The year of 2010 was marked by a range of positive processes in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church in Turkmenistan. Administrator of the Patriarchal parishes in Turkmenistan (they were isolated from the Tashkent and Central Asian Diocese in 2007), the bishop of Smolensk and Vyazemsky Theophylact (Kuryanov) visited Turkmenistan for three times - in February, April and September, he learnt the situation on the wards and met the officials.
During his last visit, on September, 12, at the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Ashgabat the bishop Theophylact ordained a new priest for the first time in the past 12 years, and he will continue to carry out his ministry in Turkmenistan. Together with the blessing of two churches in 2009 - the Apostle of Thomas in Tejen and the Apostles of Peter and Paul in Abadan, - this event indicates the apparent success of the Russian Orthodox Church in Turkmenistan, where the activities of other religious organizations (except for Sunni Islam) is usually suppressed. Today, there are 12 parishes in the country, some of which are located in temporary facilities, and 15 Orthodox priests. This, of course, not enough for thousands of Orthodox believers throughout the country, but it was definitely better than nothing.
The position of the ROC in Turkmenistan is recognized as a successful one by the church leadership in Moscow. So, at the last the Assembly of Hierarchs on February 2, 2011, in his report Patriarch Kirill appreciated the prospects for the revival of Orthodoxy. In particular, it was noted that currently the problem of importation of ecclesiastical objects and spiritual literature was successfully solved. Of course, the last argument deserves special attention, because for the past 10 years by the order of the first President of Turkmenistan Niyazov, there was a complete ban on the importation of any literature from abroad, including the religious one. According to the testimony from the parishioners, it was not possible to import the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate. Meanwhile, a similar ban on the books of other religious organizations continues to operate. In this regard, the fact that the agreement on the import of Orthodox spiritual literature to Turkmenistan was achieved, of course, was also a significant achievement.
In the same report the position of the ROC in the other Central Asian states was assessed. For example, in Uzbekistan, according to the Patriarch, the ROC still faces with a ban on missionary activities; in addition, there are all sorts of obstacles on a way to the creation of orthodox schools. Also there are difficulties in the registration of new parishes. The neighboring Tajikistan, perhaps, has the most difficult situation in the area of religious life because of the peculiarities of the law of the republic. It restricts the activities of any religious organization and it’s dictated by "the desire to protect the society from radicalism that uses religion as a cover".
In other countries of Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the situation was more favorable. In Kazakhstan, along with Islam Orthodox was a culture creating religion, and in Kyrgyzstan the activities of various confessions were not censored, moreover, it’s preparing to adopt a new law about the freedom of conscience and religious organizations.
But let’s get back to Turkmenistan. One of the main subjects of discussion between the leadership of the country and the Russian Orthodox Church, until recently was the question of building the cathedral in Ashgabat. Back in 1997 the leadership of Turkmenistan gave a formal approval for the construction of the Cathedral devoted to the Resurrection of Christ with a spiritual and educational center; its project was approved in the plan on a long-term development of the city. Nevertheless, in spite of official permission, this issue was sabotaged by the authorities, and only now it has shifted from the dead point. The reason for optimism was the meeting of Theophylact bishop in Turkmenistan with the Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov; during this meeting the question about the possibility of building the cathedral and the spiritual and educational center in Ashgabat was raised again. The issue was understood by the minister and it is being discussed at the government level now.
The optimism of the Patriarch associated with Turkmenistan, was called to testify the presentation stand of Patriarchal Deanery, presented at the Exhibition Hall “Manege” in Moscow on November 4, 2010 at the traditional Church and Society Exhibition-Forum "Holy Russia - Nation Unity Day". The stand was provided with information about the official site of the Patriarch deanery in Turkmenistan that was planned to be opened in the end of 2009, about the history of Orthodoxy in the Turkmen land and the fragments from modern life of the Orthodox parishes. By the way, the site of deanery has a strong educational value: the New and partly the Old Testaments, some materials on the history of Orthodoxy in Turkmenistan were published in the Turkmen language in the network for the first time. The Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Turkmenistan to Russia, Agahanov, that arrived on this occasion to the exhibition-forum gave a high assess to the exhibition.
On the whole, the optimism of the ROC leadership is not groundless. On the background of the explicit cooling of relations between Russia and Turkmenistan, the achievements of the Moscow Patriarchate looked really impressive. The friendly attitude of the ROC leadership and the official Ashgabat was expressed in regular mutual congratulations with public and religious holidays. The merit of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarch himself is in the fact that with the clearly verified diplomatic policy managed to distance himself from the political line of the Kremlin, did not let the church get involved in political clashes between the two states, independently prioritizing the activities of the ROC. Because of this, many Russian and Russian-speaking citizens of Turkmenistan have the only possibility not to detach themselves from their spiritual roots while living in Turkmenistan. In turn, for the leadership of Turkmenistan the cordial relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are not less advantageous because they allow maintaining a favorable image in the eyes of the citizens of Orthodox religion, which make about 8-10% of the total population, and thus, maintaining stability in the country.