By Paul Goble
Despite or, in some cases, because of the support it receives from the government and the new “anti-extremism” laws deployed against others, the Russian Orthodox Church is increasingly isolated from Russians in the North Caucasus and is losing many of them to Protestant groups who are also attracting some Muslims as well.
This continues a trend that experts pointed to five years ago at about the time when the Moscow Patriarchate set up a new bishopric in Daghestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya in the hope of stemming its losses and recovering its dominance among the remaining ethnic Russians in these republics (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/218670/ and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/217888/).
Ruslan Gereyev, the director of the Center for Islamic Research on the North Caucasus, says that the major reason for Orthodoxy’s failure and Protestantism’s success is that “unlike Protestant and Muslim preachers, representatives of the Russian Orthodox church do not reach out to the population” (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/Protestants_orthodoxe_islam_500_years/).
Because they are more active in proselytizing, Protestants have been able to gain new adherents more quickly despite the Orthodox Church’s reliance on the state’s declaration of some as “foreign agents” or extremists.” Indeed, Gereyev says, the focus on Islamist extremism means that most of the time Protestants can function without attracting official attention.
Gereyev adds that because most of its priests are old and keep themselves hidden from society, Orthodoxy is no longer “fashionable” among the young, and so “Muslims and Orthodox Christians are adopting the faith of the Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, and other Protestant denominations.”
As a result, the Protestants have made some significant gains. In Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, there are now about 30,000 Orthodox Christians, about the same number as five years ago, but there are 7,000 Protestants, far more than before. For the North Caucasus as a whole, there are more than 150 congregations registered and far more unregistered.
In North Ossetia, Protestantism is especially strong because of neighboring Georgia, local experts say. Protestant churches are well-organized, use modern communications techniques, and “are always ready to help people in difficulty,” something that cannot be said of the Russian Orthodox.
In that republic, there are cases “when Muslims convert to Protestantism and the reverse,” Gereyev says. And in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, there are now more registered communities of Protestants than there are Orthodox parishes. Only Muslims have more, local officials say.