Saturday, January 05, 2013

Orthodox Church: New eparchy in Muslim majority Russian Caucasus

The Russian Orthodox Church has decided to form a new eparchy (diocese) for the care of Christians in one of the most sensitive areas of the Federation, the Muslim-majority republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya.

This was decided by the Holy Synod at the end of December, and announced by Vladimir Legoida, spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate. 

The seat of the new diocese will be in Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Dagestan - the scene of attacks and clashes between federal forces and Islamic fundamentalist groups. 

Abbot Varlaam of the Monastery of the Transfiguration of Murom in the Diocese of Vladimir, near Moscow has been appointed to lead the new diocese. 

Varlaam will be the first "Archbishop of Makhachkala and Grozny." 

So far, the three republics of the North Caucasus fell under the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia.

According to analysts, it is a great challenge for the Russian Orthodox Church. 

Ingushetia and Dagestan are at the center of a violent uprising, led by Islamic extremist groups in the region. 

After years of war, however, Chechnya is apparently pacified but sporadic attacks still occur and the problems of social inequality and religious fundamentalism are not resolved.

Roman Lunkin, an analyst at the Center of the European Academy of Sciences, at The Moscow Times points out that the decision of the Holy Synod is part of the policy of Patriarch Kirill to reshape the structure of the Church on the basis of social and political challenges in the country. 

Bringing a bishop to the heart of an traditionally Muslim area - says the analyst - is not only a challenge but also a great risk for the Russian Church, that "now may fall easy victim to accusations of proselytism."

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