No foreigners in Russian churches. Problems for Catholics too

A government bill prohibits foreigners from participating in and leading religious activities on Russian soil. Also excluded are religious personnel who have studied abroad and who show signs of “religious extremism”. This will also create problems for Orthodox priests studying in Rome or abroad.

Foreigners cannot participate in the activities of Russian religious associations, or even more so guide them: this is what is established by a bill presented by the Russian government last July 22 to the State Duma, the Russian parliament. The press office of the Lower Chamber of the Duma reported yesterday.

According to art. 7 of the federal law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations”, only Russians and “other people who live permanently and legitimately on the territory of Russia” can enter a religious group. The law defines a “religious group” as a “union of people who profess the same faith, who do not require state registration”. The leaders and participants of the group have the right to celebrate common liturgies, religious rites, aggregate and educate new members in their faith. However, prayer meetings must be held in specially authorized premises, and not in private homes.

In addition to foreigners, the ban on participating and leading communities is also extended to people classified as extremists and terrorists, according to official lists of the State Revisers Bureau. In addition, the ban also applies to believers in whose actions the court finds “signs of extremist activity”. For some years now, Jehovah’s Witnesses, various groups of Baptist Christians and other sects of various kinds have been included in this list.

In an explanatory note, the changes to the law “will make it impossible for priests or religious personnel who have received religious education abroad to spread extremist religious ideologies”. This ban will create difficulties for Muslim preachers and Protestant pastors, but also for Catholic priests, among whom there are still many foreign missionaries, who are struggling to obtain permanent residence permits.

But problems could arise even for the same Russian priests sent to study in Rome or other theological faculties abroad, whose activities will be monitored in particular to check for any “signs of extremism”. Recall that, as in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even the interpretations of the Holy Scriptures “different from tradition” can be considered “extremist”. Since there is no “official” version of the Bible in the Orthodox tradition, if not the ancient one in the Slavic-ecclesiastical language, the question of interpretation lends itself to ambiguous and diversified treatment.

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