Crimea falls in line on Russian restriction and management of religion

Since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, much of the region today reflects Russian religious dynamics, including increased restrictions on minority religions, according to the East-West Church & Ministry Report (Winter). Roman Lunkin writes that since Crimea became subject to Russia, the “new order” has consisted of “copying Russian federal support for Orthodox churches of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), manipulation of Islam and its leaders, and restrictions on most Protestant church development. Security measures have included the deportation of certain evangelical and Muslim leaders, church searches, and the liquidation of religious groups already banned in Russia, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.” He adds that as many church leaders have moved to Ukraine, those who have stayed behind feel left alone to face the authorities. “Ties between Crimean and Ukrainian believers have been broken as the latter have accused those who have remained in Crimea of ‘collaborating’ with Russian ‘occupation authorities.’”

Among the Orthodox churches, the Moscow Patriarchate has flourished, and even the Simferopol and Crimean Bishop Lazarus, who criticized Crimea joining Russia, now collaborates with Russian authorities with no reservations. Orthodox jurisdictions other than the MP have not fared as well since the annexation Crimea. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate (UOCKP) struggles to hold on in the region, with Russian authorities and police transferring some parishes to the MP, including the threatened transfer of the St. Vladimir and Princess Cathedral in Simferopol. Russian authorities are hesitant to liquidate the UOCKP in Crimea since that may lead the church to do the same for MP churches in Ukraine. The Catholic churches—including Eastern rite— in Crimea have not felt much pressure from Russian authorities, possibly because the centralized structure of the church with its base in the Vatican allows its parishes “more ably [to] put forward their claims than has been the case with the peninsula’s smaller, decentralized religious communities,” Lunkin writes.

(East-West Church & Ministry Report, Asbury University, One Macklem Dr., Wilmore, KY 40390)