Two Russian Active Churches Threatened With Closure

Two church congregations on Russia's Pacific coast were threatened to be removed from Russian society. The local city council suddenly cancelled the contract of the Grace Pentecostal Church and the Orthodox Parish of the Annunciation. The often violent campaign makes them likely to lose their places of worship.

Two months ago one of the country's largest unregistered Baptist churches reported that their prayer house was "deliberately" attacked when two powerful explosions ripped through their building. Two church members received serious burns, but until now it is uncertain who caused the explosions.

Two Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox churches suffered arson attacks in the same area just before a major conference at the church was due to take place. The conference was to be attended by Baptist leaders from all over Russia.

Another Pentecostal congregation was apparently not attacked violently, but has been told by the municipality to leave unless it pays a much higher "commercial" rent. The Moscow Patriarchate's Parish of the Annunciation in a neighboring village has received a similar threat.

"Churches throughout the country are facing threats of closure and other measures specifically intended to damage religious organisations, especially in the Far East" the Moscow-based lawyer and religious specialist Anatoli Pchelintsev said.

The chief religion of Russia is Russian Orthodox Christianity, with about 75 percent of citizens describe themselves as religious believers. The number of adherents to Russian Orthodoxy was estimated at more than 50 million - although a high percentage of that number feared to express their religious beliefs openly.

Various non-Orthodox Christian denominations and a dwindling but still important Jewish population complete the list of major religious groups in the Russian Federation. In general, Russians of all religions have enjoyed freedom of worship since the collapse of the communist regime in 1991.

Church officials said "the same chain" was responsible for all violence, although it was unclear if corrupt officials or police were involved.