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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Interfaith Council to Link 'Traditional' Religions

The main goal of a newly formed Interfaith Council of Russia is to foster dialogue and cooperation among the country's Orthodox Christians, Moslems, Jews and Buddhists whose ties "date back to the Soviet time," the Moscow Patriarchate said.

Officials of Russia's four so-called traditional religions formed the permanent consultative council in late December. Catholic, Protestant and other minority faiths were not included.

"It is planned that in the future the council will become open for other religious associations traditionally present in Russia," the Patriarchate's statement said.

Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, which are rooted in different ethnic cultures and do not see each other as competition for Russians' souls, were singled out as deserving special legal "respect" in the preamble of the controversial 1997 law on religious associations. The broader term "Christianity" was included in the final version of the law.

The chairman of the Council of Russia's muftis, or Moslem religious leaders, Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, said in an interview Thursday that the concept of the interfaith council emerged at a September meeting with Patriarch Alexy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Gainutdin said that Russia's religious leaders need a mechanism for permanent consultations. "Our meetings should be regular, not just from time to time at festive occasions," he said. The council will be "somewhat political," he said, as one of its tasks will be to lobby for legislation that affects the interests and property rights of religious groups.

The council will have a permanent staff led by an executive secretary and plans to ask Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to give the new organization a building in the capital, Gainutdin said. Its first major undertaking will be to organize a large interfaith conference in November to discuss the turn of millennium.

High-level representatives of the Roman Catholic and Baptist churches in Russia, contacted Thursday, were not aware of the formation of the interfaith council. Pastor Yury Sipko, deputy chairman of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia, said the new organization could develop in one of two directions.

If it indeed stands up to its declared goals of becoming open to other confessions, Sipko said, it will be a "positive" force and "necessary for decreasing inter-religious tension."

"But if the motivation is to say 'we are the big masters here and have to unite not to let others in,' then it is dangerous," he said. "Then it would be a sort of religious Politburo."