|Dr Serhiy Hovaran|
Doha: An official of the Russian church says there is no count of the clergymen persecuted by the former Soviet regime.
"The number of the priests killed runs into thousands over more than 70 years since the 1917 Revolution…nobody has an estimate," says Dr Serhiy Hovaran, from the Russian Orthodox Church.
In remarks to The Peninsula on the sidelines of Fourth Doha Dialogue on Religions that ended here on Thursday, Dr Hovaran said, this is aside from the "millions" of church followers who were executed.
The oppression of the church began right after 1917 when the Christians challenged the Communist ideology. Adoration of Vladimir Lenin like a God was what angered the church and its followers the most, he said.
"The Communists saw the church as an obstacle to their design and so, began hunting them down." The churches in the West tried to help but with little success.
Asked if the USA's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tried to intervene and protect the Russian Orthodox Church and its followers in their own way, Dr Hovaran said: "The CIA was not active at all".
The Soviet Union had a large Muslim population and they were also persecuted. "Muslims were oppressed all over, including Central Asia and Russia," said Dr Hovaran.
Russia has a fairly sizeable Muslim population. "We are now trying to have a dialogue with them. We have very cordial relations with Muslims and people of other faiths in Russia," he pointed out.
There is an influx of American religious movements in Russia at present and some of them are backed by cash-rich social organisations. "Some of these movements are not friendly with Russians."
The Russian Orthodox Church, established in 988 AD, is witnessing renaissance and is playing a more active role in the social arena.
The following of the church is not restricted to Russia but spreads across to Ukraine, Belarus and Baltic as well as Central Asian countries.
"Our estimation is that we have a following of 140 million and the size is next only to those of the Catholics and Protestants the world over," Dr Hovaran said.
The Russian Orthodox Church is different from the Catholic Church in the sense that it does not consider the Pope to be the supreme authority. Every Russian Orthodox church has its own jurisdiction and its members are accountable to it.
Except the bishops and nuns, all other church officials are allowed to marry and have families.
Russia has a huge Armenian diaspora and the Russian Orthodox Church has cordial relations with them. "However, this is not the case with the Greek Catholics who are mainly concentrated in Ukraine."
Since the state protection has vanished, the church is increasingly involved in looking after the impoverished and the aged. There is poverty in the Russian villages, particularly in non-industrialised regions.
Russia has an inter-religious council, which has members from all communities, including Muslims and Jews. "We try to find constructive ways to establish models of peaceful co-existence, and often take common positions on relevant events happening locally or internationally," said Dr Havaron.