Religion in Russia, religion in Ukraine, religion in Belarus and other FSU ( Former Soviet Union) countries
Religion is one of the areas that many men make mistakes, usually from wrong
assumptions. What are some of those?
1. Thinking that she is religious in name only and that it has not impacted her views on culture and traditions as well.
Often for the man, it is during the marriage that he discovers that she was
more religious than even she realized. There are also language barriers and
misunderstandings can come from the most simple of assumptions. Perhaps
she says that she is not a fanatic. Of course you understand the definition of a
fanatic from your point of reference, but more importantly, do you understand
what constitutes a fanatic in her mind? Depending on her definition, you could be
shocked to learn that you are worlds apart what the term constitutes.
Each of us often fails to understand the role of religion in the history and culture
of our individual countries. “Church and State” in Russia (and Ukraine and
Belarus) at one point was so intertwined that it was nigh impossible to tell the
Regardless of what you think of the history of religion in our homeland, that
Russian level of church-state integration has NEVER been experienced in
countries like the USA, Canada, and the UK. Obviously, that has influenced her
view on society and culture.
2. She only goes to church on Easter and Christmas so religion will never be a big issue for our marriage.
It is common, in fact very common, for an important life event to change this
scenario dramatically. Things like a pregnancy, death of a close relative, and even
your marriage could possibly spark that cultural upbringing and suddenly you find
her in church every Sunday.
Many ladies are “late bloomers” when it comes to religion whether it be
Orthodox, Jewish, or Muslim. Most commonly it is a pregnancy that lights the
spark that could possibly change her into someone you don’t recognize.
The only way I know to attempt to determine beforehand how she will respond
in the future is to closely observe her mother and grandmother. If they are not
concerned with religion perhaps she will follow in their footsteps. On the other
hand, if she comes from a family in which the mother and grandmother practice
their faith, I’d safely bet all my money that regardless of what she says today,
eventually she will follow the same path.
3. I’m an Evangelical or Mormon or some other branch and it will be easy to convert her to my way of thinking.
The Russian Orthodox faith is ancient, one of the original branches of
Christianity. Her customs, traditions and beliefs are very Catholic. Eastern
Catholic and somewhat different from the Roman Catholic Church, but otherwise
it is Catholic still the same. Very few Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian ladies
make it long term as an Evangelical or some other offshoot of the Protestant
Reformation. Most typically end up seeing this type of faith as “cheap grace” and
watered down from her rich history. You’ll think this path was a fine idea, right up to the divorce.
4. Fasting periods can be both unknown and very frustrating to a Western husband.
When I first moved to Russia I thought that only religious folk fasted during the
major religious holidays. Boy was I ever wrong! This Easter (2011) all of our
local Moscow grocery markets cut back dramatically on stocks of meat, oil, wine,
beer, and dairy products. Those incidentally are the items one gives up as part of
the 40-day fast before Easter and the 40-day fast before Christmas.
Public schools and government office cafeterias observed the fasting menus as
well. I’ll bet that this is a surprise, isn’t it?
For many couples, and this is optional after speaking to a priest, give up or at least
curtail sex during those fasting periods. That means no beer or wine or meat nor
sex for many couples. A priest exempts or adjusts the fasting rules for children,
diabetics, newlyweds, the elderly, etc.
5. The Soviet Union was not religious so not many people in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are religious now.
Want to bet? First, the idea that the Soviet Union was non-religious is a myth. We
could explore this topic for hours but here are some statistics from that time: At
the height of Communist allegiance, only 14% of adults were full members of the
Communist party. The average over 76 years of Soviet rule was 7%.
Next, it was common for many professing atheists to have their children baptized.
They were atheists in order to hold party rank and for the best jobs, but practiced
religion on the side.
Today the Russian constitution officially recognizes 4 major religious groups:
Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Islam and Buddhism. Russian Republics in the
Far East also recognize Asian influenced faiths such as Taoism and others. The
Ukrainian and Belarus constitutions recognize the first 3 faiths.
Today the former Soviet Union is experiencing a “revival” of faith. Young 20 to
40 year old individuals are rediscovering the faith history of their grandparents.
I’ve been to large Orthodox churches in Moscow where there were lines outside
and the interiors were packed to overflowing. The government of Russia is
returning confiscated church properties to the original owners and the government
often provides some of the funding for renovations.
The concept of separation of church and state is a Western idea and not practiced
here in the same fashion as in your culture.
Finally, “Russian” women (I’ll include Ukrainian and Belarusian women in that title as
well) are some of the most loving individuals with great family ideals and traditions. I
Written by Mendeleyev, the editor of Mendeleyev Journal