MOSCOW (Reuter)–The head of the Russian Orthodox Church–Alexei II–said on Wednesday that "North American standards" of freedom of religion should not be applied to Russia–Itar-Tass news agency reported.
"We must completely bar proselytizing," Alexei said–referring to "non-traditional" faiths–following a meeting with the archbishop of Vienna.
He called proselytizing "an attempt by unworthy means to lure people to another faith from the religions of their ancestors."
Alexei lobbied earlier this summer for a parliament-approved draft law which gave strong advantages to the Orthodoxy and few other traditional faiths.
But President Boris Yeltsin rejected the bill–saying it violated the Russian constitution and internationally accepted standards of human rights. Yeltsin has said that he would–however–approve a different–amended bill on the issue.
"I think we have our own traditions and history and our legislation must consider them. Sometimes they even try to impose North American standards on us," Alexei was quoted as saying.
"But–entering into European society–we would like to preserve our face–our profile–those spiritual-cultural traditions which formed over the 1,000-year history of Russia."
The fall of communism in 1991 brought not only a revival in the Orthodox Church–but the growth of numerous other religions–as well as cults and sects which Orthodoxy views as unwelcome rivals.
The rejected parliamentary bill–approved by a majority of lawmakers who said it would help clamp down on dangerous foreign sects–identified Orthodoxy–Islam–Buddhism and Judaism as traditional faiths in the multi-ethnic Russian Federation.
Representatives of other confessions–including Catholicism–which has a long history of tension with the Orthodox Church–fear that the vaguely worded bill could have resulted in a loss of their legal rights.