Staunton, November 30 – Announcements that the Russian government will give the Moscow Patriarchate two billion rubles (40 million US dollars) over the next two years to open “spiritual-enlightenment centers” at a time when Moscow is cutting funding for the social and medical needs of Russians will further undermine Russian Orthodoxy in Russia.
On the one hand, it will underscore what Russians already know, that the Moscow Patriarchate is more an agency of the state than a religious organization. And on the other, it will call into question not only the government’s priorities but Patriarch Kirill’s insistence that his church is committed to social justice.
While ethnic Russians overwhelming say they are Orthodox, they are in fact “ethnic Christians” in much the same way that many, albeit a smaller percentage, Muslims are “ethnic Muslims.” That is, they associate with the church at the level of identity, but they do not take part in religious activities.
What this latest Russian government decision is likely to do is to undermine that link between ethnic and religious identity, exactly the opposite of what the Kremlin and its ideologists say they want, and thus drive down rather than boost religious participation, which at least in terms of what the hierarchy says is what its members declare they desire.
The money is being allocated out of the federal program for “Strengthening the Unity of the Russian Nation,” officials say, and will be used to construct 23 Church-controlled “spiritual” centers in Tver, Saratov, Irkutsk, Daghestan, Mordvinia, North Osetia and other regions (polit.ru/article/2014/11/28/centrs/).
Maksim Shevchenko, a member of the Presiential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations, told Polit.ru that in his opinion, young people are not going to flock to these centers as the Patriarchate claims. There are better and “more effective” ways of reaching out to them than rebuilding Soviet-style “houses of culture.
“Careerists” can be counted on to show up to win points from the bosses, but “the masses of young people will remain just where they were” – beyond the reach of the Russian Orthodox Church or the state.
Yet another reason for suspecting that this latest state-church effort will backfire is that it has brought new attention to just how much money the Russian Orthodox Church is taking in and thus raising questions about how it is spent, given that there are so many Russians now in need of assistance.
Figures from 2013 cited by Polit.ru show that the Church had an income of 4.6 billion rubles (150 million US dollars at the rate of exchange then current), a vast sum in Russian terms. The highest earner last year was the Petersburg eparchate, followed by Moscow and then Vologda Oblast.