A senior official in Russia says Protestant Christians are part of the country’s traditional religious communities, and praises the important role they have played in Russian society.
The first deputy chief of President Vladimir Putin’s administration, Sergei Kiriyenko, made the comments on October 31 at an event marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
His comments sounded unusual as Russian authorities have been promoting Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, as the country’s traditional religions, calling other confessions untraditional and banning some of them in recent years.
"The followers of the Reformation idea appeared in our country immediately after it started," Kiriyenko said at a Reformation Day celebration in central Moscow. "Those people contributed to our state's flourishing and to the development of Russia's science, education, and culture."
Kiriyenko also said that the Protestant community in Russia "plays a large role in social services, helping people who have fallen into a complicated situation in life, no matter what religion they follow."
Protestantism's values are "extremely in demand today in our country and important for achieving success in a rapidly developing world," he added.
Ahead of the October 31 celebrations, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier last week attended a ceremony for the return of ownership of Moscow's St. Peter and Paul cathedral to the local Lutheran community. The cathedral was seized by the Soviet state in 1938 as part of a state repression of religion.
On October 31, 1517, German theologian and priest Martin Luther questioned the pope's authority through his "95 Theses," creating a rift between Catholics and Protestants that led to major upheaval in Europe, including wars and persecutions.
The Orthodox churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, had split from Rome in the 11th century.
The Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, including the Russian Orthodox Church, had split in the Great Schism of 1054.
In 1763, hundreds of thousands of Germans, mostly Protestants settled in the Russian Empire following the proclamation of open immigration by Tsarina Catherine II, who was of German descent herself.
There are now an estimated 1.5 million to 3 million Protestants in Russia, comprising about 1 to 2 percent of the country's population.
With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and dpa