Russia Evangelicals Blocked in Efforts to Build Churches

Evangelicals in Moscow, Russia are facing difficulties in obtaining land to expand and nurture their congregations. Some say the government and the Orthodox church are hindering efforts. Government officials counter by saying that Moscow "is a very crowded city," with many religious groups in a similar situation.

Protests and attempts to organise by evangelicals have been been violently suppressed, according to the Moscow Times. On other occasions, bureaucracy and local opposition has put construction of churches on hold.

"Securing a meeting space is probably the most common type of problem that Protestant organisations in Russia have," said Lawrence Uzell, president of International Religious Watch.

Religious liberty organisations say that there is mounting evidence of a trend to persecute Protestant religious minorities, according to the Moscow Times.

On June 2, dozens of members of the Pentecostal Emmanuel Church protesting across from City hall watched as police escorted their pastor to jail and as authorities confiscated their protest banners.

According to, those picketing had been taking part a week-long protest.

The Moscow Times reported that earlier that week, on May 30, the Moscow Times reported that picketers were dispersed by police and OMON special forces who "violently" stopped the Emmanuel demonstrations. One woman among the protestors, Marina Karandayeva, revealed bruises around her arm related to the protest, according to the report.

In a separate mid-May case, a group of young men rushed suddenly into the office of the Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith, an umbrella organisation for evangelical churches, announcing they were sent to "beat evangelicals."

For the Emmanuel congregation, the process of securing land and building a church has cost many millions of rubles" (tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars) in addition to experiencing local resident opposition.

In 1999, Emmanuel had already spent 3 years preparing the land for construction when the government informed the church's head pastor, Alexander Purshaga, that local residents opposed the project.

He said that the government then told the church that the land had been previously donated to the city for public use, according to the Moscow Times.

Uzell, of International Religious Freedom Watch, said that Protestant churches in Russia have complained that local Orthodox priests or bishops have exerted influence over local theater owners and cultural palaces to dissuade them from renting rooms.

However, the spokesman for Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II denies the allegations. He added that construction is difficult for many groups.

"Construction in Moscow is a problem for everyone. If in this case there are problems, it's by no means connected to the Orthodox Church."

He adds that newer Christian movements in Russia have no links to the nation's past.

The spokesman adds that, "more than once the most holy patriarch has expressed the idea that the activities of many religious groups -- evangelists, neo-charismatics, pentacostals, whatever they call themselves -- have absolutely no historical tradition beneath them and are alien to Russian spiritual life."

Members of Emmanuel say that Protestants have been active in the region for over a century, and that the Russian Assemblies of God have been registered in the former Soviet Union since 1933, according to the Moscow Times.

Regarding the May 30 and and June 2 protests, police say that they were unsanctioned. Purshaga felt that the police action was an attempt at provocation.

In court some Emmanuel members were fined from around 20 to 40 dollars for the demonstration. Pastor Purshaga received a sentence of five days, which started this past Wednesday.

A city official said that Protestants were not being targeted but said that around 400 other religious groups were also experiencing similar situations in terms of land use.

Francis Helguero
Christian Today Correspondent