Staunton, April 12 – According to the Russian interior ministry, 1.15 million Muscovites – approximately ten percent of the Russian capital’s population -- attended Easter services today. According to the Russian Orthodox Church, the actual figure was 1.5 million. But both agreed that the number this year, a record, is far higher than it was a year ago.
Then, the interior ministry estimated 300,000 Muscovites went to church on Easter, and the Church itself claimed 714,000 did. If the government officials are right, the number more than trebled; and if the Church officials are, it more than doubled – indications that people turn to their faith in times of trial (bbc.co.uk/russian/russia/2015/04/150411_russia_easter).
Figures from other parts of the Russian Federation and from neighboring countries, many of whose people are Eastern Orthodox, are not yet available. But they too are also likely to be high given that Easter is the most important date in the Christian calendar and one on which even those who do not attend services regularly make a greater effort to do so.
At Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Patriarch Kirill led the service which was attended by President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. In his homily, Kirill suggested that the reason so many were in church is because “the people are responding to the latest anti-church attacks.”
In his message to the Russian Orthodox Church released the day before, however, the patriarch acknowledged that when most of the faithful think about great feats, they think in the first instance about “some legendary warrior.” But he urged them to view it in a different way, as self-sacrificing service to near ones and those who need their help.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Patriarch Filaret, who heads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate which Moscow views as non-canonical, focused on more immediate issues: “We firmly believe that in the near future, the Lord will send us victory over the aggressor because truth is on our side and where there is truth, there is God and victory.”