Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Orthodox Churches Deserted While Its Streets are Filled with Muslims

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 30 – This year, the Russian Orthodox Day of the Baptism of Rus coincided with Muslim holiday of Uraza Bayram. On Monday, in what many will see as symbolic, Moscow’s churches, with the exception of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, were largely empty, while the streets around the capital’s five mosques were filled with Muslims.


            In a commentary for the religious affairs site,, Feliks Shvedovsky says that this picture “would be funny if it were not so sad” and if it were not the case that this is “nothing new but on the contrary typical” of the situation in the Russian capital, all the talk about the return of Orthodox notwithstanding (


            The Union of Muftis of Russia has been emboldened by this to renew its request that the Moscow authorities reverse themselves and allow the construction of at least one mosque in each of the ten administrative divisions of the city, something Mayor Sobyanin has said he will not do because of the reaction of Muscovites.


            At the same time, of course, Sobyanin has gone alone with the Russian Orthodox Church’s plans to build 200 new churches in the Russian capital, even though there have been at least as many protests about what such construction projects will do to parks, neighborhoods and traffic patterns as there have been about the possible building of mosques.


            But, feeling themselves increasingly numerous and thus strong, Shvedovsky says, many Muslims in Moscow are now joking at least among themselves about “the fate of numerous Orthodox churches in Constantinople, which is now called Istanbul,” after the Muslims took over that city and made it the capital of the caliphate …


            Unfortunately, the Russian religious commentator says, Moscow officials are nonetheless unlike to accede to the Muslim requests but rather adopt what he calls “a ‘Crimean’ scenario,” in which, instead of optimizing what already exists, “the authorities will unite new territories” under the control of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.”


            Moreover, they will invest ever greater funds “into propaganda of ‘Orthodox-patriotic values’ which have nothing in common with faith and spiritual live” and not oppose “the further demonization of the image of Islam at the day to day level.”  That reflects a judgment by those far above Sobyanin’s pay grade that they can re-ignite Islamophobia after Ukraine.


            Within the Russian Orthodox Church, one might have expected believers and hierarchs to be most concerned by the passing of Metropolitan Vladimir who had been the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. But instead, it appears, most were upset that Patriarch Kirill hadn’t been able to travel to Kyiv for this anniversary.


            As a result, Shvedovsky says, the center for the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus had to take place in Moscow where “it immediately became obvious that this is already almost a Muslim city and that the chimeras of ‘the Russian world’ haven’t existed since Crimea was taken from fraternal Christians.”


            “Nature” in this as in all things “abhors a vacuum,” the commentator says, “and in place of a transparent chimera” of the Russian Orthodoxy offered by the Moscow Patriarchate was the Moscow Muslim community including gastarbeiters which is now vital and full of energy.  That is a contrast few in the Russian government or the Patriarchate can be comfortable with.




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