The United States of America and Russia are two completely different countries with the only seeming resemblance in their hugeness and power as states. They have different history, different culture, different traditions and different views on many things. They are also may be distinguished by the confessions dominating in their societies, since each of the countries has its particular religion origins that were fundamental for the development of Churches. So, what are the differences in religion between the USA and Russia?
The roots of all differences in religion between the United States and Russia can be found in the history of these two great countries, specifically in the history of religion. Paganism, unlike Abrahamic, Indian or East Asian religions, does not seem to be very important here, since it is usually not recognized as a full-fledged religion. If to talk about religions other than Paganism, it should be mentioned that the history of Russian religion is much longer than that of the USA. Russia as a state started with the establishment of Kievan Rus in 882. Officially, Russian religious history began a century later, when a decision to christen people was made by the prince of Kiev (“A History of the RussianChurch”). In contrast, the history of American religion did not begin until the early 17th century, when the first British colonists moved to America and brought their own religious beliefs to the New World.
Through the entire history, Russia as a state underwent several transformations. Each of these transformations had a deep impact on the state’s religion. Being Kievan Rus, Russia established the Eastern Orthodox Church. This church was greatly influenced by the Catholic Church of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the neighboring state of Russia, Tsardom of Russia at that moment. Later, when Russia was the Soviet Union, the church was forced to go underground by the rulers of the Soviet Union, who wanted to eradicate religion completely. Nevertheless, the Orthodox Church always remained the main one in the country and never really disappeared.
Even though the history of American religion is shorter, it is much more diverse. I would name two reasons responsible for that. Firstly, as a new territory, America attracted many people from all over the world who felt they were persecuted for their religious beliefs. Secondly, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guaranteed the freedom of practicing any faith with no fear. These reasons made it possible to fill a newly built country with a number of religious congregations and denominations and keep increasing this number throughout the history. In 1607, the first Protestant church was established in Virginia. In 1628, the first Puritans arrived in Massachusetts. In 1631, Roger Williams, who later established the first Baptist church, came to North America. The roots of the Roman Catholic Church can be traced back to 1634, when a hundred of Catholic colonists came to Maryland. In 1956, the first Quakers arrived in Boston. In 1658, the first Jewish synagogue was founded in Newport. Later, the Shaker movement, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Adventist Church, the Lutheran Church, the Christian temperance movement and many others movements and churches appeared (“History of American Religion: Timeline”). This explains why the number of denominations in the USA and Russia varies considerably. There are more than 300 religious denominations in the United States, while Russia numbers only over 70 of them. That is why Russia seems to be more traditional compared to the USA.
Different statistics and surveys show different results about membership of each confession, but in general, it is evident that Protestantism and Catholicism are the main confessions in the U.S., while Orthodoxy is of great power in Russia. This is what makes the difference between the religious lives in two countries. In Russia, priests are allowed to marry, not after ordinary though, while bishops must remain unmarried. In the U.S., neither Catholic priests, nor bishops are allowed to marry, while Protestant clergy does not have such limitations. Eucharist as a symbol of sacrifice is of great importance in Russia and for Catholics in the U.S., while American Protestants do not recognize such idea, as well as an idea of changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In Russia, Christians believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, while American Christians believe that it proceeds from the Father and the Son. Russian Christians believe that Mary found herself in the Heaven after her earthly life without dying but do not recognize her as sinless, while Catholics in the USA accept both dogmas and Protestants reject both of them (Emberson, 2012). The Pope is seen in Russia as an ordinary bishop, whereas American Catholics regard him as the head of the Church and Protestants do not recognize him as an authority. Russians believe in purgatory, though they think that cleansing happens in this life. American Catholics also believe in purgatory, but to their mind it is the very place for cleansing. American Protestants on the contrary do not believe in purgatory at all, since they are sure that the sacrifice of Christ is enough for everybody’s salvation. The list of Sacraments in Russian Orthodox Church is not fixed and numbers minimum seven, while there are only two Sacraments in AmericanProtestantChurch. The Catholic Church agrees on seven Sacraments. According to Orthodoxy in Russia, saints are a special group of holy people, who are revered. They usually serve as Mediators between the Father and the people. English Protestantism says that the Son is the only mediator between the Father and the people and any Christian is saint. The view of the Catholic Church on this matter generally coincides with that of Orthodoxy. There are also some differences in celebrating religious holidays in both countries due to the use of different calendars and difference between some principles in religions.
Women in both Russia and the United States do not play as important role in religion as men do, though the situation of women in the U.S. is somewhat better. In Russian Orthodoxy and American Roman Catholicism, women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. They can serve only as sisters or nuns in schools, hospitals, nursing homes or different monastic establishments. However, ProtestantChurch in America changed its gender restrictions on ordination within the last few decades. In modern America, women constitute 10 percent of the Protestant clergy. At the same time, women clergy still encounters more difficulties on its way to employment than men clergy does. Besides, women get smaller salary for the same position men occupy, even though this difference is not big (Zikmund, lummis, & Chang, 1998). In spite of difficulties, women in America are paving the way to equality in religion for themselves and for others and this is how they differ from women and their role in religion in Russia.
According to surveys, the number of believers in both countries is rather high. This means that religion does play rather important role in the life of people and society in general. Religion often helps people to fight negative impacts and temptations of the modern life, gives a purpose in life, inspires to be better and help those who are in need, regulates social behavior through a set of morals, positively influences mental health and mood. Unfortunately, when in wrong hands, religion can be a dangerous tool for an easy manipulation of the masses. Politics often use religion for their own needs, especially when it comes to opportunity to win more votes on the elections (Gerteis, 2012). In Russia, the instances when the clergymen abuse their position are not uncommon. Many people tend to become priests only because it can be profitable. That is why a priest driving expensive Mercedes can nowadays hardly amaze. So, religion in a sense can be both good and bad for society.
In conclusion, the difference in religion between the United States of America and Russia is considerable. This difference starts with the very history of each country in relation to religion and keeps growing until today. It is due to the peculiarities of religious development history in both countries that the U.S. appears to be much more diverse religiously compared to Russia. It also resulted in the fact that Protestantism and Catholicism are the most popular Churches in the U.S., while Orthodoxy is the main confession in Russia.