What Religion is Mainly in Russia?
The Russian Orthodox Church is the main religion in Russia. It is rooted in the medieval Kingdom of Rus when 10th century Prince Vladimir rejected paganism and converted to Christianity.
Although a large number of Russians identify themselves as religious, few attend services regularly. This reflects the legacy of the Soviet Union, where religiosity was viewed as a luxury.
Religious education in Russia’s public schools is often characterized by a complex interplay of cooperation, competition and conflict with unintended consequences. The Church’s influence in Russian society is reflected by its role as one of the state’s traditional religions, alongside Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
On March 6, Patriarch Kirill delivered a sermon that traditionally ushers in the beginning of Orthodox Lent. But this year’s sermon focused on an issue that was at the forefront of everyone’s minds: the ongoing war in Ukraine.
He portrayed the war as a struggle that “has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance.” The same theme was repeated in his weekly address to the ROCOR Synod in September 2021. Despite the narrative that Orthodox churches do not mix with politics, Leonova points out that clergy members, including some American converts, have signaled their political viewpoints on social media and personal blogs. Moreover, they have openly participated in rallies of the far right.
According to Grand Mufti of Russia Rawil Gaynetdin, the Muslim community in Russia has grown to 25 million people. This is due to high birth rates among Muslim families and immigration from Central Asia.
Muslims believe that there is only one God and that mankind can achieve Eternal Paradise through obedience to his commands. They also believe that worshiping anything other than Almighty Allah is sinful. Those who persist in worshiping created things are destined for Hell.
During the war in Ukraine, the Russian government used a range of tactics to pressure religious believers and clergy to support the military campaign. For example, the FSB warned Lutheran Bishop Dietrich Brauer and Moscow’s Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt to support the war, while court fines were issued to local religious leaders who opposed it. In addition, the FSB threatened to place an Interpol Red Notice on the website Portal Credo, which was critical of the Moscow Patriarchate and its political agenda.
Judaism was severely repressed under Soviet rule, but since the collapse of the USSR, there has been a revival of Jewish culture and religious life. There are now synagogues in most towns and cities with a Jewish population, and many communities have rabbis (mostly recruited from abroad). The Chabad Lubavitch movement is especially active in some localities.
Nevertheless, Jewish organisations are concerned about political developments. In March, the Moscow chief rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt left Russia after resisting government pressure to back the war in Ukraine. The FSB warned other religious leaders that they could be prosecuted if they publicly opposed the war.
Putin himself has a warm personal relationship with Jews. He helped establish the Jewish Museum in St. Petersburg and donated a month of his salary when it opened in Moscow. He also has given financial support to the Jewish Agency and the Israeli-American Joint Distribution Committee. He is the only Russian leader to visit Israel.
Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on morality, meditation and wisdom. It is practiced by about 376 million people worldwide. Its origin is disputed, but most scholars believe it developed in the 4th through 6th century BCE with Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha. The main beliefs are that life is a cycle of suffering and that it can be broken by attaining enlightenment.
The philosophy of Buddhism teaches that all is one and that compassion should be practiced for all living beings. The balancing of opposites—such as kindness and cruelty, good and evil—is also a key principle.
Russia’s 145,000 Kalmyk Buddhists, whose homeland is the northwestern Republic of Kalmykia, migrated to their present homeland in the 17th century to escape war in Tibet. Their community is a major source of support for the Dalai Lama, who was recently able to visit Russia after being barred from visiting the United States in 2014 over his opposition to Russian military actions in Ukraine.