Cultural Studies

What are your impressions of Religion in Russia? Specifically, cite your reactions to the Russian legislation on Religion and other resources provided in the Resources section of Module 7

1. Take 4 minutes and admire the ancient beauty of Russian cathedrals and a haunting chant

2. Watch this video of a Christmas service at a Russian Orthodox Church.  Watch for Dmitri Medvedev and his wife at Orthodox Christmas Mass

3. Read these articles about Russian Religion,  How Religious are Russians? , and  Putin Triumps over Christianity

4.  Look at this research about religion in Russia by the Pew Research Center Russians and Religion

5.  Putin on his Christianity Putin

6.  Religious Beliefs & Government Statistics 2020: Attitudes Towards Religion

7. Yarovaya law 2016: Is Religious Persecution in Russia Escalating? Elderly Baptist Pastor Charged for “Illegal” Missionary Work Newsweek

8.  US State Department Russia International Religious Freedom Report: 2018

9.   Read the lecture notes below and answer the test questions on these notes.


10. For more information on Russian anti-extremist policies and freedom of religions see: Inventing Extremists and Oslo Forum 18

EXTRA: For a more in depth study of the Russian Orthodox Church and its relationship with the Russian government, please see this article:

Russian Orthodox Church and Politics.





  1. Russian Orthodox Church Contributions


  1. Music


The church service is hauntingly beautiful.  One of the reasons is the chanting and hymns and responses sung by an acapella choir.  When experienced, it feels like a tidal wave of history washing over you.  After hours of standing, you feel as you emerge from the church as if you had been transported to a different world.


  1. Icons


  1. History


The art of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  It originated with the early church.  Icon painting came to it’s apex in the 14rh century.  One of it’s great masters was Andre Rublev, a monk who lived in Moscow from 1370-1430.  One of his masterpieces, the Holy Trinity, was painted by Rublev in honor of Saint Sergius.


  1. Purpose


  1. Are created for prayer and liturgical use in the church and for personal prayers at home.


  1. According to custom, an icon artist was expected to be a person of high moral principle and Christian ideals who prepared for his work by fasting and praying. Art, including secular, for the Russian was to preserve the view that it is a divine gift whose essential purpose is to serve God and uplift humanity.


  1. The icon was neither a creation of the artists imagination nor whim, but followed a prescribed pattern and subject according to church tradition.


  1. Small icons are set on tables and larger ones are hung on the walls. Beeswax candles (only the purest forms) are burned nearby.  Icons are kissed, touched, and incensed as acts of devotion.  Icons are used in outdoor processions on holidays.  Believers often have a “beautiful” corner in their homes where they keep an icon and daily do their devotions in front of it.


  1. To the Orthodox Christian, the icon is a constant reminder of God’s presence in his church, home, and life.


  1. Beauty


  1. Graphically, the icon illustrates the life of Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary, as well as saints and stories from the Bible and later Christian experiences.


  1. Icons are produced of gold, silver, copper, some with polychrome enamels and gemstones; from carved wood, stone, and ivory; from embroidered textiles; from tiny pieces of glass, ceramic, and stone arranged to form mosaics. The Russians humanized their icons by using bright colors and painting the eyes so they reflected great compassion and tenderness.  The icons were filled with life, love, and on occasion,humor.


  1. Sometimes, the icons had metal covers called “oklads”. They were to protect the icons from human handling in devotions and to enhance their beauty or as memorials.  Oklads were often made of silver and sometimes they were decorated with precious stones or pearls.


  1. Icons today can be found in museums and churches around the world. They are hard to export from Russia and a great underground market for the icons has arisen as a result.  True icons are those that are blessed and regarded as holy.




  1. The History of the Early Russian Orthodox Church


  1. Medieval Era


  1. Prince Vladimir of Kiev chose Christianity as the religion of Russia in 988. After exploring various religions, Vladimir chose Christianity from Byzantium (Constantinople=Istanbul, Turkey)


  1. His emissaries were overcome with the beauty of the church (Hagia Sofia). With it’s interior completely decorated with mosaics of pure gold shimmering in the light of 10,000 candles they said:


“We knew not whether we were in heaven or earth and we are at a loss to describe it.  We only know that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.  For we cannot forget that beauty” (Massie, p.22)


  1. So impressed with the nature of the Eastern/Greek Christianity, Vladimir was baptized in 988 and decided that the Kievan land would adapt the Eastern Christianity and would no longer be pagan.


  1. Age of the Golden Horde


  1. The ROC was the sole means that Russia was held together during the invasions of the Mongols. The church comforted and united the peoples of Russia.


  1. Recognizing the growing strength of Moscow, the ROC moved it’s center from Kiev in 1326.


  1. It was Saint Sergius who urged Russia’s princes to resist the Tatar invaders. The first victory over the Mongols at Kulikova in 1380 by Dmitrii Donskoy was because of Saint Sergius’ insistence.  As a result, Sergius is called the “builder of Moscow”.


  1. The Orthodox cross gained a ½ moon symbol on the foot-rest as a reminder of the victory over the Mongols.


  1. Third Rome-13th-17th Century


  1. When Constantinople fell to the Moslem Turks in 1453, Moscow declared itself to be the “Third Rome” the last bastion of the true church in all of Christendom.


  1. It was at this time that the church was the strongest. The monasteries had become the center of intellectual and the spiritual world of Russia.  The greatest icons were created in the 14th century.


  1. During this time the church had virtually became the State:


  1. Ivan IV (The Terrible) regarded himself as head of both church and State.


  1. Under Czar Mikhail Romanov (the first of the Romanov dynasty) 1613-1645, his father, Filaret, was the Patriarch of the church from 1619-1633 and a much stronger leader than Mikhail.


  1. 1666-Great Schism


Because of Patriarch Nikon’s insistence of reforms to the service books and rituals, there occurred a split in the church.  The “Old Believers” seceded from the ROC and moved away from Moscow and abroad.  Today, there is a settlement of OB in Woodburn, Oregon.  I visited this group many times while I was in undergrad because my college was only 30 miles away.  They live life very traditionally like the Amish in PA.  The schism marked the end of the strong church.




III.             Imperial Era-17th Century to 1917


  1. Peter the Great (1862-1725)


The church began to take a subordinate position to State by the 17th century.  The church did not approve of Peter’s westernization.  Peter ignored the opposition of the church and created a new collective administration of the church instead of the leadership of the Patriarch.  This was known as the “Holy and Governing Synod”.  It remained in place until 1917.  This guaranteed the superiority of the Tsar as the synod was not centered on one leader.




  1. At the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the church was a strong supporter of the Tsar. It was very powerful at home and abroad.


  1. 1897


87.3 million believers (70% of the population). 48,000 churches.


Vast empire of schools, monasteries, publishing houses, wineries, farms, tanneries, and small factories.


  1. In European Russian, the church owned 8.1 million acres of land.


  1. The average priest was 10x richer than his parishioners.




  1. The Soviet Era (1917-1991)


  1. Lenin


Targeted the ROC as the enemy of the State.  The Soviets confiscated all church property and destroyed churches or used them in contemptuous ways (IE: store manure, factories, execution grounds).  Thousands of bishops, clergymen, monks, and nuns were murdered.  (8,000 in 1922 alone)




  1. By WWII, the ROC had all but been destroyed. Believers were persecuted, imprisoned, or murdered.


  1. Stalin


Vigorously continued destruction of the church and leaders.


  1. During WWII-respite to help boost people’s morals. The church rendered aid to the people who were allowed to worship again.  The ROC donated funds to finance a tank squadron and tank column.


  1. Conquered territories under Hitler were also allowed to worship.


  1. The church remained handcuffed to the State after Stalin and was not allowed to spread its message. However, in return for complete support of the communists, the church was allowed a meager existence.


  1. It is rumored that the church assisted the Soviet Government by allowing clergy to work also as KGB agents.


  1. In 1988, Gorbachev allowed the millenium celebration of the ROC to happen as a result of Glasnost.


  1. There were about 60 million believers at the end of the SU.






Religious Legislation and The Russian Republic


  1. Russian Constitution legalized on December 12th, 1993 ( )


Article 14


  1. The Russian Federation is a secular state. No religion may be established as a state or obligatory one.


  1. Religious associations shall be separated from the State and shall be equal before the law.


Article 28


Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with other any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious  and other views and act according to them.


  1. Religious Explosion threatens ROC


In the early ‘90’s , Russia became the new frontier for many world religions and sects.  Russians were being bombarded with new opportunities to worship.  Some religions even tried to win converts with bribing them with trips to the West and to resorts.  For a time, Russians were seeking solace in the various religions.  Some say it was a fad.  By 1996, the ROC began to campaign the government saying that Russia should not allow so many non-Russian churches to convert Russians.  The ROC felt that it was their right to the new Russian souls seeking spiritual solace due to the historical background and long suffering of the ROC.


  1. Banning of official status of any religion that cannot trace its origin to the Soviet Era before 1982. On the 26th of September in1997, President Yeltsin signed a controversial bill that he had vetoed months before.  Of particular note and as a result of the pressure from the ROC, this law, “Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”,  that restricted other religions from registering officially unless they could trace their origins in Russia 15 years before


(Article 11.5 file:///C:/Users/sakha/Downloads/RF_Freedom_of_Conscience_Law_1997_am2008_en.pdf ) .


This came under great controversy from the US government,  human rights watchdogs and religious groups such as the Roman Catholic Church, Mormon Church, including Baptist, Lutheran, and Pentecostal churches.  Effectively forbidding legal status of churches that could not trace its existence on Russian territory during the Soviet Union under General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982). For more details, please see a very interesting compilation of articles, and primary sources Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II and from Pope John Paul II at .


  1. Missionary Work becomes an Extremist and Illegal Activity in Russia on July 2016. President Putin signed the Yarovaya Package of laws prohibiting any evangelism or missionary work to non-believers in Russia except at the officially designated church property. This was done to protect the Russian public from “extremism” as a counter-terrorism measure. This means that a member of a church cannot invite someone who is not a member to their home to share their religious beliefs. This package of laws also included measures to require telecom providers to store and provide to the Federal Bureau of Security (FSB or former KGB) all content of voice calls, data, images, and text messages for six months.


See: ,


The Russian Yarovaya laws:  “Федеральный закон (от 06.07.2016 № 374-ФЗ) о внесении изменений в Федеральный закон “О противодействии терроризму” и отдельные законодательные акты Российской Федерации в части установления дополнительных мер противодействия терроризму и обеспечения общественной безопасности,” | Государственная система правовой информации. Официальный интернет-портал правовой информации, July 6, 2016 and “Федеральный закон (от 06.07.2016 № 375-ФЗ) о внесении изменений в Уголовный кодекс Российской Федерации и Уголовно-процессуальный кодекс Российской Федерации в части установления дополнительных мер противодействия терроризму и обеспечения общественной безопасности,” | Государственная система правовой информации. Официальный интернет-портал правовой информации, July 6, 2016,  which were created to modify the existing anti-terrorism law “Федеральный закон (от 06.03.2006 № 35-ФЗ) “О противодействии терроризму”” | Государственная система правовой информации. Официальный интернет-портал правовой информации, March 6, 2006.  Source:


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