treatment. 

Bishop Andrew of the largest Orthodox Church in Voronezh told 9NEWS, while he didn't have hard numbers, he sees more young people coming back to church. 

"Yes, there are new faces in the church, and the church has grown," he said.

Bishop Andrew said there are more than 40 cathedrals and churches in Voronezh, a city of about one million people and a five-hour drive from Moscow. But the existing churches aren't enough for everyone who wants to attend.

"In Voronezh alone, we are short approximately 15 to 20 churches," Bishop Andrew said. "The Russian person, he or she is always seeking some spiritual guidance, and in the Orthodox Church, they find that guidance."

They discover that guidance and comfort in just stopping by to light a candle or staying for the entire two-hour service.

"We should remember that we all are God's children, and we have one creator. We should base our relationships on that," Bishop Andrew said. 

Customs, traditions and faith can't be eradicated because someone said they should be.

Russians have gone back to church, looking for what so much of the world is searching for: answers and peace.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

Most Watched Videos