How the Christian faith became Navalny's support in prison


Eastern Europe

Joe-Lize Kruijsse-Brugge, CNE.news

A man holds a candle and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison. Photo AFP

The world was shocked when Russia announced the death of its most famous opposition politician: Alexey Navalny. What is lesser known is that the “dissident” was a professing Christian.

In February 2021, it was a surprise for many when Navalny quoted the Bible during his final words in court. “I was once quite a militant atheist”, he acknowledged, immediately adding that he is “now a believer.” According to the Russian opposition leader, his faith made his circumstances easier for him. “There are fewer dilemmas in my life, because there is a book in which, in general, it is more or less clearly written what action to take in every situation.”

Navalny's activities

Alexey Navalny is especially known for his anti-corruption organisation which revealed many instances of power abuse of Russian leaders. One of his most well-known publications was a video about a large and luxurious villa which he claimed to be Putin's.

In August 2020, Navalny became unwell during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. He was rushed to a hospital and later evacuated to Germany where he received treatment. The cause of his illness was determined to be a poisoning. Navalny himself accused President Putin of being behind the plot against his life.

Shortly after his recovery, in January 2021, the opposition leader returned to Russia. He was promptly arrested upon his arrival at the airport.

During this court case, Navalny pointed out that the Bible text “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” was very encouraging to him. He called the verse “more or less an instruction to activity.” And that helped him to endure the circumstances he found himself in while being imprisoned, he added. “I feel a real kind of satisfaction. Because at some difficult moments, I did as required by the instructions and did not betray the commandment."

In the months after the court trial, Navalny continues to mention his faith on his social media accounts as well, for example on Instagram. In May 2021, he refers to Easter, for instance. “I congratulate everyone with the best feast according to the tradition: believers (which I now am), unbelievers (which I was) and militant atheists (which I was too).”

It is still unknown what made Navalny denounce his atheist stance and become a believer. Sergey Rakhuba, of Mission Eurasia that supports churches in the former Soviet Republics, believes that Navalny came to faith when he was “fighting for his life”, probably after the poison attack mid-2020. Rakhuba said so in an interview with Missions Box. “Fighting for his life, he said that he found God. We understand that he was in contact with a few Christian communities and searched for eternal values.”

Religious rights

Last January, Navalny initiated a court case because he was not allowed to have more than one book at a time in his cell, and because he and other inmates could not read the Quran if they wished to do so, Mediazona wrote. During the trial, he acknowledged that he was an Orthodox Christian, and argued that he needed to have a New Testament and a Psalter with him. “One book is not enough for me. This directly violates my religious rights.”

At the same time, he explained that he was also refused a Quran with which he had wanted to start a debate about Islam and Islamism, which is perceived as a threat in Russia.

The faith might have led the politician in his mind and conscience, it seems that it did not become a central component in his political activities, Catholic News Agency analyses.


Not everyone is convinced of the religious nature of Navalny's conversion to Christianity. The Moscow Times interprets the expressions in a more politico-sociological way by pointing out that Navalny joined the Russian intelligentsia tradition by quoting the Bible in his defence. This was also done by the persecuted Soviet writers Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky. The newspaper speculates that the opposition leader used the Bible to put the Russian authorities in a dilemma, as they would have to choose for Navalny as a Bible-believing Christian and defender of the traditional Biblical values which Russia claims to defend, or for their pride in war time victory, which Navalny's trial was about as he was accused of slandering a World War II veteran. Despite this “challenge”, Navalny was found guilty during the trial.

Navalny's death

Alexey Navalny was the biggest threat to Putin, several media write after news broke that Navalny had died. Therefore, many people are convinced that Navalny's death was not an accident but a murder by the Putin regime. Until now, the authorities have refused to announce the exact cause of death of the political activist and denied his family access to Navalny's body. Instead, they claim that Navalny died during a walk.



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