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'My Father's House has Many Mansions': Ethnic Minorities in the Russian Orthodox Church

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This article describes the national mission of Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), the policy of the Moscow Patriarchate towards non-Russian Orthodox. The authors analyse the ROC as a multinational church that includes Finno-Ugrians (Karelians, Komi, Udmurts, Mari, Mordovians), Ukrainians, Belarusians, Chuvash, Yakuts, Ossetians, Kryashens, a significant number of Armenians, Jews, Tatars, Buryats and others. There are already millions of non-Russian Orthodox within the church who want to express their national identity in Orthodoxy. Meanwhile the social mood in Russia today is such that people quite frequently move from one faith to another. Russians become Muslims and Buddhists, and Tatars, Bashkirs, Kabards, Azeris, Buryats become Orthodox. Ethnic multiplicity in the ROC is growing, and this increases the 'cosmopolitan' potential of the church. The current authoritarian/bureaucratic system of government in the ROC means however that the ethnic question remains latent. At the same time national movements in the national regions of Russia have strongly criticised the ROC for ignoring the national interests of Orthodox native people. It is not really surprising that national movements and organisations are virtually never orientated towards Orthodoxy. Even among the most 'Orthodox' peoples, such as the Chuvash, Komi and Mordovians, with many practising Orthodox and a significant number of Orthodox priests, and among whom there is no other living religious tradition, the national movements are distant from the ROC, and indeed often hostile to it. Since the ROC has a Russian nationalist world view, Chuvash or Ossetian or Karelian Orthodoxy, each with its own original culture, will develop outside official church structures. From time to time Orthodox priests of local ethnic origin take initiatives to develop missionary work among the local people, but no such initiative has yet gained the support of the local hierarchy.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2010

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