When the Iron Curtain was dismantled in the early 1990s and missionaries were welcomed into the crumbling Soviet Union, many observers feared that the window of opportunity would be short lived. This fall the parliament of Russia, largest of the Soviet republics, passed a law which President Boris Yeltsin signed, effectively closing that window to the gospel in Russia.
The law restricts activities of all religious groups who have not been continually present in the country for 15 years or more. They are not allowed to hold services, own property, distribute religious literature or invite foreigners to preach.
Primary driving force behind the law was the Russian Orthodox Church which held the Russian people in spiritual bondage for centuries. Like Roman Catholicism, they teach wafer worship, pray to Mary and maneuver to dominate the government as a tool to eliminate the free spreading of the gospel. During the communist era many of the Russian Orthodox leaders simply joined forces with the Soviet security police (KGB) to root out all Bible believers.
The new law officially recognizes only four religious groups: Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and "Christianity" (Primarily the Russian Orthodox brand). Even Roman Catholics are not included. An Associated Press report stated that the legislation "enshrines Russia's conservative orthodox Church as the country's preeminent religion." This puts the law in direct violation of the Russian constitution which declares: "Religious organizations are separated from the state and equal before the law."
The ink was hardly dry before local provinces began sending letters to outlawed organizations cancelling their registration. In Noginsk, 30 miles northwest of Moscow a Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral was confiscated and given to the Russian Orthodox church. Even in far away Siberia a Lutheran congregations' registration was revoked. Their adult Bible study groups, youth education programs, and an aid program for the poor must now be shut down.
The local officials had apparently anticipated the new federal law and 26 of Russia's 89 regions had already passed legislation restricting "nontraditional" religions before the new law was signed by Yeltsin. In another Siberian city Baptist missionaries must now have their sermons reviewed and certified by a government appointed "translator" before preaching.
In view of the fact that half the Russian people claim they are Russian Orthodox, but only 1 percent attend regularly. It is no mystery why returning missionaries tell of a deep hunger by the people for spiritual truth.
Most Russians have developed a deep mistrust of the Orthodox leadership who has won permission from the Kremlin to export oil and import alcohol, tobacco and lingerie duty free which it sells for its own profit. Church members complain that the money is rarely used to build and restore churches or increase services but goes into the pockets of a few super rich Patriarchal leaders.
The scenario is all too familiar in history. The rich and powerful Pharisees pressure the civil government to eliminate any threat to the control of their spiritual slaves. Jesus was crucified in an attempt to eliminate that threat. Over the centuries, Roman Catholicism has fine tuned the procedure from the Spanish Inquisition to modern day Latin America. Now we are seeing the same old pattern in Russia demonstrating again that these huge organizations of idol worshippers cannot possibly be Christian. Pray for the faithful Bible believers who must now go back underground to spread the gospel.