Last Thursday, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a new anti-terrorism law, which, among other things, restricts missionary activities in Russia significantly. As was the case in the Soviet Union, believers will be able to evangelize only on property that belongs to their religious organizations and affiliated institutions. Violators may be subjected to steep fines. In addition, the law would tighten government control over Russian Internet providers.

While it would be easy to blame these events on the history of communism in Russia, the relationship between church and the state has a longer and more influential history in Russia.

A ‘Harmonious Relationship’ Between Church and State

In contrast to the cherished ideals of religious liberty and the separation of church and state held in the United States, a major contributing factor to the recent events in Russia is the concept of symphonia, or institutionalized “harmonious relations,” between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state. This intentional connection between church and state allows the Orthodox Church to enjoy all the attendant privileges of political preference and feeds into a uniquely Russian national identity. This recently signed legislation goes a long way toward preserving this status quo by massively restricting non-Orthodox Christian congregations and organizations in Russia, making their missionary activities effectively illegal and subject to constant surveillance.

While such a law would be unthinkable in the United States, this sort of measure stems from a long and complex relationship between the Russian Church and the Russian state. The late Max Stackhouse, a preeminent authority on faith in the age of globalization, ...

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