In a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (17 September 2002) the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, raised the contentious issue of proselytism. His observations are extremely significant because they cut to the very core issue of religious freedom, an issue that relates to Protestants as much as Catholics.
Kondrusiewicz said the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have a different understanding of the concept of proselytizing. The Catholic Church does not automatically consider all native-born Russians to be Russian Orthodox: “You can hardly call an atheist who was baptized in the Orthodox Church but [who has] had no relations with any church during his life an Orthodox believer. If at some point in his life this person chooses to become a Catholic, it can’t be called an act of proselytizing,” Kondrusiewicz said.
Aleksandr Abramov, an official with the External Affairs Department of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, disagrees with the Catholic point of view and says Russia was and is an Orthodox country and has its own traditions of Christianity: “We consider everyone who was baptized in an Orthodox way or has Orthodox roots to belong without any doubt to the Orthodox tradition. And we consider these people to be in our fold and we are against such a development when our [believers] are being taken away from us, very often by indecent means.”
Elizabeth Kendal (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the principal researcher for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Kendal, “Defining Proselytism,” World Evangelical Alliance Web site (http://www.worldevangelical.org/persec_russia_26sep02.html).
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