Saturday, January 5, 2019

Only 1200 of Pskov’s 200,000 Residents Attend Orthodox Services Regularly, Metropolitan Tikhon Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 5 – Only 1200 of Pskov’s 200,000 residents attend Orthodox services regularly, Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) says, adding that the number of pupils studying Orthodoxy in schools has dropped by half in the last year and the number of Sunday school pupils who continue to go to church as adults is only about 50 percent.

            Independent experts have long documented that the share of Russians who are “churched,” that is active in religious life, is far smaller than the number of Russians who identify as Orthodox, but it is quite remarkable for a senior hierarch to provide such statistics (

                That raises the question as to why he has done so. In addition to the possibility that the new metropolitan who arrived in Pskov only last year may be committed to a more honest approach to church affairs, something that many in the church and out would welcome in and of itself, there are two obvious possibilities.

            On the one hand, Tikhon may want to paint the situation bleak terms so that any improvements he can achieve will look all the better. If people accept that only 1200 people attend Orthodox services in Pskov now, he will be able to claim enormous progress if he boosts that to 2000 – even though that would still be only one percent of the population.

            And on the other – and this is both more likely and more serious – the Pskov metropolitan is challenging Patriarch Kirill in yet another way, suggesting without saying so that the current head of the ROC MP has failed to build on the religious revival of the 1990s and that Russians are turning away from the church.

            Such a position would win him additional support in the Kremlin and among Russian nationalists who view the church as a major source of traditional values; but it ensures that he and Kirill will increasingly be at odds – and that other hierarchs will declare their positions either by calling attention to shortcomings as Tikhon as or not as many of Kirill’s people have not. 

            Consequently, once again, statistics are going to be a marker of political conflict in Russia, not between Putin and the opposition, but between two approaches to Orthodox life – and even if one suspects that the statistics on both sides may be less than fully accurate, their deployment will say much about where the ROC MP and Russia are heading. 

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